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A brief history

Polperro Harbour is unique, because it is a private harbour, and it is owned by the Council Tax payers of the village. In 1894 it was formed by an Act of Parliament, an order was made incorporating the Trustees of Polperro Harbour. Queen Victoria sanctioned the Act, and the Trustees were fifteen prominent and respected men of Polperro. The Trustees had to pay all costs incurred in the buying of the harbour rights, so they had to be people of substance. The deeds of Polperro Harbour are on display in the Museum.

Going back, records show that by the 14th Century Polperro was already a busy port, and consequently the main occupation of the men and boys was fishing. In 1391 the fishermen became rich enough to build their own chapel, dedicated to St Peter, the patron saint of fishermen. The chapel stood on Chapel Point above the harbour (in the grounds of the property 'Mont St Pierre'), and it was moved 200 years ago to Peak Rock, and it is now a net loft, owned by the National Trust.

Dr Jonathan Couch states that the first export of pilchards from Polperro was made in 1783. Polperro had three pilchard factories, for the processing of fish. Two on the east side, one owned by the Teglio brothers (now the Museum) and other owned by a Mr Dunn from Mevagissey. Another Italian named Salvadore owned the one on the west side, this is now the Forresters Hall. These factories were in full production, processing and packing the fish, which were taken to Fowey by boat, then transferred to a larger vessel bound for the Mediterranean. 40 drifters fished out of Polperro at that time, and a large number of women and children were employed in the factories.

As stocks of some species of fish have declined over the years, fishing methods have also changed. At this present time in Polperro we have 13 registered fishing boats, consisting of trawlers, netters and hand line mackerel boats. The days have gone when large shoals of pilchards visited our shores. The pilchards would come to the surface of the sea, being chased by a whale or two. The hungry gannets would dive, and this would be a sure sign of a good night's fishing. There were two pilchard seasons, summer and winter. When the pilchards had left, the fishing would be 'long lining' in the channel for conger, ling, whiting, ray and turbot. An example of this can be seen in the Museum on the film of the 'Billy Bray' in 1933.

A storm gate protects Polperro Harbour now. This came into operation in 1978. Prior to this the harbour entrance was protected from storms by baulks of timber 32' long and 10" square, and doubled up. About a dozen of these large timbers would be lowered by a crane into the slots at the end of the quay, and they can still be seen. It would have taken about eight men to lay the baulks in position. Two men can operate the new storm gate, such is progress.

Since joining the European common market, new regulations on health, safety and hygiene, the fish landing area had to be modernised, or shut down. A new fish landing area was completed in 1992

Rising costs and quota systems that regulate fish landings have brought decreasing income to the harbour. To try and increase income for the harbour, the Trustees opened the Heritage Museum in the Teglios pilchard factory in 1994. All profit from the Museum is used for the upkeep of the fabric of the Harbour.

For more information on the Harbour

© Polperro Harbour Trustees 2013

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