The Gorran Haven Harbour and Fishermen’s Society
Gorran Haven Quay
Records of a sea fishery at Gorran Haven date back to 1270 and the Taxation of 1271 (which dealt with tithes) refers to seines, one of the earliest references to seining in the county, and shows that pilchard fishing was of prime importance even then.
The first actual record of the fishing community in Gorran Haven came in 1570 and 68 men were listed. At that time Mevagissey is recorded as having just 8.
In 1894 the Merchant Shipping Act required fishing boats to be registered, and Fowey’s register between 1902 and 1907 contains particulars of 200 boats. Of these, 70 belonged to Mevagissey, 57 to Looe, 43 to Gorran Haven and 1 to Portloe.
Boats need protection and shelter from the winds. As Gorran Haven is especially vulnerable to all winds from any part of the compass from North North East around to the South a quay was vital and was always seen to be. It is thought that, over the centuries, up to six quays have been built at Gorran Haven. Most were washed away by heavy gales or were lost through lack of maintenance.
From at least 1820 to 1888 there was no quay and this brought serious consequences. Not only were the fishermen faced with the backbreaking job of hauling their boats up and down the beach, when the weather threatened, out of reach of the sea, but also the properties in the immediate vicinity of the shore risked serious damage. Records show that on the 2nd January 1867 a severe gale from the East washed away part of what was then the Ship Inn at Beach Corner and other properties also sustained serious damage.
Help was to come however. The Williams family had made their fortune from mining and in 1852 they purchased the Carhayes estate from the Trevanions. The Trevanions had benefited from the downfall of the Bodrugans who had backed Richard 111 at Bosworth Field in 1485. As well as others properties they had built a huge mansion at Carhayes and extended it in the 1750’s. Unfortunately they over extended themselves and as they were also inveterate gamblers their properties had to be mortgaged and eventually sold.
John Charles Williams built the castle that currently stands at Carhayes, a kindly and generous man, his property included the land to the South of the stream running down to Gorran Haven beach. The quay and pound area belonged to the Duchy of Cornwall from whom Mr Williams bought it for the sum of £5. He then decided to build a quay for the fishermen of Gorran Haven. It was completed in 1886 at a cost of several thousand pounds.
In 1917 the fishermen formed a Co-Operative. The capital for it came from the fishermen themselves who bought shares at £1 each. Most bought about twenty. The Co-Op thrived. It assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the quay and the pound and became a trading station. The sale of all fish (especially crabs and lobsters) was organised, and a lorry was purchased to transport it to St.Austell station. Fishing gear and clothing were also bought and sold to Co-Op members at cost price. All augured well.
The outbreak of the war in 1939 signalled the beginning of the end of Gorran Haven as a real fishing village. Young men were called up for the forces, leaving only the old ones to continue. The young men had however already begun to turn their backs on fishing as a livelihood, encouraged by their fathers who could scarcely earn a living from it.
In the 1950,s only a few full time fishermen remained and it became abundantly clear to them that they could not keep the Co-Op going. The lorry was sold, as was the lorry store and the packing shed was closed. Whilst it was, to all intents and purposes, the end of the Co-0p the responsibility for the repair and maintenance of the quay remained.
1961 was a critical year. In the spring a very severe North East gale swept huge seas around the Northern end of the quay and across the harbour pounding the deck mercilessly where the quay widens. The damage done was alarming. The deck was torn off. The apron (the quays foundations) near the end of the quay was badly undermined and the quay was in danger of collapsing. The foreshore from Beach Corner to Fort was badly eroded causing danger of cliff falls. The sewage pipe at the back of the quay had its concrete covering torn off and pipe fractures caused raw sewage to spew out everywhere. Urgent action was needed.
The fishermen were faced with an impossible situation. The cliff was the responsibility of the Rural District Council as was the sewage pipe but the quay was theirs. They had only slender funds and needed urgent help. Their Chairman, Bill Hammond and Secretary Spencer Holland had contacted all the possible sources of help but they were given only excuses, which amounted to refusals. The Ministry would only help if a Harbour Board existed, and there was none. The Chairman of the Parish Council, Robert Wellington, accompanied by representatives Lewis Billing and Jim Liddicoat, both, at the time, full time fishermen address the full Rural District Council and pleaded their cause; unsuccessfully. The Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee had to consider in due time. In view of the urgency of repairs, Robert Wellington and Wally Sabey, our R.D.C. councillor, called a public meeting at the Institute to urge the setting up of a fund to save the quay. On 24th September 1962 local contributions had reached a total of £782. In the meantime a Harbour Board had been formed, and in consequence, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries had donated £1500. By January 1964 the quay had been repaired, all bills paid and a total of £462 16s 2d remained in hand. This was deposited in Lloyds Bank “ to be used when all other funds had been exhausted” and was known as the quay fund.
In 1968 the Parish Council decided that as the Chairmen was a Trustee of the Quay Fund they had an interest in the quay. They began an unsuccessful search for the deeds. What a muddle it all was!
The “Harbour Board,” the few fishermen still trying to earn a living and “keep this going” were in no financial position to do so. Moreover, aware of their responsibility to maintain and repair the quay, they realised their position was desperate. At a final meeting it was unanimously agreed to approach “the judge” for advice.
“The judge” was Mr Hugh Park, a distinguished Q.C. who had first come to Gorran Haven as a visitor in 1946. A lifelong lover of the sea and a keen fisherman, he fell for the Havens charms, bought a cottage near the harbour, acquired a boat and came to visit whenever circumstances permitted. He was friendly, interested in the fishermen, their work and their affairs.
Lewis Billing and “ Boy Jim” Liddicoat explained their dilemma to him and looked at him eagerly for his reaction. “I’ll see into it for you” he replied, and the word went around, “ The Judge is going to see to it for us “
Mr Justice Park (later Sir Hugh) enlisted two other men, Frank Brown and Douglas Marr. Frank, the grandson of a Post Office official who retired to Gorran Haven for health reasons in 1908, had never lived permanently in the village but had never ceased to visit it whenever he could. He shared the same interests as Sir Hugh. A successful businessman of wide experience and with a generous nature, his help would be invaluable. To compliment these, Douglas Marr, a renowned City solicitor and another keen sailor made up a most able trio.
All the papers associated with the Co-Op, the Pound and the background to the quay were gathered and collated. The ownership of the quay and Pound was established and the boundaries delineated. It was established that the fishermen owned the freehold of the quay and the Pound together with that part of the beach between the Northern end of the Pound wall and the Northern end of the quay. The Gorran Haven Harbour and Fisherman’s Society was born and every step was taken to set it up on a sound, secure and inviolable legal basis. The responsibilities of the old Harbour Board (i.e. the repair and maintenance of the quay) were subsumed, and the Society was away! A management committee elected by members at each Annual General Meeting carries out the control and administration of the harbour. The applicants for membership of the Society are considered each year and are elected by secret ballot. Members have no privileges. They not only pay for membership but they pay the same fees as the general public for moorings and a place in the pound. The Gorran Haven Harbour and Fishermen’s Society is a de facto “ QUAY PRESERVATION SOCIETY”
South West Water have been granted a 99 year lease at a satisfactory annual rental, to be reviewed every three years for their sewage pumping station in the pound. The Trustees of the “Quay Repair Fund” have agreed to release the money accrued – at the time of writing over £4300 – which will be matched pound for pound by the Society for a special repair fund. The Society engages highly qualified surveyors to make a detailed structural survey of the quay every three years, and their report is, and will be, acted upon immediately.
The future of both the quay and Pound is now secure.
The above is an extract from a statement originally issued by The Gorran Haven Harbour & Fishermen’s Society.
Sadly all of the individuals named above are no longer with us. They will all however be remembered for their work on behalf of the Fishermen and the wider Gorran Haven community.
As well as the Quay and Pound The Gorran Haven Harbour and Fishermen’s Society own a portion of the building which adjoins the Pound and which is known as Big Cellars.
This building is approximately 200 years old and was formerly known as “Union Cellars”. Portions of it were sold at the Ship Inn at Mevagissey in 1815. Originally there were five seine lofts with pilchard pressing and packing facilities below. This building has been in continuous use by fishermen ever since it’s opening. In more recent years it has been used as a place for making nets and crab pots and for storing all manner of fishing equipment.
In 2007 its integrity came under serious threat when a developer bought two parts of the building. He applied for planning permission to convert these into residential accommodation. The Gorran Haven Harbour and Fishermen’s Society (GHFS) came into its own when it organised public meetings and appointed solicitors to object to this development. Local residents were also encouraged to write letters of objection to the planning authority.
Under the pressure generated the planning application was withdrawn and the building remains largely as it always has.
At about the same time it became obvious that the roof was in need of repair as slates were falling off, especially in bad weather. It was considered that as well as needing to preserve the structure of the building there was also a risk to passers-by who could possibly be injured by falling slates.
In April 2009, with the support of its members, The GHFS agreed to coordinate the planning consents needed to repair a listed building, and the raising of the cash necessary to buy the replacement slates. The roof was completely replaced only 18 months later, in Oct 2010, with tiles made of natural slate obtained from South America. It is almost unbelievable that slates from the other side of the world can be cheaper than from Delabole, only a few miles up the road in North Cornwall.
The GHFS raised the funds for their portion of the cost by selling individual slates to members of the public who were invited to make a contribution of a minimum of £5 per slate. Purchasers were invited to write their own inscription on the back of each slate before it was installed in the roof. Who knows when these will next be seen?
Along the front of this building is a long wooden bench placed in memory of Sir Hugh Park. It is known as “The Parliament Seat” or more popularly known as “The Baloney Bench”! In the summer it is a regular morning meeting place for locals who come to sit together in the sun to discuss the topics of the day. In future they will be able to sit without the fear of being hit by falling slates. Long may they be able to do so.