The history of Looe as a trading and fishing port can be traced to pre-medieval times.
During the 16th century, the twin towns of East and West Looe; linked by a bridge over the Looe River; were each granted a Royal Charter and were administered by a Mayor and Burgesses.
The Mayor and Burgesses of each town were also responsible for the repair and maintenance of the quays and foreshore on their respective sides of the river.
By the early 19th Century, Looe was not only a thriving fishing port, but had become a major Cornish trading Harbour.
The late 1830’s saw the Burgesses of both East and West Looe trying to improve their respective harbour sides with slipways, jetties and new quay walls. However, these developments altered the flow of the river and during bad weather conditions, vessels moored either side of the harbour were damaged.
Vessel owners complained about the state of the harbour to the respective town Burgesses, which caused friction between the two Administrations.
The problem of conditions in the port remained and finally complaints to the Government of the time resulted in Captain Vetch, an Admiralty surveyor, being sent from London in 1846 to study the situation in the port.
As a result of the report of Captain Vetch to the Admiralty, THE EAST AND WEST LOOE HARBOUR AND BRIDGE ACT was enacted by Parliament in 1848. This was . . . “An Act for maintaining and improving the Harbour of LOOE, in the County of Cornwall and for taking down the present Bridge between East and West Looe across the said Harbour and erecting a new bridge thereof”
This is a Public Act and the recital of the 1848 Act referred to. ..” the proper maintenance and improvement of the Harbour of LOOE which would promote the trade of the towns of East Looe and West Looe and of the adjacent towns and districts and would also benefit the fisheries. But the said harbour cannot be effectually maintained and improved unless the same be placed under one management”
The statutory instrument gave the Commissioners temporary powers to compulsory purchase parcels of land abutting the harbour below the bridge. Some of such land being returned to the original owners after one year. East Looe beach was one of the properties returned to the Burgesses of East Looe by the Commissioners. [To this day, the Commissioners still retain ownership of 10 feet of East Looe Beach abutting the Banjo Pier.]
The Commissioners also had jurisdiction over the tidal waters of the East and West rivers above and below the bridge and… ” 1000 yards seaward of the old groyne.”.
(The “old groyne” was situated approximately where the toilets are today on the seafront at East Looe.)
The Act effectively took the management of Looe Harbour out of the hands of the squabbling Burgesses of East Looe and West Looe. The first Board of Looe Harbour Commissioners consisted of 15 men, who were responsible for the complete management of the Harbour. The Commissioners had powers to employ a Harbour Master and Clerk for the day to day running of the port.
Revenue for the upkeep of the Harbour was collected through the levy of “harbour dues”, rental of harbour side properties and dues levied on fish landings. [These methods of income are current as of this present day]. Under the new management regime, the harbour prospered and in 1858 a new Bridge was rebuilt farther upstream from the site of the old one.
The railway came to the harbour in 1860, thus spelling the demise of the Liskeard – Looe Canal and opening up a broader spectrum for the traders from the port of Looe. Rail track was laid along East Looe quay to the seafront. This facilitated easier and efficient loading and offloading of fish, timber, granite ,cement and other commodities from the many large sailing [and later power driven] vessels which traded to and from the port.
When the Lifeboat Station was opened on the seafront at East Looe in 1866, the Harbour Commissioners constructed a slipway into the harbour to facilitate the launch of the Lifeboat should launching off East Looe beach due to tidal conditions be impossible. A standard self-righting rowing and sailing Lifeboat remained on station until 1930, when power driven boats made it obsolete and the RNLI closed the station. In 1992 the RNLI reopened the Looe Station with a “D” class inshore Lifeboat. In 2003 the new Albatross Lifeboat House became operational with an additional “Atlantic” class boat was put on station. The new boathouse has been constructed abutting East Looe Quay with a new slipway to facilitate launching directly into the harbour.
The number of Harbour Commissioners has reduced over passing years, for various reasons, from 15 to 12.
By 1972, the 12 Commissioners included [as unelected co-optees] the Mayor of Looe Urban District Council and the Looe Railway Station Master. With Caradon District Council replacing Looe Urban Council and the demise of the position of the Looe Railway Station Master, the current Board now consists of 10 Commissioners elected triennially by the voters of Looe.
On 6 June 1985, the administration of the Harbour became a Charitable Trust and is now known as The East and West Looe Harbour and Bridge Charity. Looe is one of the only two Charitable Trust Harbours in Cornwall.
Since 1848 the Harbour has gone through many changes; primarily because of the nature of the “ups and downs” in the manner of trade through the port. Fishing has always been the main integral industry in the port and although methods of fishing and legislation have changed over the years, there is still a viable Fresh Fish Auction Market held each weekday on the quayside.
The modern Board of Commissioners have control of the two harbour side car parks, lease various units and buildings to fishing related industries as well as employ 10 persons for the ongoing upkeep and maintenance of harbour.
As well as moorings and quayside berths for some 85 private boats and dinghies; the fishing fleet at Looe consists of 47 vessels of various sizes [mainly under 10 metres in length] from Trawlers to hand line mackerel boats. The fleet employs approximately 120 fishermen with another 40 workers employed in the ancillary related industries.
“JASINGS” ROUND TOWN & BEACH
Come, all you East Looe boys of old, a flight of fancy I’ll unfold. Come wallow in nostalgic haze and live again those bygone days. Let pleasant memories backward reach in a game of “jasings” round town and beaeh. As erstwhile chums around you flock, we’ll start off now from Skiddery Rock. First Shanny Pool is met and passed, Cow Rock and Brown Rock, Brown Rock’s last. Up by the Mountain, out through Lake, to reach Tom Barbers a climb we make. Up the ladder hand over hand, for a moment on top we stand, a risky descent, some will slide when getting down the other side. Here you must be careful, cool, or finish up in Conger Pool.
Then headlong rush o’er rocks and weed, make for the Cave in breathless speed, our feet know every pitch and hold, what care we if the waters cold? Soon we are in upon the sand with “Rinkle Pool” on the starboard hand. Brown clay-faced Ropewalk high above, this is the sort of life we love.
“Up Saunders” comes the leader’s call, then up we follow one and all. A stiff climb this if there’s been rain – get two steps up – slip back again. Your speed somehow you must increase, so, short-cut through a “Tiddy Piece”. So on through nettles, through the woad, up and across the Plaidy road. Onward and upward through the brake, now your second wind you take. Never the smallest boy did yield and we’ve reached the top of Windmill Field. From here we look out across the bay, and watch the “sculls” of mackerel play. The “Teddy Bear”, with just five bands, shot in a “scull” in Popey Sands. A thousand gulls, each hopes to claim a dinner ere they tuck the seine.
We cannot linger at this place, we’ve only finished half the “Jase”, so racing off, we wonder who will be first to get down to Looe. Into Daisy Field by way of the stile, over which we clamber in single file. Down the steep carpet of white and green., where the mackerel huers can be seen. One’s taking a rest because his bolts been “shot” and he’s wondering now how many they’ve got. Yet one more stile of slate and wood at the end of the lane where Old Battery stood. This place is known as “Up-on-the-hill”, where many a Jack has courted his Jill.
Look down over “Crissy-Cross” as we passd by, see the washing, all bramble-borne, laid out to dry. A woman with apron as clean as a pin, her basket beside her, is “picking it in”. But onward and downward, our tarry-twine boots send up sparks as the flint stones are rapped by our “scoots”. Past Gwendrock, Marwinthy and Tobin Steps too, ’til Old Tower Hill Chapel is brought into view. There’s a prayer meeting on, as we pass by the door their voices swell out as they “Pull For the Shore”.
Down Castle Street now, but mind how you tread, Jack ScantJebury’s cows have just gone on ahead; and the women are out and they fret and they fume as they wash it away with the bucket and broom.
A tiresome job this and it all seems in vain, for they know that tomorrow they’ll do it again. We’re away down the hill as their cobbles they drench, cross over Fore Street and through Pedlar’s Bench, where the rhythm of hammer on chisel is heard, as the headstones are shaped in the old granite yard. Black posthumous letters are carved out of lead; for the rich they’re in Gold and speak well of the dead. But black letters or gold ones, the ultimate three say with equal finality R.I.P.
Two three-masted schooners came in yesterday, one’s unloading coal and one’s taking in clay. At Dick Pearce’s boatyard a moment we pause, where the swing of the adze beats out time for the saws, where in goes the oak and the lofty elm tree and out comes a ship, to go down to the sea. And now, “Up-between” where there’s never much light, on to Hallelujah Comer and here we turn right; past The Bay Lodgings House, for Dark Lane it’s too late, and we’re out on the quay again just by Dung Gate. Little Pier, Little Beach and the Lifeboat slip too. We leave on our right as we pass on up through “Chichane” where we tarry, indeed where we stop, by the famous old landmark. Tom Cook’s Blacksmith Shop.
We’ve done a full circle, I hope we’re agreed that this mental excursions not left us fatigued. That places and faces have been brought to mind, from the days of our youth now, alas, far behind.
A Story, composed by Mrs. Florrie Prynn of West Looe using the names of the old luggers that used to fish out of Looe. (Circa 1980)
Sir – Seeing that the fishing boats of Looe are in the news again, which often makes the older inhabitants think of the fleet of yester-year. I have made up this little fantasy, bringing in the names of the boats I remember in my youth at Looe. I feel sure that it will make interesting reading for the older townspeople of Looe.
Some years ago a party of chaps and girls set out from Looe to walk through the woods to the little “JOHN WESLEY” chapel at the Trelawne Mill for the “HARVEST HOME” evening. T’was said that once “BILLY BRAY” preached there. I don’t remember the names of all “OUR BOYS”, but “OUR GIRL’S” names come readily to mind. There was “IDA” and “EMMA”, “EVELYN” and “DOROTHY”, “MONA”, “GRETA” and “HENRIETTA”, “GRACIE” was there too, she was a big girl, so to was “KATHLEEN”. As we ambled through the woodland path the “MAYFLOWER” had long withered, and the hawthorn, no “MAYBLOSSOM” boasted. Overhead in the evening sky a lone “SEAGULL” darted in “SWIFT” and silent flight. I remember “ARTHUR” was our “LEADER”, he said he could “GUIDE ME” and the others to where some rare and lucky “SHAMROCK” grew. He was hoping for some luck with “ELLEN LOUISE”. I plucked some wild “FOR-GET -ME- NOT” for “ADELA”, she was my “LITTLE GEM”. I often gave her some little “TRINKET” to keep as a “TALISMAN”. When we arrived at the chapel we were made very “WELCOME”, and some of the more “WILLING BOYS” helped to blow the organ. When we came out after the service it was long past “TWILIGHT”, in fact it was dark: fortunately “EILEEN” had brought a torch almost like a “SEARCHLIGHT”, and when it shone out in all it’s “GLORY” it was like a sort of “GUIDING STAR” which would “LEAD ME” and the rest of us back through the woods. For the first mile or so we made good “PROGRESS”, then the battery failed and we were in the dark, “UNDAUNTED” we pressed “ONWARD”, until eventually, tired out but happy we saw the “KINDLY LIGHT” of home. P.S. “IRIS” and “ELFREDA” were at home with ‘OUR DADDY’.