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Similar origins apply to the settlements that developed into Newlyn and Mousehole.
As described by Mattingly (2009), these sites were used as temporary fishing camps from at least the Mesolithic era. The raised coastal beaches were colonised from the high plateau inland for permanent settlements from about the twelfth or thirteenth century by which time the area of Paul Parish incorporated a number of manors all part of the Earldom of Cornwall. Mousehole was the earlier and more important settlement, although in that period it consisted of two linked settlements – in Cornish known as Porthenys (‘island harbour’) and Porthengrouse (‘the cross harbour’). Its English name Musehole was probably given later by sailors. The importance of the settlement derived not only from access to the sea, but also the steep valley sides and streams which fed manorial mills. Residents in 1327 included a clerk, merchant, miller, shoemaker, tailor, weaver, baker, blacksmith, carpenter and mercer. It was the first port in Mount’s Bay to have a protective quay, which was built between 1387 and 1393.
Newlyn was not as important during the middle ages as Mousehole but its origins were nonetheless also medieval. (Its name was usually spelt Lulyn meaning ‘fleet pool’ from the Cornish lu ‘army, fleet’ and lyn ‘pool’). It began like Mousehole as two distinct settlements, Newlyn Town and a smaller twin settlement of Tolcarne and Jackford. Newlyn Town was probably originally a collection of fish cellars and net lofts, at the edge of a basin known as Gwavas Lake (the Cornish word gwaf-vos ‘winter dwelling’ originally referring to the practice of transhumance but in this context referring to winter shelter for fishing boats). From the shore, track-ways ran up the steep valley sides to the church and farmland on the plateau. Half a mile across cornfields to the north, in the tree-lined Newlyn Coombe (coombe meaning ‘valley’) lay Jackford and Tolcarne either side of the Newlyn River. Here animals were driven down from farmland on the plateau and across a ford and later a bridge.
This practice is marked by nearby place-names ‘Street an Nowan’ (street of the ox) and ‘Fradgen’ (ox road). The parish church at Paul was the most dominant local institution in the medieval period; not only did it lease the fish-tithes but also commissioned the repair of Newlyn’s quay. In 1435 Bishop Lacy appealed to the faithful to contribute to the cost of rebuilding the pier in return for 40 days of indulgence (remission of sins). The medieval communities of Newlyn were very small, still less than a dozen families in Newlyn Town by the sixteenth century, but it had already acquired some distinction as a place associated with fishing, described in 1530 as a ‘hamlet to Mousehole’ and a ‘poor fisher town’ (Mattingly 2009: 22).
The Cornish and Mount’s Bay medieval maritime economies
The maritime trade of Mount’s Bay was extremely important to the development of the Cornish economy as a whole. As early as the third century BC, tin and copper were being exported from Cornwall to the Mediterranean (Doe 2006). It is even thought that the Phoenicians traded for tin as far north as Cornwall and that St Michael’s Mount and Hayle estuary may have been trading posts for these seafaring merchants from the eastern Mediterranean. In the Middle Ages, the chief exports from Cornwall were tin, fish and hides, as well as cheese, cloth and horses. 16 The Wine and above all salt were Cornwall’s major imports in the Middle Ages. Grain, iron, figs, raisins, garlic and onions were more occasionally recorded. As well as wine, pilgrims were also an ‘English’ economy by contrast was dominated by the export of wool and cloth, illustrating the distinctive character of Cornish resources, trade and political economy. England, with its agrarian base, looked south and east for its trade, towards the Baltic and North Sea continental ports. Cornwall and the Westcountry, with its relatively rugged coastal landscapes and proximity to the Atlantic looked to the far Atlantic North, southern Europe and the New World 17.
After Cornwall’s status as the Norman Earldom of Cornwall was superseded by the status of ‘Duchy’, Cornwall was more deeply tied to the English Crown, but in many ways it remained stubbornly independent and unruly in land-use, religious politics and maritime affairs. The Killigrew family for example was reluctantly charged by the early Tudor crown with the responsibility of protecting England’s most important south-westerly harbour (Falmouth as it later became known), but was notoriously caught up in piracy, proving a menace at times to English shipping and interests. Meanwhile Cornish privateers were willing to work as mercenaries for the Bretons, for as Doe points out ‘the type of national loyalty we might consider today was irrelevant in the medieval world of shifting boundaries and constant conflict’ important part of the medieval Mounts’ bay economy as it lay on the pilgrimage route between Spain, France and Ireland.
Pryor (2011: 11) describes these two historic/geographic regions as: a North Sea Province ‘which consisted of the Scottish and English East coast, extended across to the Pennines, through the Midlands, to the South coast around Dorset. The contacts here were with Scandinavia, the Low Countries, France and Germany. This contrasted with an Atlantic province to the west, which included Ireland, the Western Isles, the Isles of Man, Devon and Cornwall’, with...‘close ties between those regions and neighbouring parts of Europe, especially Brittany, Spain and Portugal’. Following the example of Cunliffe, we might conceive of this North West European Atlantic region as having a ‘unity’ (in Braudel’s sense of the term) as a region with shared cultures and histories linked by the ocean. For Braudel, the diversity of the Mediterranean underlay a unity, which extended far beyond its waters and shores to its cities and hinterlands of mountain and desert, linked by sea-trade.
Limitations and variations in geography drove exchange. Whilst harbours supported a ‘...floating population of sailors... mixed and polyglot; It is an unforgiving world that Braudel depicts...toil, epidemics, the chances of trade, pirate raids and kidnappings for enslavement, near-starvation at times on the subsistence afforded by poor, stony soil’ (Burrow 2009: 484). The parallels with Cornwall are striking. For example ‘on 16 June 1640 in one of the worst pirate raids, 60 people were taken from five fishing boats and four other vessels near Mousehole’ (Mattingly 2009: 47-48). Hunger also was a feature of life especially during years when the pilchard fishery failed and coastal dwellers were force to rely on limpets and mussels for protein (Rowe 2006).
(2006: 8). It was not only Cornwall’s proximity to the sea and distance from the English seat of power that gave it its independence. Its most precious resource – tin, also meant that it was governed by distinct legislation, for example with power being invested in the local Stannaries that organised the tin trade.
By quantity, fish was by far the main trade of Cornwall in the Middle Ages. From the late twelfth century onwards, fish were already being exported to Spain, France and Gascony. St Ives and Mousehole were the most important ports in the west of the county, followed by the other Mount’s Bay ports of Marazion, Newlyn, Penzance, Porthplement (which no longer exists) and Lamorna (Mattingly 2009).
The main fishing ground for Mousehole and Newlyn was the bay itself, although from the fifteenth century the Irish fisheries were also important. Plentiful supplies of fish of many different types were available providing year round employment in the fisheries. This was in contrast to the more seasonal fisheries of the East English Coast. Although the East coast ports were more significant in the early medieval period, they gradually declined relative to those in the West, partly because of this seasonal factor but also because of war and shifting Baltic herring stocks. Fisheries in Westcountry ports also benefitted from weaker seigniorial control 18 and access to new fishing grounds in Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and new markets in the New World. The Newfoundland trade in particular was favoured by the Elizabethan government and deemed worthy of protection from the marauding fleets of the Spanish. Boats built by Westcountry shipyards and manned by Westcountry seafarers commonly sailed to Spain (with fish and other commodities) to collect large amounts of salt for curing, then sailed to Newfoundland where they took on board dried cod, taking this cargo back to the Mediterranean and then returning to Britain with wine, fruit, olive oil and other items.
There were principally three different markets for fish caught off Cornwall – a local market (for fresh fish), middle-distance markets (for which fish were lightly cured by quick salting or wind-drying) and long distance markets (for fully saltcured fish). France and Spain were the principle markets for the latter who relied on fish during Lent and on fasting days. The Elizabethan government also attempted to increase domestic fish consumption by maintaining Catholic restrictions on meat According to Kowaleski (2000) seigniorial rights and profits from fishing were relatively small but seigniorial investment was strong.
(one of many acts of the Privy Council regarding fisheries). In fact the Cornish had a
popular toast to the Pope:
Long life to the Pope! May he live to repent And add just 6 months to the term of his Lent, And tell all his vassals from Rome to the Poles There’s nothing like pilchards for saving their souls!
Long life to the Pope!
And may our streets run with blood!
St Ives and Mount’s Bay developed substantial fish curing centres especially for pilchards – pilchards and hake being the most commonly exported fish from Cornwall. The pilchards mostly arrived in late summer to the coast of Cornwall, their most northerly limit. Hake followed in their wake, feeding on the shoals. The principle catching methods for hake (and other fish like cod and ling) was hook and line, whilst nets were used to catch pilchards with two rival catching techniques, drifting and seining.
Cornish fishing and early industrialisation
Drifting and seining Seine fishing originally developed as an industry sometime around the fourteenth century. A shoal of pilchards was encircled by men using nets from small boats close to shore. The operation was directed by a huer positioned on a cliff-top who would announce the arrival of the shoals with the cry ‘Hevva, hevva!’ (Cornish meaning ‘a shoaling place’). The huer would then co-ordinate the movement of boats around the shoal with the aid of a trumpet and a bushel. A ‘seine’, was composed of two to three boats, a net or nets, and a cellar for processing and storing the fish. This seine capital was supplied and owned by a capitalist merchant. As Rowe points out (2006), the need to organise a distant foreign market, maintain three boats and cellars for a short period of use, and the increasingly large size of nets, all called for a capitalistic scale of organisation. The hired labour was provided by local farmer-workers, smallholders, miners, shopkeepers and grocers. A season ran for anything up to 10 weeks during late summer and autumn, but the shoals only came in for a small number of days during this period, and that is all the workers were hired and paid for 19. They received their earnings either by wage or some system of wage and share. Such systems varied from place to place and over time. Landowners and mine-owners, such as the Bolithos in Mount’s Bay, held large controlling stakes in such ventures.
The drift-fishery was also longstanding, particularly in Paul parish, where there were few beaches for seining and a long history of independent fishers and mariners.
However it particularly developed as an industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Drift fishing was done using nets typically cast from luggers (sailing boats used for fishing with two perpendicular sails positioned fore and aft 20, Fig.17) and set further out to sea then those of the seiners. Amongst other species they fished for pilchards, and there were bitter feuds between the seiners and the drifters, the former claiming that the drifters took all the fish before they came inshore.
Seining interests, being those of the merchant and gentry class, were strongly represented in parliament, and for a long time had the advantage because they were excluded from, or received certain compensation for, the salt duties (Rowe 2006). As in those days all fish not destined for immediate local consumption had to be preserved and salting was the main method by the eighteenth century, salt duties were a highly contentious issue in Cornwall 21. Pilchards were ‘baulked’ in layers of salt, either in cellars that a group of fishermen could lease or in large capitalist operations utilising an outdoor court. A large work-gang of women and children provided the labour required to salt, press and pack the pilchards. After salting the fish were packed into casks and the oil was pressed out of them (a by-product that was used to fuel lamps). Rowe provides figures for total exported between 1820 and 1877: 960, 051 ½ barrels or hogsheads, and an average of 16, 553 hogsheads per annum (ibid: 334). After one of the best seasons ever known in 1790, 52,000 It is thought that in the St Ives area, the autumn flooding of the mines may have coincided with the pilchard season, giving miners the chance to make up their earnings through fishing (Rowe 2006);
whilst the inter-seasonality of agriculture and fishing is expressed in the Cornish rhyme, ‘when the corn is in the shock, the fish are on the rock’.
Fore and aft: forward (towards the bow of the vessel) and backward (towards the stern).
Salt was not only widely used to preserve fish for export but also to preserve fish and pork for home consumption, vital to avoid starvation in the lean months at the end of winter.
hogsheads were exported and each hogshead contained up to 3000 fishes! (ibid: