Picture book fishing village

Web: www.polperro.org
Web: www.visitcornwall.com/destinations/polperro

Polperro Parish Council


A spectacular village just four miles along the coast from Looe and seven miles east of Fowey at the end of the A387, sheltered from the ravages of time and tide in its cliff ravine, it's an enchanting jumble of cottages, each one unmistakably the work of a Cornish fisherman. What he wanted was a place on shore to store his gear and his pilchard catch, and over that a loft divided into rooms like the cuddy of his boat. He reached the ground by means of stone or wooden steps, like a ship's gangway. You see, his idea of a dwelling was that of a ship in stone. And there's a fleet of them at anchor in Polperro. The population of the village was 1,682 in the 2011 Census.

Zephaniah Job was born at St. Agnes in 1750 and came to Polperro in the early 1770's. Being an educated man, he set up a school for the local community and also became a very astute and wealthy businessman with an interests in most things that turned a profit. He also became the steward to the Trelawny estate in Pelynt. In Polperro he is remembered as the "Smugglers Banker". "Free trading" (or as the Government saw it - smuggling) was at its zenith during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, especially during the time of the Napoleonic wars and Job put the "trade" on a sound financial basis, organising the cargoes with the Guernsey businessmen, collecting monies due and arranging legal assistance when it was needed. The Polperro men flourished under his guidance. He was also a money lender, so in 1806 he obtained a banking licence and began issuing Polperro Bank notes in £1, £2,and £5 denominations which were printed in London and payable by Christopher Smith Son & Co, one of the London merchant bankers he dealt with. These provincial notes were basically a promissory note and it was essential that enough coin was always to hand to redeem any notes that were presented, something that Job was diligent about during his lifetime. Job died unexpectedly in 1822 leaving behind a legacy as a fine businessman and a benefactor to Polperro.

Polperro's isolated position made it particularly difficult for the authorities to catch smugglers in possession of contraband. Repeated efforts by Excise officers were often frustrated despite the fact that a Customs Officer, Thomas Pinsent, was resident there for many years from 1766. The Revenue cutters at sea had more success. One Revenue vessel, the Hind, came to be feared by the Polperro smugglers more than any other. Her commander, Lieutenant Gabriel Bray, led a raid by land and sea in 1797 resulting in the arrest of four Polperro men for armed assault and obstruction. The Hind was later responsible for capturing a Polperro boat called the Lottery and her crew, wanted in connection with the murder of a Customs Officer in 1798.

One Polperro family actively involved in the 'trade' were the Quillers. John Quiller and his three sons owned and commanded several boats, including the Swallow, engaged in both privateering and smuggling. The sea took a terrible toll of the Quillers, claiming the lives of many male members of the family. The East Indiaman 'Albemarle' was blown ashore with a valuable cargo of diamonds, coffee, pepper, silk and indigo on 9th December 1708.

Even the Methodist preacher John Wesley remarked after visiting Polperro in 1762: "An accursed thing among them: well-nigh one and all bought or sold uncustomed goods."

Parts of the harbour were rebuilt after destruction by a violent storm on 19th and 20th January 1817, when thirty large boats, two seiners and many smaller boats were destroyed with many parts of the village were consumed by the sea waters and a number of houses were swept away. In November 1824 the worst ever storm occurred: three houses were destroyed, the whole of one pier and half the other were swept away and nearly fifty boats in the harbour were dashed to pieces.

Wending your way through the traffic-free streets to the small harbour today, you're treading the paths where barrows of fish were once carted and, under cover of night, brandy casks and tobacco bales were carried into their hideouts. Make no mistake, this peaceful fishing cove, mellow Polperro, was once a thriving centre for the area's smuggling. Wagon-loads of contraband left here, some heading across Bodmin Moor en route to London. The 'free-traders' have long since sailed into folk history and the shining shoals of pilchards have gone, but a visit to the smuggling museum brings this rich heritage back to life.

Today, in cellars where furtive smugglers once dodged the customs men's muskets, you can see displays of local crafts and fishermen's smocks, or you can dine in style at one of Polperro's excellent restaurants.

Pulling into Polperro from the sea is an unforgettable experience, especially when you've caught a basket full of fish! Fishing trips or pure pleasure cruises are easy to arrange from the quayside. Or take the coast path to explore the secluded smuggling coves of Talland and Lantivet Bay.

One of the most popular places in Cornwall, the village of Polperro is undoubtedly one of the prettiest. Packed tightly into a steep valley on either side of the River Pol, the quaint colour-washed cottages and twisting streets offer surprises at every turn: the Saxon and Roman bridges, the famous House on Props, the old Watch House, the fish quay, and the 16th century house where Dr. Jonathan Couch and his son Richard Quiller Couch lived, naturalist and grandfather of the celebrated writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.

With its protected inner harbour full of colourful boats. Polperro is still a working fishing village, although tourism provides the main source of income. Attractions include a Museum of Smuggling and a Model Village.

Tourism became Polperro's main industry during the 20th century. The village is accessible by train, road and by boat. It was estimated that the village received about 25,000 visitors a day during summer in the 1970's. Visitors are no longer permitted to drive cars into the village, having to leave them in the main car park at Crumplehorn to the north of the village and walk through the half-mile length of the village to its harbour. The village's quaint but narrow streets make driving difficult. There are horse and cart rides and milk floats disguised as trams for those who prefer not to walk.

Couch's House in Lansallos Street was home to naturalist and physician, Jonathan Couch and before him of many generations of the Quiller family who became prosperous through the proceeds of smuggling and buccaneering.

Polperro's War Memorial is some distance outside the village on the coast path towards Talland. Also, tucked away in the village's winding streets (on "The Warren"), is a house clad entirely in shells, known colloquially as "The Shell House".

Although only a small village, is served by two Church of England parishes divided by the River Pol: Lansallos to the west and Talland to the east. The 19th-century Anglican Chapel of St. John, a chapel of ease to Talland Parish Church, stands in the village but no longer conducts services. John Wesley preached in the village in 1762 and 1768: by 1792 it was possible to build a large chapel accommodating 250 people and Methodism flourished in Polperro during the 1800's.

Sclerder Abbey, a Roman Catholic monastery, is located off the road to Looe, just outside the village.

Heritage Coast

The coastline here is part of the 80 mile South Cornwall Heritage Coast, and from Polperro beautiful walks extend along the Coastal Footpath to Talland in the east or Lansallos in the west, both with beaches and interesting churches. These and other secluded coves have, over the centuries, provided ample opportunities for smuggling.

North of Polperro, the village of Pelynt was the home of Bishop Trelawny, of Hawker's famous Song of the Western Men, the Cornish Anthem, and you can see Trelawny's chair and crook in the church. To the north-east, you can walk and picnic in the Deer Park Forest, or at Lanreath watch craft demonstrations at the Folk & Farm Museum.

At the mouth of the River Fowey, the village of Polruan faces St. Catherine's Castle across the water. During the 100 Years' War a chain was stretched between the two to de-mast any invading French ships. Today, the river is alive with pleasure craft and china clay vessels, and there is a regular car / passenger ferry from Bodinnick and a passenger ferry from Polruan, both to Fowey.

The area abounds with literary associations: by Bodinnick ferry slipway is the house where Daphne du Maurier wrote her first novel, The Loving Spirit, and along the secluded southern bank of Pont Pill creek you can see the hut where Leo Walmsley lived and wrote his romantic book love in the Sun. At Penleath Point on the famous Hall Walk footpath is the granite memorial of 'Q' - Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch - who made Fowey, his 'Troy Town' famous worldwide.

Upstream, the picturesque riverside villages and countryside have associations with the legend of Tristan and Iseult, and there are pleasant woodland walks along the banks of the River Lerryn. The whole of this area, along the Fowey river and around the coast as far as Looe, is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Art Galleries

Ebenezer Gallery

Gina's Art Studio

Polperro Art Gallery


Polperro Festival - Mid June.

Polperro Christmas Lights Switch-On - Early December.

Notable Residents

Dr Jonathan Couch (1789-1870) was the only child of Richard and Philippa Couch, of a family long resident at Polperro. For sixty years he was the doctor and trusted adviser of the village and neighbourhood, and used with remarkable shrewdness and perseverance the great opportunities afforded to a naturalist at Polperro. He trained in succession a large number of fishermen to aid him in his pursuits, and the observations made at and near Polperro during his lifetime and since his death have not been equalled in value.

Richard Quiller Couch, (1816-1863) British naturalist, eldest son of Jonathan Couch was also born here.


Cafes in Polperro


Pubs in Polperro

Polperro Heritage Museum       Looe       Polperro Model Village       Polruan       Pelynt

The Coastal Footpath       Trelawny Manor       Looe Island       Polperro Lighthouse