Unspoilt medieval fishing village
Three miles south-west of Helston on the B3304, and a fishing village since medieval times, Porthleven's present layout is a result of plans in the early 19th century to develop it into a major port. The granite harbour wall was built in 1825 to provide some protection for the harbour. Though its success was limited by its south westerly facing position, exposing it to the prevailing weather, the town nevertheless retains much character for the visitor. The population at the 2011 census was 3,094.
It is a quiet resort, excellent for those who want to "get away from it all". However in winter this coast is stormy and many ships have been wrecked here.
Porthleven beach lies to the east of the town adjacent to the harbour and near the village centre. RNLI lifeguards patrol it during the holiday season. The beach is separated from the harbour by a granite pier, which stands in front of the Porthleven institute and clock tower. When the tide is out it is possible to walk in an easterly direction along Porthleven beach for approximately three miles past the Loe Bar.
St. Bartholomew Church was consecrated on 3rd August 1842. At this stage it was a simple box structure with an apse at the east end to contain the Altar. Initially it was a chapel of ease but in October 1844 became a separate Ecclesiastical District. In 1891 there were alterations and a new baptistry was built. On the North Wall are two stained glass windows dated 1884 and 1904. Above the screen high on the west wall are two windows depicting St. Barnabas and St. Bartholomew.
In 1855 the harbour was leased by Harvey and Co, of Hayle, who created a deeper inner basin which was protected by the massive timber baulk gates still in use today. Trade increased dramatically with imports of coal, limestone and timber, and exports of tin, copper and china clay. From the 1850's the Porthleven boat-building industry became a major employer. The large slip saw the launch of clippers, schooners and yachts destined for ports around the world. Two Porthleven-built trawlers still work from Brixham but the last boat was launched from here in the late 1970's.
The RNLI stationed a lifeboat at Porthleven in 1863. A boat house was built at Breageside from where the boat was taken to the water on a carriage. A new boat house on the west side of the harbour entrance was opened in 1894 with a slipway to make launching easier. The station was closed in 1929 as the neighbouring stations at The Lizard and Penlee had been equipped with motor lifeboats that could cover the whole of Mount's Bay. The slipway was dismantled and the boat house was used as a store for a while but has since become the Wreck & Rescue Centre.
The two cannon either side of the harbour were once fired in anger at Napoleon's navy during the battle of Brest and come from the frigate HMS 'Anson', wrecked on Loe Bar in 1807 with the loss of 120 sailors.
The Bickford-Smith Institute, with its imposing 70 foot clock tower, was built in 1883 as a Literary Institute by William Bickford-Smith of Trevarno. The building featured in the national press in 1989, when pictures showed the tower engulfed by enormous waves.
To the east is Loe Pool, Cornwall's largest freshwater lake, formed by a sand and shingle bar thrown up by the sea. A walk from here takes you through the National Trust's Penrose Estate and along the Cober Valley to Helston.
In February 2014 a violent storm smashed the harbour gates and sank several fishing boats moored in the harbour.
Discover Porthleven – an online museum – was created in 2015 as an ongoing community project. Its aim is to record all Porthleven's history. Large amounts of images and text are being received from around the world as well as from local residents. Once up to date it is hoped to start recording history in the making as tomorrow makes today history.
Porthleven was the birthplace of the Victorian theologian and religious writer Pender Hodge Cudlip (1835–1911) and of David Jewell (1934–2006), a prominent British independent school headmaster during the late 20th century.
Porthleven was the home town of the Dambusters' Commanding Officer, Guy Gibson VC (1918–1944), and there is a road named in his memory.
Former motor racing driver Chris Craft (1939-), who competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race for over a decade, including a third-placed finish in 1976, as well as two races in Formula One, was born in Porthleven.
David Hosking (1944-2020) a well known painter was born here.
Porthleven Feast Day - 22nd February.
Porthleven Food Festival - Mid April.
The Masked Ball - Early May.
Seadrift Kitchen Cafe
The Square Cafe
The Ship Inn is a true Cornish pub built into the rocks at the entrance to the harbour and on the Coastal Footpath.
The Atlantic Inn a traditional pub with panoramic sea views.
The Harbour Inn a harbour-side pub with great views.
Wreck & Rescue Centre Marconi Visitors Center Trevarno Gardens Cornwall's Beaches
Helston Lizard Peninsula Mullion Cove The Penrose Estate Praa Sands The Coastal Footpath