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Porthleven Harbour 2017.jpg
Porthleven Harbour
Porthleven is located in Cornwall
Location within Cornwall
Population3,059 (2011 Census including Ashton and Balwest)
OS grid referenceSW6225
Civil parish
  • Porthleven
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townHELSTON
Postcode districtTR13
Dialling code01326
PoliceDevon and Cornwall
AmbulanceSouth Western
UK Parliament
List of places
50°05′02″N 5°18′54″W / 50.084°N 5.315°W / 50.084; -5.315Coordinates: 50°05′02″N 5°18′54″W / 50.084°N 5.315°W / 50.084; -5.315

Porthleven (/ˌpɔːrθˈlɛvən/) is a town, civil parish and fishing port near Helston, Cornwall, England. The most southerly port in Great Britain, it was a harbour of refuge when this part of the Cornish coastline was infamous for wrecks in the days of sail.[1] The South West Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset passes through the town.[2] The population at the 2011 census was 3,059.[3][4]


Methleigh was the site of a fair and annual market from the year 1066.[5][6] After the Norman Conquest, the Bishop of Exeter held the manor of Methleigh, but the Earl of Cornwall possessed the right to hold the fair. At the time of the Domesday Survey there were 15 acres (6.1 ha) of arable land, 40 acres (16 ha) of pasture and 60 acres (24 ha) of underbrush. The population consisted of 15 villeins, 4 smallholders and 3 serfs.[7]

Until 1844 Porthleven was within the parish of Sithney. The parish Church of St Bartholomew was built in 1842. The name Porthleven is probably connected with St Elwen or Elwyn, whose chapel existed here before 1270. It was rebuilt about 1510, but destroyed in 1549. There were also chapels at Higher Penrose and Lanner Veor (the latter founded in 1377) and a holy well at Venton-Vedna.[8] The Vicar of Porthleven in the 1850s was the Rev. Thomas Lockyer Williams, a Tractarian who introduced practices into the parish which provoked dislike in the Rev. Canon John Rogers of Penrose, Rector of Mawnan and a canon of Exeter.[9]

For local-government purposes, Porthleven was included within the nearby town of Helston, until many years of growth gained it a town council of its own. Its population at the United Kingdom Census 2001 was 3,190.[10]

Porthleven's most recognisable building is the Bickford-Smith Institute next to the pier and harbour entrance. It was built on the site of the old Fisherman's Arms and was opened on 16 December 1884. The clock tower on the west corner is 70 feet (21 m) high. The building originally had a reading room, a committee room, a curator's living room and two bedrooms.[11] The Institute was grade II listed on 18 March 1991 and currently houses the town council and a snooker club.[12] It featured (along with various other scenes from the town) as the incident room in an episode of the TV detective series Wycliffe. A picture of the building against a large breaking wave sometimes appears in the background of BBC UK weather forecasts, particularly when windy conditions and rough seas are expected. The Institute has a plaque to Guy Gibson VC, leader of the Dambuster Raid, on the wall facing the harbour. Gibson was born in India, but saw Porthleven – his mother's home town, where his parents were married – as a home town as well. He visited there while on leave during the war, sometimes attending the Porthleven Methodist Church. His name is marked on the community's war memorial (he was killed in 1944) and a street (Gibson Way) is named after him.[13]

The harbour[edit]

Part of Porthleven's boat building history

William Cookworthy acquired leases on the Tregonning Hill quarries and shipped china clay to his porcelain factory in Plymouth.[14] In 1826, 150 tons of china stone and 30 tons of china clay were exported, and in 1838, 500 tons of china stone. By 1876, 970 tons were exported and in 1883, 1002 tons.[15][16] Granite was also exported, from the quarries at Coverack Bridges and Sithney.[17]

Fifty-two fishing boats were built between 1877 and 1883, employing at times up to twenty people. They ranged in length from 22 feet (6.7 m) to 55 feet (17 m) and were built not only for Mount's Bay ports, but for others in the UK and in South Africa.[18]

Overnight on 12–13 December 1978, Police Constables Joseph James Childs and Martin Ross Reid of Devon and Cornwall Police were killed when their patrol car was swept into the harbour during a heavy storm. A stone memorial was erected on the south-facing harbour wall.[19]


Due to the prevailing westerly winds, it was easy for a ship under sail to be trapped in Mount's Bay and wrecked nearby. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution 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. The Agar Robartes was replaced by the Charles Henry Wright (named after the donor) in November 1882.[20] A boat house on the west side of the harbour entrance was opened in 1894, with a slipway to ease launching. 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 bay. The slipway was dismantled and the boat house used as a store for a while. It has since become the Shipwreck Centre museum.[21]

Protected areas[edit]

Three of the four Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) close to Porthleven, and the Geological Conservation Review (GCR) sites are designated for their geological interest. They are Porthleven Cliffs SSSI, Porthleven Cliffs East SSSI, and Wheal Penrose SSSI. The Giant's Rock, within Porthleven Cliffs SSSI, is a glacial erratic of unknown origin and unknown means of arrival, is near the entrance of Porthleven harbour. Wheal Penrose SSSI is a disused lead mine 550 yards (500 m) to the south with "examples of typical lead zone mineralisation".[22][23][24] The fourth, Loe Pool, is Cornwall's largest natural lake, formed by a barrier beach known as Loe Bar which dams the River Cober.[25]

Porthleven (like almost a third of Cornwall) lies within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Sport and leisure[edit]

Porthleven has exploited its location and powerful swells to become one of Britain's best-known surfing spots, described as "Cornwall's best reef break". Waves often exceeding 6.6 feet (2 m) break on a shallow reef that was shaped by blasting the harbour.[26] Kayaking is also popular. RNLI lifeguards patrol the beach in the holiday season.[27] The beach is separated from the harbour by a granite pier in front of the Porthleven Institute and clock tower. When the tide is out it is possible to walk about three miles east along Porthleven beach. There is also a coastal path with views of the beach below.

Porthleven Bowling Club is based at Methleigh Parc and affiliated to Bowls Cornwall and Bowls England. It was founded in 1959 and has lawn bowling and short-mat bowls facilities. The club and its members compete within Cornwall and nationally, and there are in-house competitions.

Porthleven has a non-league football club in the South West Peninsula League, which operates at levels 10 and 11 of the English football league system. The club's home ground is at Gala Parc.

The restaurateur Rick Stein opened a restaurant in the town, now taken over by fellow chef, Michael Caines.[28]


Porthleven is twinned with Guisseny (Gwiseni) in Brittany, France.[29]

Notable residents[edit]

Porthleven was the birthplace of the Victorian theologian Pender Hodge Cudlip and of David Jewell, an independent school headmaster in the late 20th century.[30]

Porthleven was the home town of the Dambusters' Commanding Officer, Guy Gibson. There is a road named in his memory. The Porthleven-born motor racing driver Chris Craft 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.


  1. ^ "Cornwall Online – The Lizard Peninsula Guide". Lizard-peninsula.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2 May 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  2. ^ The Lizard (Map). Southampton: Ordnance Survey. 2015. ISBN 978 0 319 24305 3.
  3. ^ "Porthleven and Helston South – UK Census Data 2011". Ukcensusdata.com. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  4. ^ City Population site. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  5. ^ "Cornwall | British History Online". British-history.ac.uk. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  6. ^ "Parishes: Botus-Fleming – St Burian | British History Online". British-history.ac.uk. 14 October 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  7. ^ C. Thorn, et al., eds., Cornwall. (Domesday Book; 10.) Chichester: Phillimore, 1979; entry 2,2.
  8. ^ Cornish Church Guide, Truro: Blackford, 1925, p. 185.
  9. ^ H. Miles Brown, The Catholic Revival in Cornish Anglicanism. St Winnow: H. M. Brown, 1980, pp. 40–41.
  10. ^ "Cornwall County Council - Districts - Kerrier - Parish Population Statistics - 2001". Archived from the original on 25 May 2006. Retrieved 2006-01-19.
  11. ^ "Opening Of The Porthleven Institute". The Cornishman. No. 335. 18 December 1884. p. 5.
  12. ^ "The Bickford Smith Institute and attached wall". Historic England. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  13. ^ December 2004. Lawrence Holmes, Guy Gibson and the Cornish Connection.
  14. ^ "Tregonning Hill" (PDF). Germoe Parish Council. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  15. ^ "The china-clay and china-stone industries". The Cornishman. No. 243. 8 March 1883. p. 7.
  16. ^ "Editorial". The Cornishman. No. 316. 7 August 1884. p. 4.
  17. ^ "Editorial". The Cornishman. No. 178. 8 December 1881. p. 4.
  18. ^ "Boat Building At Porthleven". The Cornishman. No. 258. 28 June 1883. p. 4.
  19. ^ Moran, Mike (2013). Alpha 42 No Response. Cornwall.
  20. ^ "Porthleven". The Cornishman. No. 229. 30 November 1882. p. 4.
  21. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2006) [2000]. Cornwall's Lifeboat Heritage. Chacewater: Twelveheads Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 0-906294-43-6.
  22. ^ "Porthleven Cliff" (PDF). Natural England. 27 June 1986. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  23. ^ "Porthleven Cliffs East" (PDF). Natural England. 1990. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  24. ^ "Wheal Penrose SSSI" (PDF). Natural England. 1993. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 January 2014. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  25. ^ "Loe Pool" (PDF). Natural England. 1986. Retrieved 28 October 2011.
  26. ^ "Porthleven Spot Guide – Surf Forecast and Report". Magicseaweed.com. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  27. ^ "Porthleven Beach". Rnli.org. Archived from the original on 14 October 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  28. ^ Smith, Steven. "Rick Stein Porthleven to be taken over by Michael Caines". Falmouth Packet. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  29. ^ "Porthleven Sithney and Guisseny Twinning Association home Page". Archived from the original on 3 October 2011. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
  30. ^ Bates, Stephen (13 July 2006). "Obituary: David Jewell". The Guardian.


External links[edit]