3. Industry - Then and Now
The huge opencast tin mining in the creek began in 1785 and closed around 1812. The submarine mining started (in Perran Creek) probably in the late 1700s. The first in Restronguet Creek was the Carnon Mine (off the Tram Road) in 1824. It is true that the bed of the Carnon River (and many others) was surface-worked for hundreds of years, since Roman times in fact It was of course only copper ore that was shipped to S. Wales; this was because it took 18 tons of coal to smelt I ton of Copper. The vessels then brought cargoes of coal to Cornwall. A profitable two way trade. Tin, on the other hand, had to be smelted and assayed locally. (Barry Simpson, August 2007).
Restronguet Creek lies along the western side of The Point. This extensive but intimate waterway, with its tree-lined shores and backdrop of fresh green fields, communicates a sense of tranquillity and adds much to the quality of the environment. However, this sense belies the industrial history of the creek, which in former centuries was greatly involved in the pursuit of mineral wealth.
The minerals most abundant in Cornwall are tin and copper. In Restronguet Creek there is a large resource of alluvial (water‑deposited) tin which was surface-worked for centuries. When in the early eighteenth century the technology of the Industrial Revolution became available, it was also mined under the creek.
The same technology was used in the hinterland beyond the creek to extract huge deposits of copper ore by deep rock mining in the Gwennap/St Day area. As Restronguet Creek was the nearest access point for shipping the ore to South Wales to be smelted, a new railway was built in 1826 from near Redruth to Restronguet and a new port, Devoran, was created. Upstream from Devoran there was already a busy wharf at Perran Foundry, where all kinds of mining equipment was produced and transported, including powerful steam engines. Explosives for use in the mines were manufactured in the nearby Kennall Woods and smelters for lead and tin were constructed at Point.
In the 1840s the West Briton recorded the arrival in the creek of as many as ten ships a day, bringing coal from Wales and timber from Scandinavia. These ships would then take away cargoes of ore to Wales for smelting. Extra quays were built and dredgers were employed to keep the channels clear from silt brought down from the mines by the Carnon River. When this proved to be ineffectual, goods were brought downstream by shallow boats and loaded at a special quay extension constructed at Restronguet Passage for ocean-going schooners.
Restronguet Creek was then a noisy and vibrant place at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution in Cornwall. All this came to an end, however, when cheaper mineral sources were found elsewhere in the world and the Cornish mines closed. Underground in Cornwall there still remains a great resource of valuable minerals.
As for the residents of The Point, most would wish to keep the creek as it is. As recently as 1982 only the falling price of tin dissuaded an international firm from pressing their application to Carrick District Council for permission to dredge for tin in the creek.(Tom Rouncefield, June 2005)
The Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape was Inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2006
The Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape (popular name Cornish Mining) was Inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2006. The Site is made up of 10 separate areas and comprises historic mining sites, associated industrial complexes, mining settlements, associated great houses and gardens as well as miner’s smallholdings, mineral tramways and railways, and mineral ports and quays. Area A6 - Gwennap Mining District with Devoran, Perran and Kennall Vale - includes Restronguet Creek from the A.39 at Devoran down to Point Quay and finishes more or less at a boundary drawn from the small streamlet on the south side by Tregunwith Quay across to Carnon Yard and back to Point Quay. This designated area deliberately encloses the operations of the 18th century Carnon Streamworks and Old Carnon Mine, Lower Carnon Mine and Restronguet Creek Mine with engine houses at Carnon Mine and Point Quay and on the artificial island off Point Quay, all with workings extending under the creek. Whilst not within the World Heritage Site, Restronguet Point is important nonetheless, not least because of the ferry on the Point and some significant historic buildings at Porthgwidden and Harcourt. The narrow peninsula overlooks Restronguet Pool where ships waited for the tide before proceeding upriver to Perran Foundry and Devoran Quays. In the mid 19th century it must have been a bustling place - the Pool full of ships loaded with engine parts bound for mining fields across the world and ships from Swansea waiting to load copper for the smelters there; timber for the mines pickling in the timber ponds on either side of Strangeweke Quay close to the Pandora Inn; copper loading at Marble Head Quay and a ship being built at Carnon Yard just visible against the backdrop of noxious smoke from the Lead and Tin smelting works at Penpol.
Nicholas Johnson MBE, MA. Bsc. FSA. MIFA., Historic Environment Manager, Environment and Heritage, Cornwall County Council, 17/02/2007
Pollution: the Wheal Jane incident
The Wheal Jane incident was a very visual minewater pollution event which affected the Fal Estuary including Restronguet Creek in January 1992 and resulted in the establishment of an ongoing water treatment system ... The discharge of minewater from Wheal Jane resulted in the establishment of a long‑term management system involving a passive reed-bed storage system developed to treat the mine water discharge. This has now been replaced with an active treatment plant, comprising a high-density sludge alkali-dosing plant, which during its first full winter of operation treated 4,400 million litres of water. To date the engineering treatment of the minewater discharge from Wheal Jane has cost in excess of £20 million.(From http://www.projects.ex.ac.uk/geomincentre/estuary/main/jane.htm)
A photograph of the polluted water, looking across from Bellevue (almost at the southwestern tip of The Point) to Restronguet Weir. (Photograph, JC)
Marble Head Quay, formerly Harracrack or Harcourt Quay
(opposite Restronguet Passage)
Marble Head Quay
... The said Quay is most excellently well suited for landing Coals, and shipping Copper Ores; to which Purposes it has been hitherto applied; and lies at a convenient distance from the most considerable Copper Mines in the County. The Depth of Water along Side of the Quay, when the Tide is up, is at Neap Tides, at least ten Feet. ... It was Built about five years ago by Chasewater Company, at the Expense of £200 and upwards ...
Truro, March 7th, 1783.
(From a poster reproduced in the Restronguet Creek Society Newsletter 2000)
The Quay was used by fishermen to dry out their nets and to lay up their boats, until property development in the late 1950s closed the carriageway linking the quay to the main road.
The then owner of Seaways, a Mr Porter, took in the land between Seaways and the Creek, extending the property by approximately three times the area. The pathway extending from the Quay around the tip of The Point and along the south bank of the Carrick Roads to Loe Beach was also closed, the pathway being taken into the adjoining properties.
(Terry Blackburn in discussion with JBC, November 2007).
Truro oyster fishery
The Truro oyster fishery, lying along the River Fal’s Carrick Roads, is populated by the British species known as the ‘flat’ or ‘edible’ oyster, Ostræ Edulis. For many, fishing in the Fal is and has been a leisure activity, or at most a part‑time occupation. Around Penpol and Point there were very few men with fishing as their main occupation, especially when there were more lucrative jobs on offer. Those that did fish for oysters were usually recorded as "oyster dredgers". This was also the name for the boats they used.
Today the Restronguet Creek oyster dredgers are the world’s last oyster boats to use only sails or oars. The dredgemen work the oyster beds with triangular iron dredges dragged along the riverbed as the boat is allowed to drift. This might seem inefficient but the fishermen have agreed not to use powered boats, not as a quaint refusal to move with the times but in order to preserve stocks. Oyster fishing has now died out on the east coast of England, but in the Fal today the quality and quantity are as good as they have been for fifty years.
The rights of individuals to collect oysters from the waters around Falmouth have been exercised since at least the late 16th century. During the mid 19th century over fishing led to a scarcity of oysters in the South East of the country, hence a sharp increase in their price. The result was that not only professional fisherman came in droves to Falmouth, but men from other trades who were attracted by the high returns. On a fine day up to 200 boats could be seen oyster dredging.
Commercial oyster dredging continues on a greatly reduced scale, but some things have not changed, notably the bye-law forbidding the removal of oysters by engine powered craft. This means that the oyster fishermen today use techniques and equipment that have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. I consider that the Councils, working together, should provide access and practical facilities to continue to use their undoubted and unique skills to the best advantage.
Oyster fishermen to be spared £4,000 licence fee
fishermen in a part of Cornwall will not have to pay for new licences
if European leaders sweep away the licensing exemption scheme.
Sarah Newton, MP for Truro and Falmouth, said she has secured assurances from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) that fishermen working on the Fal Estuary will be saved from paying the £4,000 per licence.
Fishermen of the Port of Truro Oyster Fishery have been gathering oysters from the Fal for more than 500 years. The Fishery is the last remaining commercial fishing fleet under sail in Europe.
Marine Fisheries Licensing was introduced by the European Union in 1992, but an exemption was secured meaning Fal oyster fishermen did not need to buy Marine Fisheries Licenses.
European leaders are reviewing the exemptions may remove the exemption covering the Port of Truro Oyster Fishery.
If the move goes ahead the cost of buying a Marine Fisheries Licence could be as much as £4,000.
Mrs Newton said she was assured by Sir Bill Cailaghan, chairman of the MMO, that if they extended Marine Fisheries Licences to the Port of Truro Oyster Fishery fisher- men will not be charged for licences.
She said: “I am pleased that progress has been made in securing the ongoing viability of the Port of Truro Oyster Fishery. The Fishery, and the annual Fal Oyster Festival, is an asset to Cornwall, and I will continue to do all I can to ensure that the last fleet under sail in Europe continues to supply oysters for generations to come.”
The Western Morning News, 14 October 20ll
A thriving shipbuilding industry flourished during the nineteenth century and continues today at Penpol boatyard. The best known of the local boat-builders were William 'Foreman' Ferris, Peter Ferris, Frank Hitchens, Tom Hitchens, Stephen Brabyn and more recently Terry Heard and Ralph Bird (Pilot Gigs).
The most famous of these was undoubtedly William 'Foreman' Ferris of Restronguet. His first boat was the “Harriet” built in 1861 at Low Hill in Pill Creek. The second was the “Six Brothers” in 1890 at Ponsmain, the same place he built the “Florence” five years later in 1895. He built many other craft besides these Falmouth working boats and perhaps his finest was the beautiful 101-foot coasting schooner “Rhoda Mary” in 1891, claimed to be the fastest of her kind ever built.
I believe that you will find that the schooner was constructed c.1868
(Tom Champagne, January, 2009)
John Stephens acquired the Ferris yard at Canon Yard, but continued to employ “Foreman” Ferris. There was also a sizeable shipyard at the seaward end of Devoran Quay. This was run by a Hugh Eddy Stephens I believe was a distant relative of John. This yard built ships of up to 175 tons.
(Barry Simpson, August 2007).
Ralph Bird, the founder of gig racing.
The Ralph Bird, the last boat, of the 29 boats built by him, lined up in Newquay Harbour on Saturday the sixth of October 2007.
The Cornish pilot gig is a six-oared rowing boat built of Cornish narrow leaf elm, 32 feet long with a beam of four feet ten inches.
It is recognised as one of the first shore-based lifeboats that went to vessels in distress, with recorded rescues going back as far as the late 17th century.
The original purpose of the Cornish pilot gig was as a general work boat and the craft used for taking pilots out to incoming vessels off the Atlantic. In those days, the race would be the first gig to get their pilot on board a vessel (often those about to run aground on rocks) got the job and hence the payment.
The trim 32ft boats were the multitasking workhorses of Cornwall’s bustling harbours conveying brides to weddings, corpses to funerals and racing out to sailing ships to bring them in to a safe berth.
He discovered the three gigs built between 1812 and 1838 and rescued from rotting in a pilchard cellar by Newquay Gig Club, the Newquay, the Dove and the Treffry.
Then in 1981, he talked the club into loaning them out for the first Three Rivers Race in Truro.
Within five years, there were four gig clubs in Cornwall and two years later, The Cornish Pilot Gig Club Association (CPCG) was born.
Norman Edwards, Chairman of the CPCG, summed up what many felt:
” If it wasn’t for Ralph Bird’s working drawings and his quiet drive , the sport of gig rowing wouldn’t be where it is now and the gigs wouldn’t be the boats they are”.
(Lyn Barton, Western Morning News, 06.10.2007, Extract).
Until the second world war, there were a
barges based on Restronguet and often crewed by men who lived in Feock
These barges were used mainly for carrying stone from the quarries at St Keveme, but they also loaded a great deal of sand from Restronguet Creek and were employed in general cargo work as required. For instance they often carried corn or bricks. They frequently worked up to Truro, Tresillian, Penryn, Point, Perran-ar-worthal, Gweek and Ruan. Usually the crew consisted of two men who normally had to discharge the cargo and sometimes to load it as well, so the work was extremely hard.
In those days ships used to work up to Devoran and it was necessary to keep the channel clear, so the barges were usually moored under Harcourt or under Tregunwith wood. At that time there was much more water in the creek and Mr W. Trebilcock says that in his grandfather’s time, the Norwegian timber ships could lie afloat off Marblehead. There were two pilots based on Devoran and, when a ship was due to come up the river at night, they would row down and place a on each of the posts that marked the channel. There were two classes of barges; the ‘outside barges’ which were fully decked and had bulwarks, and the ‘inside barges’ which had no bulwarks. Some of the latter were completely undecked and some had narrow coamings. The ‘outside barges’ carried mainsail, staysail, jib and topsail with a standing topmast and crosstrees. The ‘inside barges’ carried only mainsail and jib and only one of them carried a small bowsprit, the jib being taken to the stemhead.
An extract from the”Feock with Devoran and Carnon Downs in the 19th Century”. Compiled from information supplied by Messrs W. Trebilcock,R. Mitchell, H. Bersey, A. George and R.Ferris
Dredgemen past and present
A ‘haul-tow’ punt off Bellevue.
As in most spheres of physical occupation, oyster dredging has produced a tough breed of men, their lives moulded by the vagaries of wind and tide and the intricacies of working a boat under sail. And, inevitably, the lifestyle has produced its fair share of characters and incidents that will long be remembered around the estuary of the Fal as long as there are names like Ferris, Vinnicombe, Laity, West and Gunn out on the water.
Although the dredging season is a winter job only, it must be realised that most of the men in it spend their entire lives afloat, turning their hands to a variety of other activities during the summer months, mackerelling, trawling, long-lining and even scalloping, often adapting their oyster boats for the purpose.
The rights of individuals to collect oysters from the waters around Falmouth have been exercised since at least the late 16th century.
During the mid 19th century over fishing led to a scarcity of oysters in the South East of the country, hence a sharp increase in their price. The result was that not only professional fisherman came in droves to Falmouth, but men from other trades who were attracted by the high returns.
On a fine day up to 200 boats could be seen oyster dredging.
Commercial oyster dredging continues on a greatly reduced scale, but some things have not changed, notably the bye-law forbidding the removal of oysters by engine powered craft. This means that the oyster fishermen today use techniques and equipment that have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years.
It is considered that the Councils, working together, should provide access and practical facilities to continue to use their undoubted and unique skills to the best advantage.
Typical working boat
A Typical Working Boat
A typical Working Boat, a good example of the type being ‘Florence’ built by William ‘Foreman’ Ferris in 1895. She is 289” in length, has a beam of 89 and a draught of 510. She is full in the bilge with low floors and has her maximum beam on the waterline. The full bilge allows her to lay on her side without legs and to rise again on the tide should she need to do so, as is the case with the boats kept in Pill Creek and the upper reaches of Mylor and Restronguet Creeks where the boats dry out completely at low tide. Her forefoot is only slightly rounded with a draught for’ard of about 4ft., and she has a long straight external ballast keel of approximately 25cwt. It is about 2Oft long & deep and 6’ wide and in addition to providing the necessary stability is of great benefit in maintaining a true course when the helm is left unattended, unlike short keeled boats which have a tendency to yaw and broach and need more attention on the helm. The entry is quite fine and the run is long and clean with a high tucked transom stern, the bottom of which meets the waterline. The stern is almost upright but the top inclines slightly forward, the stern post has a greater incline though this time the top leans aft. The rudder is hung outside on the sternpost in the usual manner for craft of this type and is supported by means of a gudgeon and pintle top and bottom with the bottom of the rudder having a pin which fits down into a hole in the keel skeg.
Refer to Chapter 2, ‘The History of Falmouth Working Boats’, By Alun Davies, printed by Cornwall Lithographic Printers, for the full description
The 1842 Feock Tithe Map
By 1842 tithes were owned not by a rector but by lay men, in the case of Carnon Downs largely by Thomas G Watkin of Killiow whose family acquired them from the Gregor family. Edward Boscawen owned tithes of part of Tregye and Thomas Messer Simmons owned tithes of Killiganoon and Halgarrick. The vicar of Feock was entitled to an extract a small portion. Every plot of land was drawn on a map and numbered, over a thousand of them, and a list was made in a book of each plot with its landowner, tenant, sub-tenants, acreage, value, and the sum of money to be paid to the tithe owner. In effect it was a tax on land. The map and list are preserved in Cornwall Record Office. The map is large, I.800x266 cm and a line 26 cm long represents 30 chains. It is fragile, tattered in parts and repaired;
Most of the land was owned by the big three estates, Lemon, Boscawen and Agar-Robartes. Killiganoon was owned by Thomas Simmons and small plots were owned by Hill, Enys and Hugos. Nearly all the land is described as arable, that is, it was capable of being tilled. Some seams, ‘meadow’, and a 37 acre patch between Old Carnon Mill and the top Bissoe Road is waste.
The work was done by short tenants who leased a plot or two, and lived on the profits of the land, white subject to strict conditions of good husbandry, that is improving fertility and often having to build or repair a house, and allowing the landlord certain rights, access to water for instance or the right to dig for minerals and convey them.
It happens that a series of censuses at 10-year intervals began in 1841. The Feock ones list in neat handwriting the inhabitants with ages and occupations. Addresses are not given, only the name of a road or farm.
The tenancies were for fields without houses, people moved house often so that between censuses there were changes, and some surnames occur in many households while others are in the census but not in the tithe map list,
The overall picture is that by 1842 most of the land was tenanted and farmed in plots of all sizes. Most of the men and children over 12 years of age had jobs outside their homes, and most of the married women did not. On average there were 6 people to a house, sometimes including lodgers, visitors and servants.
Not until 1920 did tenants on a large scale buy their own plots and become farmers on scattered settlements in the western end of Feock parish.
(“Carnon Downs Backalong”, EJ Irving, Carnon Downs Local History Group).
Market gardening began in the Restronguet Point area in the 1840s and continues to this day around Penpol and Tregoose. A market garden established at Rosmerrin during the inter-war years ran for some years thereafter. Tenants of Mr Daniell’s land on The Point at that time in the 1840’s included those with the names Stephens, Looweartha, Harracrack and James Williams. The lane on this map ends approximately three‑quarters of the way down to the end of The Point. The small rectangular outline on the western shoreline of The Point (forming part of the green perimeter on OS map extract above) is Marble Head Quay. The small lane which connected the quay to the roadway opposite Laundry Cottage is not shown, but still exists as an access to Chy‑en‑Garth and Bodelvan. Beyond Marble Head Quay, a footpath which gave access to the end of The Point is now closed.