A medieval quay was first established in 1430 to give some protection to the seine fishing boats. By the 1770s the trade had grown so much and the quay had fallen into disrepair that it was felt necessary to provide greater protection for the fishing fleet and the village. In 1774 an Act of Parliament was passed allowing the building of the East and West Quays. Plans were drawn up by Mr Ploby of Stonehpouse, Plymouth and construction began using local granite stone. The total cost was £4,235 with the money raised mainly by the issue of redeemable bonds. During the mid 1800s it was considered that an outer harbour should be constructed and to this end the 1865 Harbour Act was passed. However, it was not until 1886 that construction started. This took 2 years and the cost estimated at between £20,000 and £30,000.

In 1891 the harbour was struck by a great blizzard. The storm destroyed most of the newly completed piers and at least 9 ships were lost. Rebuilding of the outer harbour started soon after with a new design by Sir John Coode and largely financed by Mr Williams of Caerhays. The works were completed in 1897 which also included a lifeboat house and slip which enabled a lifeboat to be launched at all states of the tide.

THE 1900’s
Over this period numerous improvements and repairs were made to the harbour:

  • Major works to strengthen and protect the South pier in the 1970’s and again in 1998 at a cost of £1.25m
  • Major works to strengthen and protect the North pier in the 1980’s
  • West Quay buildings were replaced in 1986
  • First set of lofts were built in 1988

In 1930, the lifeboat station closed due to the introduction of engine lifeboats with the lifeboat now based at Fowey. The last lifeboat stationed at Mevagissey was the James Chisholm which saved 44 lives.

Since 2000, there have been a large number of changes and improvements to the harbour with the opening of an aquarium in the old lifeboat station, a new slip built at Gurnards quay, additional lofts built, jetty extension, extra cranage put in, new ice plants and a grid built for boats to sit on whilst being repaired. In addition to the general maintenance and upkeep of the harbour, significant work was undertaken to strengthen the North pier foundations and to stabilise the cliffs beside the South Pier.

Historically until the 1960’s fish landings were handled by private merchants, after which a fisherman’s co-operative took over. However, this folded and with no private firm willing to take over, the Harbour Trustees took responsibility for the running of the West Quay facility – but not the marketing of the catch which is the responsibility of the individual fishermen.

The harbour is in need of some significant repair work which will require grant funding as the Harbour Trust (a registered charity) does not have the resources to fund itself. It is vital to ensure that the harbour is properly maintained and repaired as it is an important historical structure of national interest. It is also important to ensure that it continues to be a working harbour for the foreseeable future. The unknown impacts of global warming and climate change are particularly challenging as a rise in sea level is widely predicted as well as a higher frequency of storms. Modelling for these scenarios is underway.

Want to know more? Why not visit the Mevagissey Museum or have a look at these pages below.

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