The South East Corner of Cornwall

– by Tom Bowden

This article is about a journey from Cremyll Point in Plymouth Sound to Looe many years ago. I have drawn a rough map of the area to guide everyone and selected fifteen old picture postcard views to illustrate places on our journey. Most of these pictures are well over 100 years old and some of them are of surprisingly good quality. I have then added captions to give information about the places concerned.

This map shows Cremyll Point in large letters and names the various places on the way to Looe and I shall refer to most of them in my captions. Unfortunately, I could not find space on the map for “Millbrook” and some other places not on our journey.

Cremyll Point, c. 1904

This is at the narrowest part of the harbour and there has been a ferry here for many years. When Devonport Dockyard started to be built in the eighteenth century the ferry got very busy but it wasn’t until 1885 that rowing boats were replaced by a steamboat named “Dido”. In this view you see one of Haddy’s horse – drawn buses on the left, and various passengers around the landing place. In the background is the Edgcumbe Arms, whilst The Tower House in the distance was destroyed by a bomb during the war. Offshore are the Naval Training Ships: Impregnable, Implacable and Invincible.

The ferry is busy today with people shopping or working in Plymouth and the entrance to Mount Edgcumbe Park is about 100metres away. You can still sit outside the Edgcumbe Arms with your lemonade and watch the river traffic. It is quite an experience to see a really large naval ship glide past at close range.

Mount Edgcumbe House, c. 1910

The grandson of legendary Sir Richard Edgcumbe had this great house built and his family moved from Cotehele to here in 1553.  Then, on 22nd April 1941 during the Blitz on Plymouth the house was gutted by incendiary bombs. After the war Kenhelm Edgcumbe, the sixth Earl, had the house rebuilt and it was completed in 1958.

Today, the house and country park, covering 864 acres, are owned jointly by Plymouth City Council and Cornwall County Council. This magnificent park is open to the general public free of charge. There are three formal gardens, the Orangery Cafe, a deer park, sheep grazing, and you can walk three miles to Kingsand or six miles to Rame Head with fantastic views if you wish. The house is also open from April to end September at a small charge.

“The Folly” Mount Edgcumbe Park, c.1960

This modern photograph has been chosen to provide the best view across Plymouth Sound to Drake’s Island in the foreground and Plymouth Hoe and Smeaton’s Tower in the distance. The Folly was built by Richard, 1st Baron of Mount Edgcumbe, in 1747 as a picturesque ruin. He also kept the skeleton of his favourite dog in the Garden House so he could be near his old friend.

The Promenade Pier and Plymouth Hoe, c.1905

This is a reciprocal view from Plymouth Hoe looking towards “The Folly” in Mount Edgcumbe Park. In the background you see the Maker Peninsula with Mount Edgcumbe Park occupying the right-hand portion with a strip of land going all around the coast to Kingsand . The top of this wooded area is known as Maker Heights, with Maker Church and the main road, and the whole of the area around to the other side of Kingsand is Maker District.

In the foreground we have the Promenade Pier with its ornate entrance and crowds of people looking over the wall? While the fruit carts, ice cream stall, horse and cart and old car line the road. The Promenade Pier was very popular before the war with dancing on Saturday night. There were also: concerts, summer shows, afternoon teas, roller skating, wrestling and boxing. Then, during the Blitz on Plymouth, the pier was destroyed by bombing and it has never been rebuilt.

Picklecombe Fort, Mount Edgcumbe c. 1910

This is one of Palmerston’s follies and it was built in 1871 to defend Plymouth from attack. It had 10 inch guns and with the forts at Bovisand and on the Breakwater it would provide a blanket of gunfire to protect Plymouth Sound. It was never required but was retained by the military until 1956. Later the fort was converted into flats which now provide homes with a lovely view over the Sound.

Cawsand, c.1920

There are two adjoining villages here: Cawsand and Kingsand, and they look out onto Plymouth Breakwater which was completed by Sir John Rennie in 1841.

They were very busy in the eighteenth century because many ships preferred to be victualled here rather than go into Plymouth. So there are many fine houses built on the steep slopes and winding roadways during that time. It must also have been an exciting and dangerous place in the heyday of smuggling and fishing. The ale houses were busy with sailors from ships at anchor in the bay, and locals had to dodge press gangs and excise men too!

A typical pleasure boat is pulled up on the sands and it could have come from Plymouth Pier or elsewhere. In the background is Cawsand Fort which is another of Palmerston’s follies which dates from 1867 and was never required. Cawsand Square is out of sight on the left and Garrett Street goes up the hill towards Kingsand and its beach.

There is a mark on the wall in Garrett Street which shows the dividing line between the twin villages of Kingsand and Cawsand. This mark has a much deeper significance however, for until 1941 it had also represented the parish boundary between Maker and Rame Districts. More importantly, before 1844 it also was a boundary between Devon and Cornwall.

In the 8th century the Saxons of Wessex had pushed the Cornish from their lands in Devon. To secure them from attack and to achieve control of the River Tamar the Saxon Kings annexed the high ground which was to become the parish of Maker. Therefore Maker became the first part of Cornwall to come under English domination and a part of Devon. It remained so until an Act of Parliament in 1844 when the Devon and Cornwall border was restored to the middle of the River Tamar throughout its length.

Whitsand Bay, 1936

We have come around Penlee Point and massive Rame Head, past Polhawn Cove into Whitsand Bay and, before leaving the Rame District, I must also mention that the Rame area is also a mecca for walkers with many beautiful views and pathways.

This slightly damaged picture was, I think, taken on Sharrow Point at Freathy. The tide is out showing the expanse of sand with Freathy Beach below us, followed by Withnoe (or Main) Beach, then Treganhawke Beach, and rocky Polhawn Cove leading to the unmistakable outline of Rame Head on the skyline and that looks like Maker Church in the distance.

The Grotto at Sharrow Point, c. 1910

Sharrow Point is a large outcrop of rock on the cliffs at Freathy and there is a small cave near the top which is named “The Grotto” and it has been embellished with drawings and initials of visitors over the years. Here the photographer has persuaded these ladies to pose for him whilst a gentleman is inside the cave examining the writing on the walls. When I cycled to Whitsand Bay as a boy I preferred to clamber down to Freathy Beach at this point rather than go further on and walk down to (what I called) the Main Whitsand beach.

Withnoe (or Main) Beach, c.1908

Here we have the outline of Rame Head again, and on the left are two ladies in long dresses walking up the pathway from the Beach, whilst the tide is in and people are enjoying themselves on the sands. This pathway was initially carved out of the cliff by a local farmer who wished to collect seaweed on the beaches to fertilise his fields. The pathway has been improved since then and facilities provided at the foot of the path. I think the structure at the water’s edge is a flag which was part of life-saving precautions. Unfortunately, people have drowned on these beaches over the years and it is important to be careful in the water – and on the cliffs.

Another View of Withnoe Beach, c. 1910

Here we look from the beach towards the twisting pathway and that is Willcock’s Tea House in the background. The adults didn’t seem to take their clothes off in those days. Long skirts, suits and waistcoats were the fashion then. What a difference now!

Before leaving Whitsand Bay I must mention that there are many holiday chalets in this area. Also, at Tregantle further west around the bay there is another Lord Palmerston inspired fort with rifle ranges. Tregantle beach is a continuation of the sandy beaches in the bay but it is considered more dangerous than the other beaches.

Portwrinkle and Whitsand Bay Hotel, 1930

The road comes down a steep hill on the right and this is the first of the two beaches at Portwinkle. Both beaches have easy access to the sands and the second beach has an old harbour wall and a few more rocks.

The large building  is the Whitsand Bay Hotel which also has an 18 hole Golf Course adjacent the hotel. This building has an interesting history: Thankes House was built in Torpoint in 1871 and it was the home of the Graves family. Admiral Thomas Graves led the Van Division at the great sea battle of 1794 against the French off Ushant, known as the “Glorious First of June” and he was created Baron Graves. In about 1900 Thankes House passed from the Graves family to Sir Reginald Pole-Carew.

In 1909 the house was dismantled stone by stone and re-erected here, six miles away in Portwinkle – with the tower at the other end. The Tudor Gothic building of Cornish dressed limestone was opened in July 1910 as the Whitsand Bay Hotel.

Downderry, c.1945

Seaton in 1935

We come down a steep hill on the B3247 road to reach Downderry and if you looked right you would see a part of this view. The road runs parallel to the seafront with houses and bungalows on the left having gardens overlooking the rocky seafront. This must be a pleasant place to live with shops and an Inn at the end of the road and further housing on higher ground. I have put these two views together because the B3247 road then sweeps down to Seaton.

This view of Seaton (in Cornwall) in 1935 is poor but recognisable. It shows Seaton on the left and the west end of Downderry with the road coming down to beach level and the high ground behind. There is a wide expanse of fine sand at Seaton with a stream running down to it from the Hessenford valley. You can see all the little figures of people enjoying themselves on the sands.

The photographer is obviously on the hill opposite and near where the Monkey Sanctuary is today. Finally, out of view on the left is wide space which was a caravan park and now I believe it is a holiday park with chalets.

Looe from above Marine Drive, 1910

We are looking up-river towards Liskeard with West Looe on our left and East Looe on our right. This picture is showing its age but you can see clearly the space on the harbour front in East Looe. Copper had been discovered at Caradon Hill nearby in about 1840 and by 1910 the copper boom was over and the quayside that was once full of copper is now empty. This space is now a much needed car park and a modern Fish Market where fish caught at Looe is sent to supply the home market and into Europe.

The bridge joining East and West Looe was built in 1856 and has been widened since to cope with the increased traffic. Looe Railway Station is just past the bridge on the East Looe side and this branch line terminates at Liskeard. If you wish to drive to Hannafore you need to go over the bridge to quieter West Looe and carry on around the harbour to Marine Drive and Hannafore with Looe Island just off-shore.

Looe from the Downs, 1910

This is a lovely clear view downriver with St Nicholas’ Church Tower in the foreground and Hannafore Road going along the harbourside to become Marine Drive on reaching Hannafore. East Looe is on the left, of course, in this picture and you can see the famous Banjo Pier and the ancient tower of St Mary’s Church. It was built in 1257 and whitewashed to become a “daymark” for mariners.

The tower was important so it has remained all this time – whilst the church itself has been rebuilt three times! Meanwhile, in 1737 they fitted a clock on the tower with only one hand so I presume they were not interested in the exact time?

In biblical times the locals traded tin with the Phoenicians, and in medieval times the Bodrigan family held sway. Then came the copper boom, and now there is a successful fishing industry and the place is crammed with tourists in the high season.

I hope you have enjoyed my article about the South East corner of Cornwall. I  have an affection for Looe because my maternal grandmother, who died before I was born, was Emma Maria Woodrow Pengelly of Looe. She married William Martin Devereux and my mother was named: Emma Maria Woodrow Devereux. I hope to write about the Woodrow Pengelly family of Looe sometime in the future.

Tom Bowden