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A short history of Mousehole|
Back in the 13th century, Mousehole was the main port in Mounts Bay and remained so well into the 16th century until Penzance and Newlyn began to gain ascendancy. However, even in the last century there were still hundreds of people employed here in fishing, packing and transporting of fish. Over the years the harbour walls were gradually extended and built to cater for the hive of activity taking place. Stand on the quay and imagine all the sailing vessels putting in to such a small space. Photo shows Mousehole in 1893.
Mousehole harbour was always exposed to hard southerly gales. The most famous wreck is the Thames barge, "Baltic", which was bound for Newlyn with cement when she ran onto Mousehole Island on a rough November night in 1907. Her crew, and the captain's wife and daughter, were rescued by six Mousehole fishermen who manned the crabbing boat "White Lady", which had to be manhandled over the great baulks that closed the harbour mouth against the winter seas. The "Baltic" was salvaged and now lies as a hulk in a muddy creek in Essex, but a young Irish sailor onboard settled in Mousehole and married the Harbourmaster's daughter.
Mousehole supplied the crews of the RNLI lifeboats after the station was transferred in 1913 to the lifeboat house which still stands on Penlee. The Penlee lifeboats carried out many heoric rescues, including saving those onboard the famous old battleship "Warspite" which, on tow for the scrapyard, was driven ashore by a SW gale at Prussia Cove on 25 April 1947.
The village is not without a long and at times traumatic history. In 1981, the Penlee lifeboat - Solomon Browne - was called to assist the newly commissioned MV Union Star. The events of that night are described here. The memory of the event lives on; every year, on the 19th December, the famous Christmas lights are switched off, in memory of those who gave their lives. This tragedy is commemorated in a Garden of Rememberence just to the north of Mousehole on the road to Newlyn. The Penlee station was closed after the lifeboat "Solomon Browne" was lost.
The Spanish are coming!
By the early 1590's, the war between Spain and England had settled into an uneasy stalemate. However, this culminated in a raid by the Spanish on Mount's Bay in July 1595 which had disastrous consequences for Mousehole. Control of local defence efforts in Cornwall lay in the hands of the Deputy Lieutenants, Sir William Mohun and Sir Francis Godolphin. In 1588, at any rate in theory, Cornwall had claimed to be able to furnish for its defence 5,560 men, including 1,395 shot, 633 corselets, 1956 bills and halberds, 1528 bows, 4 lances and 96 light horse, and the totals were probably roughly similar seven years later.
The main problem with the defence of Cornwall lay in its isolation, and the great length of coastline, with its many bays and deepwater inlets which were potential landing points. Mount's Bay was singled out by the Spanish and in July 1595 Spanish galleys dropped anchor off Mousehole harbour to ferry ashore a force estimated at 200 pike and shot. The Spanish burnt the village and some surrounding hamlets, including the village of Paul. The inhabitants had made off in panic. However, Jenkyn Keigwin alone stood defiantly outside his home "The Keigwin" until he was shot dead by a Spaniard, the musket ball sinking deeply into the door behind him. While these invaders were soon despatched, this event marked the last time England was ever invaded by hostile forces. This page gives a very good account of the invasion.
The last Cornish speaker?
Dolly Pentreath, some say, was the last person to speak the Cornish Language as her native tongue. Dispute exists over many of the facts about Dolly Pentreath. Her true name and age is questioned as well as to the exact whereabouts of her body. Some scholars have named other Cornish speakers who outlived Dolly and therefore question the claim that she was the last true speaker of the language. However, popular history recognises the death of Dolly Pentrearth as representing the death of the language. She died about 200 years ago and was from the parish of Paul, next to Mousehole. She was married to a fisherman, and had an unenviable reputation. She sold fish, smoked her pipe, drank flagons of beer with the best and spoke proper old Cornish.
The legend states that Dolly Pentreath was a fine woman, with a voice you could hear as far away as Newlyn. She had the heart of a lion, and it was said that when a press-gang landed in search of men for the navy, Dolly took up a hatchet and fought them back to their boats, and so cursed them in old Cornish that the crew never ventured back again. There still exists the very room in the Keigwin Arms in which Dolly was wont to take her pint and her pipe at her ease, and the window out of which she would thrust her hard old face and shout to the fishermen when they came to their landing-place.
Dolly lived to one hundred and two, carrying with her the most complete vocabulary of the Cornish language. She died poor in 1777 and was buried in the parish churchyard of Paul, where people still go to see her monument and read the inscription. The monument is set in the churchyard wall and was erected in 1860 by Louis Lucien Bonaparte, a descendant of the great Napoleon. The monument was allegedly placed over the wrong grave in 1860 and was moved to its current location in 1882. Cut in stone is a transcription of the 5th Commandment, "Honour thy father and thy mother" in old Cornish. Look at this page for more infomation or this one. Illustration of Dolly from : Redding, Cyrus. An illustrated itinerary of the County of Cornwall (How & Parsons, 1842)
Where did the name Mousehole come from?
Mousehole's ancient name was Porth Enys, the "port of the island", a reference to St Clement's Isle, the low rocky reef that lies just offshore and where a hermit is said to have once tended a guiding light. Opinions differ about the derivation of Mousehole's intriguing present name. One local explanation is that it may derive from the Cornish Moeshayle, meaning "at the mouth of the river of young women", but some authorities argue for the literal "mouse hole", as being a reference to the original tiny harbour, or to a nearby sea cave.