Polperro is a picturesque fishing harbour lined with tightly packed houses which make Polperro a popular tourist location in the summer months.
Polperro has been a fishing and smuggling centre dating back at least to the 13th century. The village was a major pilchard processing town, but although there are still fishing boats in the colourful harbour, tourists are now the mainstay of the local economy.
Polperro is perhaps the prettiest of all Cornish villages. Thankfully the car has been restricted in the village, parking being on the edge. Therefore most visitors approach the maze of little streets and alleyways on foot. Old inns, cottages, studios, gift shops. The Warren is a narrow alleyway leading down to the harbour.
Polperro notoriety was such that the Revenue men had a permanent base here. During the 18th century the British government had to fund their many wars, and this was done in part by increasing taxes on "luxury goods" like tea, tobacco, brandy (little changes over the years, does it) . It was well places to get involved in smuggling - a sheltered harbour, and fairly remote.
Polperro Heritage Museum in The Warren overlooks the harbour, and houses a collection of exhibits, 19th century photographs, memorabilia dating from the 18th century recording both smuggling and fishing
Other buildings to look out for are the House on Props, the Old Watch House, the 16th century house where Dr. Jonathan Couch lived (he was the grandfather of the writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch) , and besides being the local doctor and apothecary, often riding miles to visit patients, he was a zoologist, ichthyologist, botanist, archaeologist and classical scholar.
The National Trust owns much of the land on either side of the village. And there are good coastal walks in both directions. Talland Bay and the hamlet of Talland lies to the east.
Ships loaded with contraband were brought in to land a cargo in Talland Bay often at night and perhaps with a gale running. The "Mr Big" of the smuggling trade was one Zephaniah Job, who came to Polperro in the early 1770s and lived here till he died in 1822. Zephaniah Job issued his own Polperro banknotes, and had his own London agent to handle the transfer of money to the Guernsey merchants for contraband goods the smugglers were bringing in. And he briefed his own lawyers when the local smugglers were brought before the court. John Wesley, the Methodist preacher, is said to have visited the village in 1762, and rued the smuggling: "An accursed thing among them: wellnigh one and all bought or sold unaccustomed goods."
At this time the Admiralty licensed privateers to attack and capture enemy ships, and many Polperro ships benefited from the wealth that this brought to them, often adding to their privateer income by smuggling on the side.
The Lottery was the most infamous of the smuggling boats. In 1798 the Lottery was involved in an incident in which a Customs Officer was killed.
Richard Oliver, born in 1772, was the owner and master the Lottery. In December 1798 a Custom House officer was murdered trying to board her off Cawsand near Plymouth. The Lottery and crew were hunted down for months. Eventually The Lottery was seized and taken into service as a Revenue cutter. Customs Commissioners in 1799 put out a "wanted" notice for Oliver as being "a dark complexion, long face, light brown curled short hair, about 6 ft. high, rather thin, but very boney and walks very upright". Several Lottery crewmen were captured and were tried at the Old Bailey in 1801. One of them, Tom Potter, was convicted of the murder and hanged after another member of the crew testified against him.
Another Lottery crewman, Robert Mark, was later killed by a shot from a Revenue vessel. He is buried at Talland church and his cutlass (inscribed 1789) is on display in the Museum.
After 1800, the government took tough action against smuggling and one of the first Preventive Water Guard boats was stationed at Polperro. As a result, the smuggling trade in Polperro began to diminish.
The Polperro Church has a nice little tale of the bogus curate in the early 1800's who got the local populace worried that the weddings he had officiated for were void, and that the couples concerned were"living in sin".
Polperro's Smuggling Story Jeremy Rowett Johns
The Smugglers' Banker: The Story of Zephaniah Job of Polperro Jeremy Rowett Johns