Porthleven since the middle ages has been a fishing village, and is still a working port today, with a fishing fleet and a small boat building yard. It is the most southerly port in Britain. Porthleven port was expanded in the last century to export tin ore. The long curved harbour wall is in three sections, and the inner harbour can be seal off in a gale.
Porthleven's name is believed to come from the old Cornish porth (harbour) and leven (level or smooth), perhaps because the harbour was once a flat marshland. By the 14th century, a hamlet for fishermen grew up here. The boats were kept behind a shingle bar, which sheltered them from the sea. By 1700 farmworkers and miners lived here as well.
The harbour faces south west, which is not good news here, as that is where the prevailing gales come from, but there was a need for a safe harbour on this coast, into which ships could shelter during storms. In 1811 work began on the construction of the harbour. The workforce included many prisoners from the Napoleonic wars. It was opened in August 1825 with a feast of roast beef and plum pudding for the whole village.
But remained a dangerous and difficult harbour. Major improvements were carried out in the 1850s, after the port was taken over by Harvey & Co. of Hayle, and the massive harbour that we see today dates from this time.They created a deeper inner basin which was protected by the massive timber baulk gates still in use today.
The harbour imported of coal, limestone and timber, and exported of tin, copper and china clay. The Porthleven boatbuilding industry became a major employer at this time. Building clippers, schooners and yachts. Two Porthleven built trawlers still work from Brixham but the last boat was launched from here in the late 1970's.
They still fish from here, the main catch being crab, lobster and crayfish.
The town is a line of Victorian villas along the east side of the harbour, with a waterside inn, and a series of lime kilns that have now been converted into art galleries. Art Galleries in the town include the Net Loft, and Julia Mills Gallery
Breageside has a three storey building built in 1889 as fish-curing cellars which turned thousands of hogsheads of pilchards for export.
A large china clay stores was built on Breageside in 1893 which held clay from the quarries in the Tregonning Hill district prior to shipment. This enabled ships arriving for a cargo to load immediately on reaching port instead of having to wait for the carts to haul the clay from the quarries to the wharf. The clay works around Tregonning Hill began to decline when china clay production in the St Austell district increased, leading to the loss of exports of clay from the port.
In 1812 there were two public houses in Porthleven, the Ship Inn at Breageside and the Fishmongers' Arms on the other side of the harbour where the Bickford Smith Institute now stands. Around this period the building of another inn commenced on the site of the present day Harbour Inn.
A year later an ice store was built, as previously most of the fish landed was cured or sold fresh. The first shipment of ice arrived in 1895 from Norway but ice was also made artificially at Gulval and brought to the village in straw covered carts.
The old lifeboat house, built in 1894. Porthleven had its own lifeboat from 1863 to 1929, which ran 28 missions and saved 50 lives.
The Bickford-Smith Institute, with its 70ft clock tower, was built in 1883 as a Literary Institute by William Bickford-Smith of Trevarno.
Porthleven School has some local history on their web site.
To the east, behind a shingle bar pushed up by the sea over the years, is Loe Pool of King Arthur legend, and Cornwall's largest freshwater lake