Cornish fishing in the old days

Try to imagine fishing during the late sixteenth century; not only would you be at the mercy of the winds and waves but also the Spanish....nothing new there then!

In the late 16th century there was little pretence of friendly relations with Spain and in 1584 the twenty-year war with that country began. During the whole of this period Cornwall, the nearest point to Spain, became this country's most important outpost.   For west Cornwall a more horrendous event was to occur in 1595.

In July of 1595 a small squadron of four Spanish galleys on a routine cruise were blown by adverse winds across towards the Isles of Scilly. On the morning of the 23rd July the galleys moved across the Bay to Mousehole and, perhaps in need of water and supplies, decided to raid the small town. At least 200 men, pikes and musketeers landed; this force was no match for the unarmed population who fled from the invaders. Most of the buildings in Newlyn would have been single storey, thatched houses; these were set alight by firing parties which then, not meeting opposition, continued towards neighbouring villages where they burned not only the houses but a church.

It is not possible to say when the catching of fish became an industry in Cornwall but certainly there are records of shipments of fish, principally Pilchards and Hake, as early as the sixteenth century. In early records the greatest mention is made of Pilchards, which were exported in large numbers, having first been salted and either pressed or pickled.

The volume of fish processed can be judged by the quantity of salt used. 1800 bushels of French salt was imported to Newlyn in 1764 and a further 800 bushels to the neighbouring village of Mousehole.

Large fish such as Cod, Hake and Ling were often dried, smoked or salted. There are photographs of Skate and Ray hanging up to dry outside of cottages, as in past ages when refrigeration was not an alternative and slow means of transport precluded the shipment of fresh fish inland or abroad, such cured fish would have been a delicacy.

For those living and working in Newlyn in the 1940s salt Cod was often served with a white sauce known as 'dippy' for dinner on Fridays. This fish, hard and grey when purchased, had to be soaked overnight before cooking to make it palatable.  Almost everyone in Newlyn at that time regularly ate salt Cod; it was as much part of their lives as pasties and saffron cake.

During the early 1960's and 70's Newlyn grew in size with modern trawlers venturing further from port, catching a wider variety of fish and seafoods recognised as the finest quality and now exported all over the world. Today with fishing boats of all shapes and sizes and daily auction markets Newlyn is the premier port of the county and some say of the country.