Porthleven (/ˌpɔːrθˈlɛvən/) is a town, civil parish and fishing port near Helston in Cornwall, England. It is the most southerly port on the island of Great Britain, and was originally developed as a harbour of refuge, when this part of the Cornish coastline was recognised as a black spot for wrecks in the days of sail.[1] The South West Coast Path, which follows the coast from Somerset to Dorset passes through the town.[2] An electoral ward called Porthleven and Helston South also exists. The population at the 2011 census was 3,059.[3]


Porthleven Harbour
Location within Cornwall
Population3,059 (2011 Census including Ashton and Balwest)
OS grid referenceSW6225
Civil parish
  • Porthleven
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townHELSTON
Postcode districtTR13
Dialling code01326
PoliceDevon and Cornwall
AmbulanceSouth Western
EU ParliamentSouth West England
UK Parliament


Methleigh was the site of a fair and annual market from the year 1066.[4][5] After the Norman Conquest, the Bishop of Exeter held the manor of Methleigh, but the Earl of Cornwall possessed the fair. At the time of the Domesday Survey there were 15 acres (6.1 ha) of arable land, 40 acres (16 ha) of pasture and 60 acres (24 ha) of underwood. The population consisted of 15 villeins, 4 smallholders and 3 serfs.[6]

Until 1844 Porthleven was within the parish of Sithney; the parish church of St Bartholomew was built in 1842. The name Porthleven is probably connected with St Elwen or Elwyn, whose chapel existed here before 1270. It was rebuilt about 1510 but destroyed in 1549. There were also chapels at Higher Penrose and Lanner Veor (the latter founded in 1377) and a holy well at Venton-Vedna.[7] For local-government purposes, Porthleven was included within the town boundaries of nearby Helston. After years of growth, it now has its own town council and its population recorded by the United Kingdom Census 2001 was 3,190.[8]

Porthleven's most recognisable building is the Bickford-Smith Institute next to the pier and harbour entrance. With a clock tower about 70 feet (20 m) high, it looks like a church, but is currently used as a snooker club and houses the town council offices. It featured (along with various other scenes from the town) as the incident room in an episode of the TV detective series Wycliffe. A picture of the building against a large breaking wave sometimes appears in the background of BBC UK weather forecasts, particularly when windy conditions and rough seas are expected. The Institute has a plaque to Guy Gibson VC, leader of the Dambuster Raid, on the wall facing the harbour. Gibson was born in India, but regarded Porthleven (his mother's hometown, and where his parents were married) as his hometown as well. He visited there while on leave during the war, sometimes attending the Porthleven Methodist Church. His name is marked on the community's war memorial (he was killed in 1944) and a street ("Gibson Way") is named after him[9].

The harbour

William Cookworthy acquired leases on the Tregonning Hill quarries and shipped china clay to his porcelain factory in Plymouth.[10] In 1826, 150 tons of china-stone and 30 tons of china clay were exported, and in 1838, 500 tons of china-stone.[11] Exports of china clay from Porthleven ceased in 1880. Granite was also exported from the quarries at Coverack Bridges and Sithney.[12]

Fifty-two fishing boats were built between 1877 and 1883 employing, at times up to twenty people. The boats ranged in length, from 22 feet (6.7 m) to 55 feet (17 m) long and were built, not only for Mount's Bay ports, but ports in the rest of the UK and also for South Africa.[13]

Overnight on 12–13 December 1978, Police Constables Joseph James Childs and Martin Ross Reid of Devon and Cornwall Police were killed when their patrol car was swept into the harbour during heavy storms. A stone memorial to them was later erected on the south-facing harbour wall.[14]


Due to the prevailing westerly winds, it was easy for a ship under sail to be trapped in Mount's Bay and wrecked nearby. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution stationed a lifeboat at Porthleven in 1863. A boat house was built at Breageside, from where the boat was taken to the water on a carriage. The Agar Robartes was replaced by the Charles Henry Wright (named after the donor) in November 1882.[15] A new boat house on the west side of the harbour entrance was opened in 1894 with a slipway to make launching easier. The station was closed in 1929 as the neighbouring stations at The Lizard and Penlee had been equipped with motor lifeboats that could cover the whole of Mount's Bay. The slipway was dismantled and the boat house was used as a store for a while but has since become the Shipwreck Centre museum.[16]

Protected areas

There are four Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) sites close to Porthleven and they are also Geological Conservation Review (GCR) sites. Three are designated for their geological interest, they are Porthleven Cliffs SSSI, Porthleven Cliffs East SSSI and Wheal Penrose SSSI The "Giant's Rock", within Porthleven Cliffs SSSI, is an erratic of unknown origin and unknown mode of transport to its present site near the entrance of Porthleven harbour. The Wheal Penrose SSSI is a disused lead mine 550 yards (500 m) to the south with "good examples of typical lead zone mineralisation".[17][18][19] The fourth Loe Pool SSSI is Cornwall's largest natural lake, formed by a barrier beach, known as Loe Bar, which dams the River Cober.[20]

Porthleven (like almost a third of Cornwall) lies within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Sport and leisure

Porthleven has exploited its location and exposure to powerful swells to become one of the best-known and highly regarded surfing spots in Britain and has been described as "Cornwall's best reef break". Waves often exceeding 6.6 feet (2.0 m), break on the shallow reef that was shaped by blasting the harbour.[21] Kayaking is also popular. RNLI lifeguards patrol the beach during the holiday season.[22] The beach is separated from the harbour by a granite pier, which stands in front of the Porthleven Institute and clock tower. When the tide is out, it is possible to walk east along Porthleven beach for about three miles. There is also a coastal path with views of the beach below.

Porthleven Bowling Club is based at Methleigh Parc and is affiliated to Bowls Cornwall and Bowls England. The club was founded in 1959 and has lawn bowling and short-mat bowls facilities. The club competes against other clubs and individuals within Cornwall and nationally, and there are in-house competitions as well.

Porthleven has a non-league football club which plays in the South West Peninsula League; a league which operates at levels 10 and 11 of the English football league system. Their home ground is at Gala Parc.

The restaurateur Rick Stein has a restaurant in the town.[23]


Porthleven is twinned with Guisseny (Gwiseni) in Brittany, France.[24]

Notable residents

Porthleven was the birthplace of the Victorian theologian and religious writer Pender Hodge Cudlip and of David Jewell, a prominent British independent school headmaster during the late 20th century.[25]

Porthleven was the home town of the Dambusters' Commanding Officer, Guy Gibson, and there is a road named in his memory. Former motor racing driver Chris Craft, who competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race for over a decade, including a third-placed finish in 1976, as well as two races in Formula One, was born in Porthleven.


  1. "Cornwall Online - The Lizard Peninsula Guide". Lizard-peninsula.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2 May 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-19.
  2. The Lizard (Map). Southampton: Ordnance Survey. 2015. ISBN 978 0 319 24305 3.
  3. "Porthleven and Helston South - UK Census Data 2011". Ukcensusdata.com. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  4. "Cornwall | British History Online". British-history.ac.uk. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  5. "Parishes: Botus-Fleming - St Burian | British History Online". British-history.ac.uk. 14 October 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  6. Thorn, C., et al., eds. (1979) Cornwall. (Domesday Book; 10.) Chichester: Phillimore; entry 2,2
  7. Cornish Church Guide (1925). Truro: Blackford; p. 185/
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 May 2006. Retrieved 2006-01-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. Lawrence Holmes, "GUY GIBSON AND THE CORNISH CONNECTION" https://www.rocassoc.org.uk/open/items/gr10/guy_gibson.htm, December 2004
  10. "Tregonning Hill" (PDF). Germoe Parish Council. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  11. "The china-clay and china-stone industries". The Cornishman (243). 8 March 1883. p. 7.
  12. "Editorial". The Cornishman (178). 8 December 1881. p. 4.
  13. "Boat Building At Porthleven". The Cornishman (258). 28 June 1883. p. 4.
  14. Moran, Mike (2013). Alpha 42 No Response. Cornwall.
  15. "Porthleven". The Cornishman (229). 30 November 1882. p. 4.
  16. Leach, Nicholas (2006) [2000]. Cornwall's Lifeboat Heritage. Chacewater: Twelveheads Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 0-906294-43-6.
  17. "Porthleven Cliff" (PDF). Natural England. 27 June 1986. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  18. "Porthleven Cliffs East" (PDF). Natural England. 1990. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  19. "Wheal Penrose SSSI" (PDF). Natural England. 1993. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 January 2014. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  20. "Loe Pool" (PDF). Natural England. 1986. Retrieved 28 October 2011.
  21. "Porthleven Spot Guide - Surf Forecast and Report". Magicseaweed.com. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  22. "Porthleven Beach". Rnli.org. Archived from the original on 14 October 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  23. "Rick Stein's restaurant in Porthleven". Rickstein.com. 1 September 2015. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  24. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 October 2011. Retrieved 2008-05-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  25. Bates, Stephen (13 July 2006). "Obituary: David Jewell". The Guardian.
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