The name Newlyn roughly translated means the ‘Sheltered Lake’. For many years Newlyn became my shelter from the exhaustive pressures of a challenging business life. As we drove slowly along the exposed Penzance Promenade, with the splendid view of St Michael’s Mount on our left and Newlyn Harbour with the scores of brightly decked fishing boats and rooftops drawing closer, then passing the Newlyn Art Gallery, a sense of peace would unfailingly descend on me. My heart would almost stop beating, containing emotions I cannot describe. They are mine. The words ‘A Cornish Fishing Village’ conjure vivid images of cobbled streets, clotted cream, Tiddy Oggies, gift shops, milling tourists, guest houses and the fishing consisting of organised boat trips for visitors, by locals whose ancestors were once part of the traditional fishing industry of the past. Newlyn is very different to this general perception. Fishing is still Newlyn’s main industry, and has been for centuries. The oldest relic to remind us of this is the Old Quay, repaired in 1425, and being the only evidence remaining after the sack of Newlyn by the Spaniards in 1595. Fishing was the core industry, involving the livelihoods of everyone who lived there. The harbour was enlarged in 1884-1894, with a North Pier and a South Pier, making it no longer necessary for the Newlyn fishermen to use Penzance, to the west, for refuge in times of storms, and the Isles of Scilly as a base for mackerel fishing. Everywhere in Britain starts from the end of Newlyn's South Pier. Even Ben Nevis and Snowdon, our highest mountains, are measured from the Newlyn Tidal Observatory, the insignificant little building next to the lighthouse at the entrance to the harbour. In 1915, Newlyn was selected as the Ordnance Survey datum point, the mean sea level from which all heights throughout Britain are calculated. Wherever you are, Newlyn has the measure of you! <
br> The fishing depended on three types of fish, mackerel, herring and pilchard, roughly dividing the year into three seasons. In contrast to the EU funded Newlyn Fish Market of today, home of the second largest fishing fleet in the Country, contributing millions of pounds to the local economy each year, is the Pilchard Works at Newlyn. The last salt processing pilchard factory in the country, where Cornish Salt Pilchards are pressed using screw presses, before being packed into wooden barrels for export to Italy and other Mediterranean countries, much as they have done for the last 90 years. The buildings have been traditionally restored, and the fascinating story of Cornwall's fishing industry unravels before your eyes, seeing working pilchard presses in action and view examples of elegant Newlyn Copper work. Copper? In a Cornish fishing village? Back in the 1890s the main threat to fishing came from bad weather rather than EEC quotas, and there were times when the local fishermen were forced into long periods of inactivity. The Newlyn Metalwork Industry was established in 1890 by the socially enlightened artist J.D. MacKenzie. Many of the fishermen were adept at the skill of copper making and their names are looked out for by collectors today. But there’s another reason why my heart falters with emotion as the rooftops and the narrow cobbled streets and alleys of Newlyn come into view. The Newlyn School of Artists. Never as well known as the St Ives School, but equally as magical and inspiring. On the wall opposite to where I sit right now, making notes for my opinion on Newlyn, Mounts Bay, in West Cornwall, are six original watercolours and one signed black and white etching. The six watercolours are of Cornish scenes, mainly Newlyn, Lamorna Cove and Mousehole, and all painted by artists of the Newlyn School (1880-1900) The signed etching is by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) sketched in Penzance in 1908 and of a circus
scene. Dame Laura Knight was the first woman to have been admitted to the Royal Academy. The wall behind me has four framed prints by Stanhope Forbes RA (1857-1947) who earned the title ‘Father of the Newlyn School’ in 1889, as the founder who led to the recognition of the existence of a group of artists working in the fishing village of Newlyn, and painting in the prominent French tradition of the ‘Plein Air School’ In the village's picturesque streets they found a home grown equivalent to the villages of Normandy and Brittany where they had been influenced by a vividly realistic form of painting. There is a narrow alleyway in Newlyn named 'Rue des Beaux Arts'. To my right are four oil paintings of Newlyn, painted by my late husband. I look into each picture in turn, and I am back in Newlyn with my memories. Each painting represents a holiday we took in Newlyn, of a first lingering visit to the Newlyn Art Gallery where we came across an exhibition of paintings from that era, and we were smitten by the impressionist quality, the light and the scenes, especially as my husband was an aspiring artist. The gallery dates from 1894. It was named originally after its benefactor, John Passmore Edwards, the Victorian philanthropist who did much to foster the social and cultural life of Cornwall. The Gallery is the home of many art exhibitions, showing the work of the Newlyn School, and of modern artists who are drawn to the light and space of Mounts Bay to paint, as the artist’s colony of the late nineteenth century were before them. Newlyn isn’t a chocolate box Cornish fishing village, but nevertheless, heart-achingly beautiful because of its history and sense of culture and tradition that hangs heavy in the air. There are many guest houses, pubs and small hotels to stay in, but we would rent a fisherman’s cottage to the West of the village, overlooking the harbour and the quaysi
de. My husband was a chef, so early every morning we would go to the local fish market, and there choose the freshest ever imaginable, just landed, seafoods, shellfish and fish for dinner that evening. In a two week stay we would be able to have a different fish supper every evening. A far cry from the ‘Cod, cod and more cod!’ we are offered in our supermarkets. An early evening drink in one of the many real local pubs, used by the fishermen, then back to our cottage and a superb meal prepared for me, washed down with crisp, dry white wine, then early to bed. Early to bed for a very good reason… In the dark, silent hours before dawn, we’d be woken by the sound of the fishing boats returning to the harbour after a night’s fishing, plus the swooping seagulls, laden with their catch ready for the early start and the bidding and auctioning in the Newlyn Fish Market. We’d make strong sweet Assam tea and sit together in the window seat of the cosy bedroom, watching the sky lit up by the lights from the boats. We’d listen to the excited, industrious noise and the bustle as the enormous catch was landed and watch the spectacular sunrise over the whole of Mounts Bay. St Michaels Mount gradually illuminated, Penzance to our left, Marazion in the distance, and to our right, the very distinctive and famed fishing village of Mousehole. We’d plan our day together as we sipped our tea. Perhaps a walk along the rugged coastal path to the stunning Lamorna Cove, have a well earned lunch at the ‘Wink’ the only pub in Lamorna, where many of the colony of Newlyn artists lived, drank and partied. Maybe walk along the road to Mousehole and lunch at the Lobster Pot, right on the harbour. Shall we walk along the Promenade and go to our favourite shop in Chapel Street, Penzance, and visit the Tony Sanders Gallery and Antiques? Tony Sanders has been running this Penzance Gallery and Antique Shop since 1969
. There are three floors of early Newlyn School original art, the work of modern artists, bronzes and of Newlyn Copper, all for sale. A morning spent browsing from floor to floor and room to room, while the charming Tony Sanders would offer us expert information, when asked, about a particular Newlyn artist and their work. Tony will always linger with me as a very significant and nostalgic, personal memory of Newlyn. He was extremely knowledgeable about his profession and tremendously patient with everyone. I once asked him how he managed to remain so tolerant while people browsed through the treasures he displayed. He would reply that it was like being on the stage ‘Eyes and teeth my dear! Eyes and teeth!’ We would interrupt our browsing, cross Chapel Street to The Union Hotel opposite the Gallery, and have coffee and a cognac in the bar, aware that the old meeting rooms in the Union were where Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar was first announced, and decide between us, how much we were prepared to pay for an original Newlyn School watercolour. Back to Tony Sanders Gallery, a spot of bargaining, price agreed, a purchase made, then the stroll back to Newlyn along the wide Penzance Promenade, but this time possessively clutching our work of art, and anticipating a very liquid lunch to celebrate the ownership of another much loved painting. Once refreshed, we would then seek out the very place in Newlyn that our watercolour depicted and proudly take a photograph. Very little had changed in the hundred years since the picture had been painted. Every watercolour on my wall recalls an afternoon siesta, after a commemorative picture buying session, very vividly indeed. Wesleyan Methodism is strongly in evidence in Newlyn, with Methodist Chapels still in existence and others turned into private homes. Wesley first arrived in Newlyn after 1747 and this is an extract from his diary: 1748 25th S
eptember. 'I reached Newlyn... Here a rude, gaping, staring rabble-route, some or other of them were throwing dirt or stones continually. But before I had done, all were quiet and still, and some looked as if they felt what was spoken.' A visit to the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, based in the Ship Institute at the entrance of the main quay, brings home to us Townies, who may ask why fish is so expensive, the reality of deep sea fishing and the true cost to the bereaved families of fishing communities such as Newlyn. To me, Newlyn is the authentic Cornwall. I hope, if you visit Newlyn, you will sense what I felt, see Newlyn with the same eyes as I did, and that your heart feels lighter with a passion I experienced. I don’t mind sharing that with you.