Mousehole – Spanish raids, plague and a lifeboat disaster

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We took an afternoon drive to Mousehole. When we visited last year, it was rather a dismal day, so we were looking forward to seeing this pretty place with the sun on it. Today it’s a gorgeous little fishing harbour with a higgledy piggledy cottages clinging round the circular sheltered harbour, with cafes and art galleries.

Mousehole was once known ast Porth Enys meaning port of the island and from the 13th Century it was the main port in Mounts Bay. The origins of the name are unknown, but may be derived from the Cornish word Moeshayle meaning “young woman’s brook”. Others argue it is just named after the round tiny harbour or a nearby sea cave resembling a mouse hole!

In the 16th century Mousehole (pronounced Mouzel) together with Marazion was still one of the principal ports. In 1595 the Battle Of Cornwall raid on Mounts Bay by the Spaniard Carlos De Amesquita, with 400 men and four galley ships, obliterated Mousehole (along with Penzance, Newlyn and Paul). In Mousehole the only building to survive the destruction was the Keigwin Arms, a local pub (now a private residence bearing a plaque to Squire Jenkyn Keigwin who was killed there  23 July 1595)

In 1667 the Great Plague reached Cornwall. Tucked away in one of the side streets by a shop, is a fine example of a plague stone. This stone with a cup shaped intentation was used by infected households to leave money soaked in vinegar in attempt to pay for supplies, without infecting the person delivering them!

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On 19 December 1981, the Penlee lifeboat station in Mousehole was called to assist with a rescue of the Union Star vessel after its engines failed in heavy seas. The lifeboat the Solomon Browne, a wooden 47-foot Watson class boat built in 1960 with eight volunteer lifeboatmen went to the aid of the ship through 60ft breakers. A message came back that four passengers had been rescued and pulled aboard the Solomon Browne, but that was the last heard from either vessel. Sixteen people lost their lives including eight lifeboatmen.

The day after the disaster enough people from Mousehole volunteered, to be able to form a new lifeboat crew.  In 1983 a new “Penlee” lifeboat station was built along the coast at Newlyn. The old station site is now a memorial and garden to those brave men. A harsh reminder of the power and fury of the sea.

Since 1963 Mousehole has had a fine display of Christmas lights at the harbour, a tradition started by artist Joan Gilcrest, and becoming increasingly elaborate each year. In 1981 the Christmas lights had been lit two days before the storm, by lifeboatman Charlie Greenhaugh. After his death is widow asked for them to be repaired and relit. Since then they have been restored but are dimmed on the anniversary of the tragedy for an hour of remembrance.

At fair Mount’s Bay, on that Christmas week
Was such a raging storm, no man could speak
That lifeboat thundered through an angry sea
Was called Solomon Browne and her company

With courage, it was called

On our heroes brave and bold
With courage, it was cold
On board that night

Now the stricken coaster called the Union Star
Her maiden voyage, she never thought that far
With Captain Moreton and his four man crew
A woman to save and her daughters two

Now, never had a lifeboat fought in vain
She could have made a dash for port but she tried again
All sixteen perished in that mighty wave
It tossed them overboard into a watery grave

With courage, it was called
On our heroes brave and bold
With courage, it was cold
On board that night

Solomon Browne lyrics by Seth Lakeman

 

 

 

Mousehole – Spanish raids, plague and a lifeboat disaster