There has been a small harbour here since 1439 but it wasn't until 1770 that its importance as a commercial harbour really took off. Richard Lomax, a speculator from London, had the vision to crete an enclosed three acre harbour from which mineral ore could be shipped to the smelters in South Wales. Sadly his death in 1836 meant he never saw his dream realised. Newquay's prosperity was sealed, however, when Joseph Treffry, a mine owner from Fowey, bought Lomax Holdings and built the Newquay Railway connecting the harbour to the tramway high above the cliffs.
Wagons were hauled through a tunnel using cables wound around a drum and powered by two winding engines, known as Whims. Can you remember where these were located? Today the tunnel is used to house Newquay Rowing Club's Pilot Gigs. Gigs were used in the 19th Century to ferry pilots out to ships, so they could be guided safely into the harbour. There was fierce competition and rich rewards for the pilots and the gig crews, known as Hobblers, to be the first to reach the incoming schooners. In 1840 there were four such gigis working out of this harbour; The Girl I Love, Treffry, Dove and Newquay, which is still in use today.
In the centre of the harbour is an isolated stone pier, built in 1872. It connected South Quay by a 150 foot long timber trestle. Tram tracks were laid along South Quay and onto the centre pier enabling more iron ore, processed fish, china clay and china stone to be loaded onto the waiting cargo vessels. Ore was transported in wagons to the top of the cliff and discharged down chutes into large heaps below. From there is was taken along the tracks to the ships moored on the quay. You can still see the ore chutes in the retaining wall to the right of the tunnel. When sail gave way to steam, Newquay became uneconomical as a trading harbour and the last vessel to bring cargo and leave fully laden was the schooner, Hetty in 1921.
The cafe below the cliffs was the site of Quay Yard. Nine vessels were built there in the middle of the last century, these included the schooners; Treffry, Tower and Kate. The new Lifeboat House was buil on the site of the old Seamans Mission, beside which was one of Newquay's many wells. This used to supply schooners with fresh water. Although trading schooners and other sailing vessels have long since gone, this is still a working harbour which supports a small fleet of fishing boats along with many other pleasure craft. Newquay's Rowing Club continues to keep alive our Gig rowing tradition.
A unique harbour fraternity came into existence during the mid-1950's. Its members became known as the Harbour Rats. Much secrecy existed amongst its members who identified each other by a distinctive whistle.
Text taken from The Newquay Discovery Trail co-ordinated by the Newquay Chamber of Commerce. Full illustrated copies can be obtained from the Tourist Information Centre
A Newquay Tourism Enhancement Project funded by European Regional Development Fund, The Government's Single Regeneration Budget, Restormel Borough Council and Newquay Town Council