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News Archive > Sport > How time overtook a quiet hamlet

How time overtook a quiet hamlet

16th June 2004

THE DEVELOPMENT of Mawgan Porth from 1900 to the year 2000 has been much more extensive than a small community of this size would usually warrant.

From a booming tourist trade, to military installations and ancient burial grounds the last 100 years in the picturesque seaside village have been anything but as serene as the surroundings.

In the first of our three part look at the history of Mawgan Porth, local historians Philip and Jane Wailes document its dramatic evolution from including times of war and social change.

After the First World War the car industry began to boom. Increasingly, people took to the road and were able to reach hitherto unknown parts of the coast and to establish holiday retreats in quiet places away from towns served by the railway.

About 1920 a Devon corn-merchant named Norrington, who had prospered during the war, bought Trenance Farm at Mawgan Porth and built for himself a holiday bungalow and garage of dressed stone, with bronze window frames – sheltered on the hillside in the levelled bed of the old canal.

He called it "Westward". Plentiful water flowed from a spring in the little valley where he constructed a catchment reservoir, with a pump operated by a metal wind-vane, which conveyed water through a pipeline to his house.

But he died soon afterwards and his widow sold the farmland to one Mitchell-Hedges, an explorer.

He, in turn, re-sold in 1924 to a group of people who had met on a boat when returning from the West Indies to England, and were looking for new careers.

There was Mr. Claud Hankey, a surveyor with building experience; Mr. Adams, an accountant, and Mr. and Mrs. Williams who planned to build and run a hotel.

They had the backing of a West Indian barrister named O’Reilly who had capital to invest.

They visited Mawgan Porth and decided that Mr. Mitchell-Hedges’ property – Trenance Farm – was exactly what they wanted.

The prospects were good: already a second stone bungalow (Tredragon) had appeared on Porth Farm land adjoining, and two small timber ones (the eventual ‘Marver Cottage’ and the ‘Cutty Sark’) adjacent. Hawkey, Adams and the Williams’ formed a company, " Trenance Limited", and set up headquarters in a house that became Trenance Shop and Post Office.

Employing masons and carpenters from the neighbourhood, Bedruthan Steps Hotel and bungalows for the partners were soon under construction.

To ensure a constant supply of water a deep well and another reservoir were sunk and constructed at the highest point of the estate – on the coast road to Bedruthan, beyond the farmhouse: and Mr. Norrington’s wind-vane pump was replaced by an oil engine. Drainage was no problem on the steep hillside, and each dwelling had its own septic tank and soakaway.

For cooking, a choice between a traditional Cornish coal range and a paraffin stove: for lighting – paraffin lamps and candles. The hotel was equipped with an EAGLE Kitchen Range, and a petrol gas generator for lighting. House refuse had to be burned or buried, and occasionally Mr. Hambly came along from the farm with a horse and cart to collect empty tins and bottles which he dropped into the shaft at the end of the canal-bed on the headland.

Advertising brought people to this quiet and lovely bay, and soon the Company was busily occupied in planning and building holiday houses.

By 1930 some 16 dwellings had appeared, concentrated mainly on the track down the valley from the coast road to the beach.

The front room of the premises of Trenance Ltd., had become a grocery shop: a new wing contained a Post Office below and the Company’s office, approached by an outside stair, above. A telephone booth and a couple of petrol pumps were conspicuous on the forecourt.

That year several months were spent building on to the wooden bungalow to make "Marver Cottage", and in planning an extension to the hotel, doubling its size.

I also bought from William Cazer, owner of Porth Farm, five acres on the landward side

of the main road. And in 1932, newly married, we came to live at the cottage and built the Bridge House Café, hoping to earn our living.

It was a natural stopping place for cars and buses, and campers stayed in tents and caravans on the surrounding land – some of them ultimately built houses on Trenance Estate.

Two years later I built Mawgan Porth Garage in partnership with Stanley Beswetherick, St. Mawgan Blacksmith and garage owner. The petrol pumps were moved down from Trenance and Charlie Quintrell was established there as manager.

Our idea of a guest-house on the hillside just above the garage was given up when trial holes revealed evidence of an ancient cemetery.

Mawgan Porth in the 1930’s with Bridge House Café; Garage; the growing Tredragon with Bedruthan above and the new electricity cables straddling the valley.

Two important public services reached the parish in 1934 – first the telephone, and then electricity, carried by overhead cables which swung dramatically across the two valleys, supported in the middle by a pole on Gluvian Hill.

(Later, it was realised that the cables might be a hazard to aircraft, and they were put underground).

Local farmers were able to benefit from the increasing traffic through their land by posting gate-keepers at the many gates across the roads: their children, or elderly dependants, were glad to earn some pocket money by opening gates for motorists, few of whom were unwilling to contribute a copper or two.

Inland farmers drove long distances with horses and carts to take sand from the beach for lightening the soil of their fields, and this practice helped to check the continual growth of the sandhills.

During the 1930’s the tourist trade steadily increased. The café prospered, and more and more holiday homes were built, both on Trenance territory and on the area from the boundary hedge between the farms and the main road.

This area Mr. Hankey bought from Mr. Cayzer. The tenant farmer left Porth Farm and moved to St. Columb, and Cayzer sold the farm buildings to Thornley Dyer, a Cornish architect, who adapted the house for his own home and converted the outbuildings to holiday units.

The bungalow ‘Tredragon’ was expanded into a guesthouse, and Mr. and Mrs. Hutton arrived to take over the Trenance Shop and Post Office.

But still the number of residents was not large, and many houses were closed except in the holiday season, until the outbreak of war brought the invasion by the R.A.F.

The Second World War

Sometime in 1938 an Air Ministry official arrived in St. Mawgan, equipped with an elderly Ordinance Survey Map, and applied at the Forge Garage for a conveyance to the Spry Arms at St. Eval.

Stanley Beswetherick agreed to take him to the spot, but explained that only fragments of the building remained! The official’s purpose, however, was to assess the district as a possible airfield; and as a result the RAF station known as St. Eval was duly laid out. Runways and hangers were constructed but the living quarters were far from complete when, in September 1939, war broke out.

Late summer visitors hurried off home, and hotels and guesthouses around were soon filled with RAF personnel; some were even billeted in private houses. Holiday homes were rented, for the first time, to RAF families. The Bedruthan Steps Hotel was requisitioned for the Officers’ Mess, with Mrs. Williams retaining control of the public bar.

The Tredragon Hotel became the sick bay – and the rough approach road was levelled and tarmaced to ensure a smooth passage for ambulances. The recently built

guesthouse ‘Beach Haven’ (now Merrymoor), was taken over for the WAAF contingent. Mrs. Gregory, an RAF wife, started a little school for small children in the garden rooms at "Three Corners".

And Mr. Hankey organised a band of Local Defence Volunteers which drilled regularly, and developed into a unit of the Home Guard.

The Bridge House Café, closed in 1940 for lack of visitors, re-opened under the management of Cyril Eyre as an evening canteen for off duty servicemen.

Hot suppers were prepared from the meat allowance for the day were quickly disposed of; after that it was omelettes made with previously soaked dried eggs until closing time.

A vast area on the south side of St. Mawgan parish was cleared for a second air-field, incidentally cutting off the road to St. Columb, and this became a base for the U.S. Army Air Force.

It seemed certain that the enemy intended to invade, and there was reason to believe that an attempt would be made to land troops at points around the Cornish coast, take possession of Cornwall, and there establish a base for the further conquest of Britain. Consequently, barricades of steel scaffolding were erected across the beaches, the sandhills were mined and protected with tangles of barbed wire, and by Mawgan Porth bridge, a blockhouse was ready to be equipped with machine guns.

There were a few air raids on St. Eval camp, (and also on a decoy flare-path laid out near Winnards Perch:), and some casualties.

Once a British plane flying back to St. Eval and losing height crashed into the cliffside below ‘Red Cove’, killing all the crew.

And on a dark night, a couple of drunken American air-men somehow stumbled into the minefield; one was blown to pieces and the other, not daring to move, lay there till morning when he managed to wriggle out unharmed.

The heavy demands on the Trenance water system began to affect the supply and, during periods of dry weather, it was necessary for severe restrictions to be enforced; at times the main taps were turned off and people used their baths as receptacles in which to store a reserve.

This was one more factor in the general feeling of dilapidation when at last the war ended.

Next week Then and Now takes a look at Mawgan Porth's excavations, hotels and airfields.

With kind permission of Bill Rowe.

16th June 2004

Jill Shenton 3rd April 2015 01:36
I have a photograph of my late father with a number of other RAF Servicemen, standing in front of a building with "Trenance" over the doorway.

I believe this was "D" Flight, No 4 Squadron, No 8 Initial Training Wing. I suspect this photograph was taken some time during 1942. He was eventually posted to Croft, in Yorkshire to join 421 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force as a Flight Engineer. The aircraft he flew in( Lancaster Mk X) was shot down over Germany on 5th March 1945 and the entire crew were killed. I would be extremely grateful if someone could confirm, or otherwise, that this photograph was taken at Trenance, Cornwall
anon 28th July 2019 03:19
Trenances include at Mullion, Newquay, St Issey, St Keverne and St Wenn. Check photos of Trenance Cottage Newquay, which is a few miles from the hamlet of Trenance NEAR Newquay! Though it seems most likely it was at Trenance, Mawgan Porth, Cornwall as you suggest.

Confusing for sure!
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