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Port history

Over 500 Years as a Working Harbour

Newlyn Harbour was first recorded as an industrial port in 1435, at which time pilchards were the catch of the day. From using a ‘watcher’ on the surrounding cliffs to spot the shoals, to the creation of the lugger fleet that fished them, similar techniques are practiced today.

Improved rail access to the South West in the 19th century attracted fish merchants, which increased trade with the UK and overseas, and prosperity for Newlyn’s fishermen.

In 1887 and 1888 respectively, the South and North Piers were constructed, improving safety and the accessibility of the port at any tide. This development also enabled other commodities to be exported from Newlyn such as coal to Portugal.

A trade embargo with Italy in 1937, following Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia, had devastating consequences for pilchard merchants, which, in turn, affected Newlyn’s fortunes. However, a fleet of larger Belgian trawlers, who took refuge in Newlyn during World War 2, helped to sustain the Cornish fishery.

Increased demand for mackerel during the 1970s helped to revive the Newlyn fleet and in 1980, Her Majesty The Queen opened the new Mary Williams Pier. Further investment by Newlyn Pier & Harbour Commissioners followed with a new Fish Market in 1988 and pontoons for small boats in 2005.

Today, our historic harbour and up-to-the-minute facilities co-exist side by side. Newlyn retains its iconic position as the fulcrum of the Cornish fishing industry and we aspire for it to become the UK’s leading fishing port. Our ambitious development programme underpins this aspiration to support the sustainability of the UK fishing industry for generations to come.