Portreath Harbour is recorded as one of Cornwall’s earliest industrial ports. The name Portreath means Sandy Bay or Sandy Harbour.
For many years it was know as Basset’s cove after the wealthy mining family that owned a large proportion of the land. There is still their summer house which has now been converted to holiday apartments. Also one of the pubs in the village is called The Basset Arms.
The first harbour here was built in 1713 on the Western side of the cove, traces of it still remain today. The present harbour was constructed during the years 1760 and 1860. In 1846 the inner basin was constructed, the new dock was completed by 1860.
In 1827 Portreath was described as Cornwall’s most important Port. Coal and Timber were imported here to feed the demand of the ever growing local mines. The Tin and Copper production from these mines was exported. The copper ore being sent to Swansea in South Wales for smelting, the Tin went all over the world, the true metal of commerce.
Because the mines and workings got deeper the engines were bigger so the demand for coal always increased. During the early to mid 19th century it’s estimated a total of 100,000 tons of copper was shipped from here each year.
Between 1809 and 1818 the Portreath Tramroad was built to aid the transport of goods to and from the many mines in the surrounding area. Most noteably the tramroad reached the great copper mines around Scorrier, including Great North Downs and Poldice.
This was the first railway to be laid above ground in Cornwall finally reaching 6 miles in length. Until them the ore and material had been transported by mules and horses over unmade roads. By the mid 1850’s the tram had fallen into disrepair, the eventual closure came in the 1870’s. This was mainly due to the introduction of steam trains and the declining output from the once great Copper mines.
The tramroad never carried passengers, but there was a “coach” for the directors and owners. This still survives today and can be seen in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.
By the 1830’s the trade started to decrease, partly due to the Redruth and Chacewater railway which was transporting much of the ore to Devoran which was much safer for the ships to enter.
Portreath had a short new lease of life when during the 1830’s a branch of the Hayle Railway was extended to the harbour. This linked the mines surrounding Camborne and Redruth. The impressive stone built incline still survives and is a major landmark in the village. At the top of the incline was a stationary steam engine which would haul the loaded wagons up the hill.
From the 1850’s with the decline in industry, the harbour still served many small colliers bringing coal to the area. There was also a thriving ship building and fishing industry.
Things are a bit quieter there these days, I have spent a lot of time in Portreath, there is something about the place that keeps drawing me back. The images on this page were taken during the summer of 2008 and the years that followed to the present day.
Portreath still has a small but busy fishing industry. Over the winter months the boats are lifter from the harbour and stored on the quay. The winter storms that hit this side of Cornwall can be truly terrifying.
Portreath is a very special place to me. So many good memories and a close friend who puts up with me when I am down in the West Country.