Apr 032020
 

 


It's April so it's time for our members to help us blog through the 2020 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our chosen theme this year is Employment, also the topic of our Shared Endeavour where our members are encouraged to research employment within their one-place study. Today's entry is from Ruth Marler.

Porthleven is a fishing village, the most southerly port in Cornwall and the vast majority of residents were of a fishing or related industries background. Many people who live in the village believe that their family has lived there forever. They forget that everyone comes from somewhere.

Thomes Wetheridge was born in Ilfracombe, Devon in 1809. In 1831 when he was a resident of the parish of Landewednack, the Lizard, the southernmost tip of Cornwall, he married Jane Thomas in her parish of Gunwalloe, Cornwall and they had eight children. Those children were: Thomas b1832 Middleton-by-Bognor, Sussex;  Jane b1835 Middleton-by-Bognor, Sussex, Robert b1837 Pit's Deep, Hampshire; Edmund b1840 Pit's Deep, Hampshire; William b1842 Pit's Deep, Hampshire; Philemon b1846 Watchet, Somerset; John b1848 Minehead, Somerset; Jacob b1851 Ilfracombe, Devon. Ann b1853 Porthleven, Cornwall. In 1861 when Thomas was 53 the family were still in Porthleven and were still there in 1871.

Those with some geographical knowledge of the UK may have noticed that all his children were born in coastal locations around the south coast of England so it will come as no surprise to them to learn that Thomas’s occupation, whilst in the prime of his life, was “Coast Guard”. In the 1841 census he is with his family at the Preventive Station, Pitts Deep, Hampshire with his occupation, “Under the Customs”. In 1851 he is living at Ilfracombe, Devon and is a “supeannuated Coast Guard". In 1861 in Porthleven he is recorded as a “Fisherman” but still in Porthleven in 1871 he is again a  “S Annuated C. Guard”.

To begin with, what we now know as the Coastguard Service was more concerned with the prevention of invasion or smuggling than the saving of lives. That purpose was reflected in how Thomas’s location was recorded in 1841 census. Address: “Preventive Station”.

In the 16th century men watched on the cliffs of Devon and Cornwall to warn of the approach of the Spanish Armada. In 1805, in Kent, they were on the alert for an invasion by Napoleon and in the 20th century they watched for invaders from Germany.

Whenever taxes are imposed on certain items, illegal import or export of goods becomes a highly profitable pastime and it is estimated that by the middle of the 18th century 50-65% of the spirits consumed in Britain were smuggled ashore. To ensure that taxes and duty were paid  Customs Officers were appointed at ports and the official export of some goods was restricted to specific ports only. The Board of Customs collected import taxes on goods via their network of Customs Officers at ports. 

By 1831 the Coastguard Service (which had been formed in 1822) combined all its predecessors: Board of Customs boats; Riding Officers; Preventive Water-guard with Watch Houses & boat crews and the Coast Blockade.  This new service had men serving on ships and on shore.The onshore coastguards were posted away from their homes to avoid any chance of collusion with smugglers. Coastguard Stations were built to house both married and single men and were commanded by a Chief Officer (usually a RN Lieutenant) backed up by Chief Boatman, Commissioned Boatman and Boatman ranks. The complement of each rank depended on the size of the station. In 1839 there were over 4,553 Coastguards posted around the coast.

On 1st October 1856, (after the end of the Crimean War), control of the Coastguard Service was transferred to the Admiralty. Here, all the traditions and historical associations with the smuggler finally disappeared. By this time smuggling was dropping and the lifesaving role and Naval Reserve aspects were more significant.

The Coastguard had always performed some kind of duty in wrecks, salvage and life-saving apparatus. In 1866, they were finally authorised, by an Instruction to 'take an active part in the workings of a lifeboat.' Another duty became the reporting on movements of buoys, beacons and light vessels. In this same year, 1866, in Porthleven a castellated Coastguard station incorporating living accommodation for several families and a central area for storage of lifesaving rocket launching apparatus was built. This still stands proudly above the harbour, first being used as residential accommodation for Porthleveners and then in later years it being converted into stylish holiday lets.

 

 

 

Soon the Coast Guard came to be considered as a Royal Naval reserve. Signal exercises were constantly conducted - twice daily - using semaphore flags and telegraphy, and flashing lamps at night. There were many exercises and manoeuvres involving the Royal Navy and the Coastguards.  After the First World War the Coastguard Service significantly reduced its manpower and control of the Service changed hands 5 times after 1923. Over several hundred years, the  Coastguard Service, and all its predecessors, have shown that it can adapt with the times, the needs of these it protects and new technology. 

Several families now living in Porthleven can demonstrate a history of several generations that have served as Coast Guards. However, there is no longer the need to post men away from their home port to ensure that they do not collude with smugglers.

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