Cornwall & The South: Pt 5 – Padstow

Our next stop was the town of Padstow, whose name originally meant Petroc-Stowe, after St Petroc who landed nearby at Trebetheric when he visited Cornwall…


Status: Cornwall Unitary Authority & County, Town, England

Date: 03/08/2015

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Old Ship Hotel

Attractions: Inner Quay, Harbour Piers, The Old Custom House, The Shipwrights, River Camel, Almshouses, St Petroc’s Parish Church, Metropole Hotel, The Old Ship Hotel, Padstow Museum etc

We started down by the harbour, of which there are two parts. This is the original section, the Inner Quay, completed in 1538, which is now used for private liners and fishing boats, and connected to the River Camel via a large flood gate, installed in 1988 to stop the regular flooding of the town by the River. It also allowed the Quay to be effectively sealed at low tide, keeping the boats inside afloat, rather than beached.

There are a number of historical buildings lining the Inner Quay, including “The Old Custom House”, built sometime around the 18th century, and as the name suggests, formerly used as a Custom House for imports/exports from the harbour.

You can see it in the first picture at the back of the Quay, the corner building over to the left of the row of buildings, and of course in all it’s glory in the second. It was later extended to take in the surrounding buildings to form one large Hotel/Inn.

Many years ago it actually stood by the side of the river itself when only the original Inner Quay existed, although later expansions pushed it further inland. Contrasting beautifully with the old grey stone of the Inn is the bright red K6 Telephone Box outside, designed in 1935 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880 – 1960, also responsible for Liverpool Cathedral), and still the most commonly found across the UK, many being Listed Buildings.

Padstow 2

In the above picture the new Pier of 1910 is visible over to the right, with a small channel separating it from the former quayside by the Custom House Inn. It was part of a whole new harbour built almost opposite the Inn to cater for the large amounts of fishing vessels now using the town after 1899 when the “North Cornwall Railway” was built, running into the Harbour itself further South from the Old Custom House. It allowed fish to be taken direct from Padstow to Billingsgate Fish Market at Canary Wharf in London, arriving fresh on the day and ready to sell.

Over to the left, is the final extension to Padstow Harbour, a new pier built in 1932 to provide extra shelter for the original Inner Quay. Behind it lies the Camel, which runs for 30 miles from the top of Bodmin Moor, in the centre of Cornwall near its border with Devon, towards the Atlantic here at Padstow.

Padstow 4

Overlooking the combined Harbours is the impressive form of the “Metropole Hotel”, perhaps one of the most exclusive Hotels in the town. One of the original purposes to build new railways in Cornwall, aside from industrial activity, was to try and help it grow as a tourist destination. As tourists began to arrive, somewhere for them to stay was also envisaged, and the building of the Metropole began a year later in 1900, being completed in 1904.

Offering magnificent views across the newly thriving port town, the River Camel and the local Cornish countryside, it was built by a local fleet owner, John Cory of John Cory & Sons, founded in 1854. Many of their vessels were sadly sunk during World War I, but the company continued, relocating to South Wales to take advantage of the coal industry which was booming at the time.

Padstow 15

On the far side of the Quay where I took the previous picture, near the 1932 pier is another Inn called “The Shipwrights”, originally built as part of a series of warehouses around the 18th century. Later converted into a Pub, it has a lovely historical feel to it, where many of the old fishermen and ship builders would have congregated. The name itself “Shipwright” refers to a builder of ships, another clue to it’s prior history.

The whole Quayside is lined with similar historic buildings, a close knit community built around the water over the last few hundred years. It would have been full of large warehouses, as well as ship building yards which The Shipwrights originally formed part of. These have long since gone, although evidence of the towns old history are all around us.

Overlooking much of the town in a similar way to the Metropole is the Parish Church of St Petroc, whose tall, square tower rises high above its surroundings thanks to it’s position up an incline behind the town centre, as you can see above. Leaving the area around the Quay/Harbour, we made our way through the towns tight knit streets, and up Church Street to the Church itself.

As the name suggests, the Church is related to St Petroc, whom I mentioned at the very start of this post. He founded the original Church here during the 6th century, as a small monastery which later fell victim to a viking invasion. It would be replaced by a brand new Saxon Church around 1100, although it has been suggested that the materials used, such as sandstone began to crumble within the next few centuries. Whatever the reason for it’s demise, the present Church was completed in 1450, standing tall ever since.

The Clock was built in 1861 by a firm called Reynolds from Padstow itself, and sits in one of the few sections to cross over between different incarnations of the Church, as the base of the Tower is Saxon, later being topped out in the 15th century when the Church was rebuilt.

Much of Padstow is characterised by tight, narrow streets, befitting a small town built long before anyone had dreamed up the car, with most roads being a large one way system to accommodate traffic. These winding streets are also full of many historic buildings, as according to a random sample of entries I tried on Church Street (leading up to the Church) from the British Listed Buildings website, a large proportion of the local houses appear to be from the late 18th, early 19th centuries.

Padstow 10

Heading back into the town centre, we came across another of the fine pubs which serve the many residents of Padstow, and this time it was “The Golden Lion”. The Inn has the distinction of being the oldest in Padstow, as it opened for business during the 14th century, whereas the other pubs we have looked at are from the 18th.

It is also the scene of Padstow’s most famous tradition, which occurs at midnight on the 1st of May every year, to mark the beginning of Summer. Many hours of merriment follow, with the town decked out accordingly, before the two “Obby Osses” (Hobby Horses) are released from their stables, with one being Blue Ribbon, and the other the Old Obby Oss. They consist of two men dressed in outfits resembling a horse, with a billowing cape that they try to lure fair maidens of the town underneath. Both are rivals of each other, with accompanying followers throughout the day. At the end of the day they meet with the rest of the town at the Maypole, before retiring for the evening when they return to their stables.

On of our final stops in Padstow before finding somewhere to get a drink was the stunning Almshouses, built in 1875 over on Middle Street. An Almshouse was traditionally built to house various people, from the elderly to the poor who couldn’t afford their own lodgings, maybe because they were in an unfit state to work etc, as a Charitable contribution by the town itself.

A large stone plaque on the side of the buildings lists the benefactors of one of the lodgings within the complex:

“One of these houses was erected by: Subscriptions of friends in memory of John Tredwen of this town, who died June 9th 1870”.

It’s a lovely way to honour their late friend, and would have improved someone’s life dramatically. Another more modern plaque goes on to say:

“Padstow charities. Updated dwellings, re-named Tredwen Court. Re-opened by P I.N. Prideaux-Brune Esq on the 18th January 1989”.

This suggests they are still run per their original purpose, to help the community, and in memory of John Tredwen. P I.N. Prideaux-Brune Esq refers to a Mr Peter Prideaux Brune (Born 1944), the current heir to the Prideaux Estate. He and his family have lived at Prideaux Place just outside the town for hundreds of years, a fine gothic mansion with almost 100 rooms.

Padstow 13

We soon stopped for a drink at the bar of the Old Ship Hotel, shown in the above picture at the back to the right. Another 18th century Inn which also includes a Hotel, it sits in an area known as “Mill Square”, and just over the road is a large anchor, which is thought to date to around 1820. The sign accompanying it says it was discovered during excavations made as they prepared to start building the tidal defense scheme for the town.

Padstow 14

On the way back to the car, we passed the “Padstow Museum”, housed in a beautiful Red Brick Victorian building from 1882. It was originally built as the Padstow Institute, however it has slowly been replaced with both a Library and a Museum. The Museum itself was only founded in 1971, by Bill Lindsey and his fellow Padstow enthusiasts. It has since grown into a large collection, showing off artefacts from the town, along with a history of how a small fishing village became a famous tourist destination. You can find out more by visiting their official website here.

Padstow is a lovely little town, in a great location just off the Cornish Coast. There are plenty of fine restaurants/bars, as well as historic buildings and unique scenery down by the Quayside. Although sadly trains no longer serve the town, Padstow is located not far from the A39 near Wadebridge, which runs directly towards Devon and the rest of England. Newquay Cornwall Airport is also just 20 minutes (14 miles) to the South West, providing flights to various locations across the UK, as well as seasonal holiday destinations across Europe.

We soon moved on, towards our next destination, the village of Tintagel…


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