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St Agnes Harbour, site of
Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes, Cornwall, UK
associated engineer
John, Hugh and Thomas Tonkin
date  1632, 1684, 1699 - 1705, 1709 - 1710, 1794 - 1798, c1816
era  Stuart  |  category  Harbour  |  reference  SW720518
In all, five attempts have been made to establish a harbour at Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes in Cornwall, but ultimately all have failed. The last harbour wall had been destroyed by 1920 and only scattered stone blocks on the foreshore, mostly from 18th and 19th century efforts, now remain.
John Tonkin, a member of the wealthy Tonkin mining family of Cornwall, was the first to attempt to build a quay at Trevaunance Cove, in1632. It was never completed. In 1684, John’s grandson Hugh Tonkin tried to build another quay at the west end of Trevaunance Cove, where there was some protection from the open sea. However, his efforts were destroyed by a storm soon afterwards.
Hugh Tonkin began a third harbour in 1699, and sought advice from Henry Winstanley (1644-1703), who had built the first lighthouse tower at Eddystone in 1696-8. The new harbour wall was constructed of timbers fastened together by iron bars, with a core of rocks and mortar. Cargo ships were able to berth in safety. But in August 1705, the harbour was demolished in a storm.
In 1709, Hugh’s son Thomas Tonkin decided to build a fourth harbour, consisting of a single harbour wall. The site was again at the west end of the cove, where the high rocky cliffs shelter a slight indentation in the coastline. This time the wall was built of stone blocks set in hot lime mortar. The venture cost more than £6,000.
Mounting debts meant that in 1719 the Tonkin estate, including the harbour, was forfeited and the family bankrupt. Nobody maintained the harbour wall, and in 1730 it too was swept away by the sea.
In June 1793, a Parliamentary Act was passed for the compulsory purchase of land upon which to build a harbour. The St Agnes Harbour Company was formed and work began the following year. The north quay wall was completed in 1798 at a cost of around £9,000. The wall was 9m wide and made of mortared granite blocks tied together with iron bars.
Shipping trade flourished, and in about 1816 a shorter south wall was built around the harbour. At the same time, the north wall was extended by 14m. This created a harbour entrance only 8m wide — difficult to enter by boat even in calm seas. Moreover, the harbour wasn't accessible by road and cargo had to be hauled up or down the cliffs by horse whims (horse-powered winches).
By the 1850s, Portreath Harbour 6.5km away was taking more trade, as it was easier to reach by road and a safer place to berth. In 1897, an Act of Parliament permitted the Great Western Railway to construct a branch line from Chacewater to Newquay, running through St Agnes. Freight could then be carried by rail, and harbour usage (and maintenance) dwindled even further.
In summer 1915, the sea damaged the north quay wall. Nothing was done to repair the wall and in 1916 it was destroyed in a storm. The south quay wall was swept away a few years later. One corner of the harbour wall was still standing in 2005, but nothing now remains.
Trevaunance Cove lies within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1993.
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"A Stone in Time" by J.D. Keast, in Cream of Cornish Writers,
Domain Publishing, Lostwithiel, 1994
www.historic-cornwall.org.uk
www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk
www.tonkinworld.com
Location

St Agnes Harbour, site of