HISTORY & LANDMARKS
Mullion developed thanks to its cove and around its church. When overland travel was dangerous and slow, Mullion Cove – Porth Mellin – provided practical communication with a wider world and a living for many inhabitants. St. Mellanus Church, dating back to the 9th century, provided a focus for social cohesion around which grew ‘Church Town’. The first written reference to ‘Mullion’ is found in an ecclesiastical record of 1288-1291 which refers to the parish of ‘Ecclia Sci Mellani’. The naming process began with Melyan, then Mullyan followed by St. Mullyon leading to the present ‘Mullion’.
Ancient settlements have been discovered at Clahar Garden, Angrouse and Predannack Downs. Little more than large stone circles when discovered they revealed burial grounds and artefacts including urns, bones and implements. Ancient chapels have also featured at Predannack, Trenance and Clahar Garden and, at Predannack on the old moorland road from Mullion to The Lizard, a Celtic Cross. The Mullion of today took many centuries to develop.
Up to the 18th century Mullion remained primarily an agricultural, mining and fishing community with livelihoods supplemented by wrecking and smuggling. During the 19th century Mullion began to emerge into the modern era with the growth of the estates such as Predannack Manor and Trenance. Whilst the arrival of steam trains at Helston, saw the Lizard and Mullion become a popular tourist destination.
Mullion also benefited, as part of a wider industrial revolution, when the coastguards introduced ‘Rocket’ apparatus and the Breeches Buoy in 1862, the first Mullion lifeboat in 1867, the Wolf Rock lighthouse in 1871 and Porth Mellin harbour in 1897.
By the early 20th century, the village had a mains water supply, mules and horses were giving way to the motor car and electricity was in place. Whilst Marconi’s global revolution in communication which brought the wireless to people’s homes had begun at Poldhu.
For nigh on 800 years, the imposing church of St. Mellanus has stood proud in the heart of Mullion. The first written reference to Mullion is to one “Petrus Sancti Melany” (Peter of St. Mellanus) in 1225 when the church was believed to have been consecrated. However, as the great north door of oak, wooden pegged from the 9th century, it is likely there was an earlier church on the site. The dedication to Mellanus, or Melaine, the much-loved Bishop of Rennes in Brittany, suggests a French connection most likely to the monks of St. Michael’s Mount, along the coast at Marazion.
St. Mellanus church’s three low, symmetrical aisles with barrel roofs were restored in 1988. The imposing tower was added in the 15th century tower. Its variegated stone exterior is built of local granite and serpentine. During the Reformation The 14th century east window was taken out and hidden in the churchyard to prevent destruction and restored in the 19th century. The striking 13th century pews, supposedly cut from the ancient oak forest on Goonhilly, are carved with wonderful designs added over the centuries representing symbols of the Passion, the crucifixion and even ‘Jonah in the whale’s belly’. From the same era and also hidden for safe keeping was the stone in the Lady altar. The oak Screen, restored in 1964, incorporates panels from the original 15th century screen designed by F.C. Eden, one of Sir Ninian Comper’s pupils.
The Royal coat of arms in the north door, known as a Devil door, is that of Charles II, given to commemorate the parish’s royalist stand in the Civil war. The ‘dog door’, a small hole with a hinge door to cover it, in the bottom of the south door, was put there evict unruly farm dogs. Enhancing the ancient French links is the figure of the Christ on the altar cross which was brought back from a shell damaged church in WWI France by the son of a former parish priest.
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The stunning Mullion Cove, owned by National Trust, is a beautiful traditional Cornish fishing harbour with historic links to the Newlyn and the Mounts Bay fishing industry. In 1793 Mullion Cove’s fishermen applied to Lord Robartes at Lanhydrock for permission to increase the number of boats involved in the Pilchard Fishery, but it was not until nearly 100 years later that the Harbour of two stone piers and concrete core was commissioned. Building work commenced in 1890 and was completed in 1897.
Whilst limited now, the harbour hosted many traditional fishing methods including the use of inshore seine boats and nets for pilchards, traditional pots baited to catch crab and lobster and fishing by hook and line and netting for herring and mackerel. The catch would be transferred to Southampton by Smack.
Mullion’s Victorian Harbour, which, along with the Net Loft and Winch House, was given Grade II Listed status in 1984, still stands proud after a century and a quarter against the storms which regularly beat against its walls and often damage its structure.
Mullion Harbour did not just provide a safe haven for the fisherman, it also protected British ships and boats under attack from foreign navies and privateers. The cannon that sits in front of the Mullion Cove Hotel, provides testimony to this.
Mullion Cove and its surrounding caves and bays have a strong base in Cornwall’s history of smuggling and piracy, with boats sailing from France laden with Brandy and other illicit goods. Ships might be lured onto the rocks by strategically placed ‘warning’ fires in a neighbourhood’. French Cognac or ‘Cousin Jack’ from Roscoff was a staple commodity for local smugglers ‘making a run’. with ‘hardly a family not involved’. Government ‘Revenue men’ attempted to foil both wreckers and smugglers but might be dissuaded from action by well-timed offers of ‘hospitality’.
Two of the most famous local ‘free traders’ were The King of the Smugglers, Henry “Bo Bo” George, and his accomplice “Dio” Williams, who in their later years in the late 1890’s would regale locals and tourists with their tales. They were always keen to point out that whilst there were frequent skirmishes with the official Preventative Men, there was no loss of life. Much of their illicit goods were stored in the Torchlight Cave, deep in the cliff past the Mullion harbour, where the pair of smugglers hollowed out two chambers above the level of the tide.
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