History of Porlock Weir

Porlock Weir

Porlock Weir lies under the steep hanging woods,  and faces Hurlstone Point across a five-mile curve of pebble-ridge. It derives its name from the “weirs rows of stakes driven into the beach, which caught salmon at high tide. The harbour was built in 1422, and improved at few years later. All through its history there has been a perpetual struggle to keep the narrow tidal entrance clear of shingle. An old ordinance commands that “No Master of any Vessel shall throw overboard any Ballise or other stones whatsoever within the said Harbour but in such places as ye Water Bailiff shall think proper or other persons Authorised to take care of ye said Port or Key under ye penalty of ten shillings for every such offence.” The harbour used to be famous for its oysters, which were dredged from opposite Glen Thorne to a point near New Place, where a cottage chimney was kept whitewashed as a landmark. They were then “perched” in the shallows opposite  the house called ‘Oyster Perch’  during the months  without an R in them, and turned every three days. Once the Colchester boats came on a poaching expedition. but could not find the oyster-beds.


A large herring fleet visited Porlock Weir every autumn. There is mention in old records of a ship building  industry, now vanished.The owners of “ every Boat or Barque built upon ye Lord’s wast ” had to pay dues to the Lord of the Manor of West Porlock, Mr. Secretary Blathwayt. During the reign of King Charles II the smuggling in Somerset became so notorious that His Majesty’s Surveyor-General of Customs, William Culliforde, visited the county. He wrote a long and horrified report of the illegal traffic which sustained all the small ports, often with the connivance of the local Justices of the Peace. On the 13th of June, 1682, he reported  that : 


“I went to visit Porlock Weir, which is about four miles from Minehead, where there is a very deep Bay and a good Harbour for small Vessells, to which place there are several that belong, which trade over sea. The (Preventive) officer, Richard Davis, is an active young fellow, hath hitherto been paid £5 per Annum.‘"


by incidents; he very well deserves £10 per and be established, it being a place of Trade and where great quantities of Herrings are taken and cured, which begets a great concourse of people and small craft, that may be of dangerous consequence to the Crown unless well  guarded.


There is no doubt that the owners of those small ships at Porlock Weir took every advantage of their position, and that the Lord of the Manor received only a moiety of the Harbour Dues’  he published a list of these in 1723. It shows that salt for curing fish was imported by the ton also dickers of hides (sheep and calves’ skins)  for the tanyard at Porlock, lime-stones to be burnt in the kilns behind the Anchor Inn, and hauled by sweating Waggon-teams to fertilise the moorland farms. The red haematite ore exported from the mines at Luccombe paid duty; also every maise of herrings, open boat lading of oysters, pack of Kersey or  Linen cloth. The more valuable cargoes such as hogsheads of tobacco, chests of tea and sugar, and barrels of wine scarcely ever landed in a law-abiding fashion on the quay. There was much  trade with Wales  for every passenger, pack or fardle,  horse or bullock, pig, sheep, goose or turkey, and chicken paid duty. The local exports included butter, cheese,  bacon, pork, and apples from the orchards which still bloom throughout the valley. Stockings were imported  by the “ dozen paires. Every visiting boat or vessel paid  keelage, higher for foreigners than for those of English tonnage.

Of all that trade, only two small ketches ply nowadays between Porlock Weir and Wales, exporting timber and importing coal, by the cauldron. Now all the warehouses on the quay have been converted into stabling for hunters; nettles screen the lime-kilns, and an occasional yacht dares the dangerous currents of the Lynmouth to Minehead coast in order to enter Porlock Weir. The group of cottages beyond the lock-gates, buttressed with outhouses against the prevailing wind, are called (for no known reason) “ Turkey.” Few herrings come up the coast in autumn now. Hikers use the smugglers’ path which climbs the hillside by the roots of a gigantic elm-tree, before striking across the fields.


Worthy Manor crouches under the wooded spur of Gore Point, dominated by Ashley Combe, the seat of the Lovelace family. Although called a manor, Worthy has never possessed manorial rights, but is ’really a free tenement of the manor of West Porlock. In 1291 Walter of Worthy and his wife sued their overlord, Sir Simon de Roges of Porlock, for diverting a "water-course from Worthy. The manor rolls show ‘that in 1306 Robert de la Worthe held the house and half a virgate of land (15 acres) in fee, rendering two shillings a year to his Lord. During the reign of King Edward VI., Edward Rogers held the freehold; and it gradually degenerated into a farmhouse, until restored by the present tenants. It is a beautiful old house, said to be connected with the beach by a secret passage, and haunted by a ghost who wears sea boots. Its doorways are made of ship-timber, “pegged together; and one room is lit by an arrow-slit, while another preserves the original oak screen. There is a chapel with a fine waggon-roof, and a priest’s hole concealed‘ over the porch. It broods in a leafy silence, permeated by the voice of the brook which caused litigation in the 13th century; with orchard-boughs framing a view of the sea, and doves cooing on its ancient roof.
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