Fore Street and the roads leading off it, have always been the centre of the town’s entertainment; many public houses have existed along its length, from Central Square with the Central Inn at one end, to the Red Lion at the other. The Sailors Arms, now incorporates one of the towns many night-clubs. Although no longer to be seen, these pubs had a large yard, known as a Backlet, in which was situated a brew house, (where the pub beer was made) stables and very often a skittle alley. The backlet of the Ship Inn, now the Vic Bars, was surrounded by bushes of Elder, known locally as Skewtrees, because the wood from these bushes was cut into short lengths and used as skewers by the local butchers when dressing meat.
Where the Fore Street car park now stands, the original Coastguard cottages once stood, built in 1825. The West End bowling green stands on what was once the cottages’ gardens. From 1843 privately owned Pilot Gigs were used for lifesaving, until a purpose built lifeboat house was built in 1860. This lifeboat house is now a surf shop, can you discover which one? The towns first lifeboat, the Joshua had to be destroyed in 1865, ironically because it developed dry rot. The Fore Street lifeboat house was far from being in the ideal location because, before a gig could begin its lifesaving duty, it had to be mounted on a trailer and drawn to the harbour by horses from Mrs Hoyle’s stables on the Whim, which is now a supermarket car park off Alma Place.
On the corner you will see a group of old cottages and some new shops; this is where Bark House once stood, so called because, before the advent of chemical preservatives, the towns fishermen had their nets soaked here in the Tannin-rich solution extracted from tree bark. The smell from this process, along with that from the brew houses, must have been intoxicating.
As you walk down to South Quay, try to imagine a cold, dark, stormy night in the 1860s. You have been enjoying a game of skittles after a hard days work, when the sound of a dennetts rocket is heard. The cry goes out that a fishing boat has hit the rocks and is sinking fast. You leave your game and rush to the lifeboat house, if only you hadn’t had that last pint of strong ale. You are joined by men all rushing to their appointed position. No time to panic, as you try to control the team of horses pulling the trailer bearing the Joshua down the steep hill to the harbour. What might be going through your mind? Every seconds delay may end in one of your friends, or worse still, a member of your family being drowned in the unforgiving waves.
Today Newquay has the very latest Inshore Lifeboat operating from the harbour and those using our beaches are in the safe hands of our surf life guards, who often use Malibu boards in their rescues. When you reach the harbour and pass the seaman’s mission, give up a little thought for the many young men who lost their lives at sea.