The History of Looe
The town of Looe lies nestled in a sheltered bay on the southern coast of Cornwall and has a history that dates back at least 3000 years. The area around Looe has been inhabited since 1000 BC; according to Archaeological evidence such as the ‘Giants Hedge’ and the stone circle at Bin Down (from Bin Dun meaning ‘hill fort’). Looe is divided into East Looe and West Looe by a river; at the time of the writing
of the Domesday Book , the land on the East side was owned by William the Conqueror , the King of England. The nearby Looe Island was the home of a monastic order from 1144; it is believed the monks used some kind of primitive form of lighthouse to guide their boats. The earliest development of East Looe was a ‘planted borough’, laid out in a neat grid like pattern similar to the development of ‘New Towns’ many centuries later.
Looe thrived as a port over the next few centuries and was probably the largest port in Cornwall by the 14th century. It was used for the export of local Cornish produce such as tin, granite and arsenic, as well as housing the local boatbuilding and fishing industries. Such was the prosperity of Looe during this boom that the town was able to send some 20 ships to aid the siege of Calais in 1347, according to historical records. The East and West parts of Looe were first joined by a bridge across the River Looe in 1411. The town lies on the route between the two important medieval towns of Plymouth and Penzance and this also assisted the growth of the town’s prosperity.
The Old Guildhall dates back to around 1500, a time when the town was extremely prosperous, partially due to strong links to the healthy textile industry. Trade with and transportation to and from the ‘New World’, specifically Newfoundland, also boosted the local economy significantly. During the sixteenth century both East and West Looe became incorporated and for three centuries they were prime examples of what is politically known as ‘rotten boroughs’. This was a term given to boroughs with the luxury of being represented by an MP in parliament, despite only having a tiny population of the borough. Both East and West Looe returned an MP each to parliament, despite having very small populations represented by each one. It was all part of a blatant move to interfere with the then already rather dubious democratic process. It all changed in the Great Reform Act of 1832 . By the beginning of the 19th century, the fortunes of Looe had declined somewhat and the port suffered a loss of trade due to the effects of the Napoleonic War on the country. The Napoleonic blockade cut Looe off from its market for local Pilchards, thus having a direct negative effect on the prosperity of the town. During the 19th century a canal was built linking the town to Liskeard . This proved inadequate at coping with demand, so a railway link was also built; although this only ran for around 50 years and was shut down in the early 20th century.
Modern Looe is a charming resort that is a popular destination for tourists; having been made a popular seaside resort during the Victorian era ; when seaside holidays were truly fashionable. It retains much of its character as an old Cornish Fishing Village and has a long stretch of beach. A few miles along the coast and accessible by a very scenic footpath along the coastline is the charming 13th century fishing village of Polperro ; also known for its historic smuggling connections! The footpath also takes you past Talland Bay, known in Victorian times as the ‘playground of Plymouth’ and featuring some fabulous secluded beaches.
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