Appearances can often be deceptive. The sleepy and picturesque Cornish fishing village of Polperro may be picture postcard perfect, but in fact was one of the key centres of 18th and 19th-century smuggling, and home to the renowned ‘smuggler’s banker’, Zephaniah Job.
The various wars throughout the 18th century led to extremely heavy taxation – in response, smuggling became rife along Britain’s south coast. Thanks to the geography of the coastline and the ingenuity of many of its residents, Polperro became both a place to deliver contraband and also to deposit the smugglers’ takings.
The Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing in the heart of Polperro exhibits a range of documents and miscellaneous items from this period, including Job’s meticulous records of his canny financial dealings, which in current values would be worth over a million pounds.
The museum also displays items from the village’s less illicit but perhaps no less lucrative history as a fishing harbour, ranging from old equipment to photographs and drawings. For many centuries Polperro flourished from the pilchard trade – it was even a Polperro resident, Jonathan Couch, who first identified the fish as a large sardine.
Pilchards from the village were traded internationally and the fate of the village’s families was dependent on this trade, which was badly affected by the Napoleonic Wars and successive storms during the 19th century.
The museum’s collection conveys the sense of community that has endured throughout extraordinary times at this small outpost of Britain for hundreds of years.
Don’t miss: one of only three restored lifeboats from the early 20th century: the Ryder lifeboat.
The Polperro Heritage Museum, Harbour Studio, The Warren, Polperro, Cornwall PL13 2RB
tel: 01503 272423