CORNWALL ONLINE PARISH CLERKS - helping bring the past alive

The parish of


Old Postcard
Courtesy of Christine Parker
Porthleven Porthleven
Porthleven - Port
© Charles Winpenny
Porthleven - Storm
© Charles Winpenny

Porthleven lies in the Hundred and Deanery of Kerrier. The name itself is taken from two Cornish words, Porth, meaning Port, and Elvan, which was the name of the Celtic Saint who came to shore in the 5th century, and along with others began preaching Christianity in the region. There is a village called St Elvan, which lies in the Parish of Sithney, just over a mile from Porthleven on the Sithney road. Indeed, until 1846, Porthleven itself was part of the Parish of Sithney. When Porthleven was formed into a parish in its own right in 1846, it took land from both.

During the Middle Ages, Porthleven was fairly unimportant, as there was no harbour and the River Cober was passable all the way inland to Helston, though today the Cober is little more than a shallow stream in most places

It is highly unusual to find a Cornish Harbour which faces south-west, as the prevailing winds blow straight inland, and as such, Porthleven’s development as a port was always severely hampered. That is probably why it never became a major trading port but remained a fishing and boat building port, industries which still continue today.

It was only because Porthleven offered the only refuge for boats and ships in distress from the storms that regularly lash its shores along this windy coastline, that it ever grew to become its own parish. Otherwise, it is likely it would have remained a very small fishing inlet.

The harbour itself was constructed in 1825, and as explained above, that was extremely problematical, to say the least, to achieve. Even though a large fishing fleet for Mackerel & Pilchards soon started fishing off the coast, Porthelven remained a dangerous and difficult harbour to access. The port was taken over in the 1850’s by Harvey & Co, a Hayle based firm, and they made major improvements to the harbour, leaving the massive sea walls that we can see today.

Porthleven grew a great boat-building and fishing industry, but has never been able to overcome its main problem of facing south-west - you only have to watch the sea as a gale sets in to see why.

Cornwall Online Parish Clerks

The Online Parish Clerk (Genealogy) for Porthleven is Damien Willey, who can be contacted at

Please visit my website which has transcriptions of parish records, as well as many other relevant items. For further information, please contact me at the above address. Damien
Contact details for the current town council can be found here.
Contact details for the church can be found by searching here.



Information can be found at COCP (Cornwall Online Census Project) which is complete for 1841 to 1891 and has been verified, FreeCen at Rootsweb, which has a very good search engine and information from COCP, as well as GenUKI, which has more reference information and alternate resources.


For Parish Register information, please see our online searchable database (C-PROP), GenUKI and the LDS website, Library section. The C-PROP parish coverage page is here.


For information, see the University of Leicester's website of Historical Directories or GenUKI.


School Admissions:

1886-1921, Sithney Porthleven Board School

1916-1918, Porthleven Council School

For more information regarding history, population, etc., visit GenUKI.


For a zoomable and printable map of Cornwall please visit Cornwall Council’s mapping website. To see the Parish boundaries, click on the Layers Tab for Government Boundaries.

For maps and satellite images use Google Maps.

To enjoy a "walk" around this parish, search for Porthleven at, then drag the person icon from above the zoom commands and place it at a specific location on the map.


Breage, Sithney & Helston.