History of Downalong

Morning Cottage and Trewartha are located in a part of St.Ives known as Downalong.  This is the isthmus (narrow strip of land) of bedrock that connects the mainland to the Island.  It is the most architecturally distinct part of the town and was home to much of the fishing community until the decline in the fishing trade in the late 19th century.  Locally known as Down’long, this area is distinct in character from Up’long, which was mostly lived in by the mining community and business people. 

Downalong is a maze of narrow cobbled streets and alleyways radiating out from the harbour.  It is thought that the earliest buildings were on the sheltered southern side of the isthmus while the more exposed northern side and Island were used for net drying and mending and other open air processing type activities. The living accommodation was usually up a set of stone steps, the space underneath being used to store nets, sails and various other accoutrements of the fishing trade. They were often called cellars, although they weren’t actually underground.

Carncrows Street was built in the late 18th to early 19th century as part of a new residential development in the area. Its name means “Cross by the rocks”. Comprising Teetotal Street, St Eia Street and Carncrows Street, the rigid grid arrangement of the development contrasts strongly with the organic and rather haphazard layout of the rest of the Downalong area.  The house type was still the adapted fish cellar house but these were grand houses of larger scale, a testament to the affluence of the fishing community during this period. 

For many centuries pilchards were big business in the town, but by the late 19th century the industry was in decline. The great shoals of silver no longer appeared in the bay. This may have been due to a warm current in the sea which had moved away from the coast. Others ascribed it to the mine closures and the absence of the red water which had run in rivers from the working mines ‘thickening the ocean.’ This, they claimed, had attracted the pilchards. Whatever the reason, many of the pilchard palaces, net-lofts, workshops of boat builders, coopers and blacksmiths became redundant. Not for long though. They made fine studios for the artists that flocked to the area for the beautiful scenery, mild climate and good natural light.

The late 19th century also saw the arrival of the railway and with it, mass market tourism, softening the impact of the decline of both fishing and mining. Tourists changed the character of the town with their requirements for large hotels, guesthouses and entertainment. While most of the new buildings were in the upper parts of the town, the Downalong beaches, previously places of work, became playgrounds for visitors. The fishing boats, nets, kitts (cane baskets used to land the fish from the boats to shore), carts and the stench of the landed fish were replaced with sea bathing machines, beach huts, deck chairs and cafes.  

Today Downalong continues to thrive, carefully retaining its charm through the good management of its listed buildings, its top class beaches and restaurants, and through the local industries that manage to squeeze into the smallest of spaces, including artists galleries, workshops and cafes, along with many other delights for you to discover.

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