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Fowey in 1837

Fowey, in the hundred of Pyder, is on the right or west bank of the river Fowey, near its mouth, 240 miles from London, through Tavistock, Callington, and Liskeard, or 243½ miles through Plymouth and East Looe.

The scenery around this town is very picturesque. The rocks about Polruan, on the opposite side of the river (which here expands into a good haven), rise to a considerable height, and are broken into rude cliffs and bold promontories. At the mouth of the haven are the ruins of two square stone forts or blockhouses, one on each side, built in the reign of Edward IV to protect the entrance. They were provided with port-holes for cannon, and had apparently four floors : the walls are six feet in thickness. The harbour is now defended by two modern batteries, and by a fort, called St. Catherine, which was built in the reign of Henry VIII.

The town is built in a very straggling manner, the houses extend a considerable way along the haven, and the streets are so narrow and full of angles as to be almost impassable for carriages. Most of the buildings are of stone.

The church is a spacious and lofty fabric of the perpendicular English style of architecture : it was rebuilt, or at least much altered about 1466. There was formerly in the town a chapel called St. Catherine's Chapel, which gave name to St. Catherine's Hill : it existed in Leland's time. There is a spacious market-house, with a town-hall over it, and a public walk overlooking the town and harbour.

The population of Fowey in 1831 was 1,767. The chief business of the town consists in catching and curing pilchards : this fishery employs many vessels. Fowey is a corporate town ; the corporation consists of a mayor, recorder, eight aldermen, and a town-clerk. Fowey sent members to parliament from the time of queen Elizabeth up to the passing of the Reform Act, by which it was disfranchised. The living is a vicarage, of the annual value of £179, with a glebe-house, in the diocese of Exeter and archdeaconry of Cornwall. There is a market on Saturday. There are two free-schools, and an almshouse for eight poor widows. The harbour has excellent anchorage, and is always safe.

Fowey was anciently a place of greater importance than it is now. The townsmen acquired wealth by feats of war and by piracy in the wars of Edward I and III, and Henry V, and their wealth enabled them to increase the commerce of the town to a great extent. Fowey furnished more ships to the fleet of Edward III before Calais than any other port in England, and more mariners than any other port except Yarmouth. About the same time the Fowey men had a sharp battle with the Rye and Winchelsea men, because they (the Fowey men) would 'vale no bonet, being required', the Fowey men obtained the victory, and hence rose the name of ‘the gallaunts of Fowey.' The French burnt the town in 1457. When peace was made between England and France in the time of Edward IV the Fowey men still kept up hostilities, for which the king ordered their fleet to be confiscated. The possession of the town was repeatedly contested in the struggle between Charles I and his parliament.