Cornwall’s oldest pubs: 13 historic inns you need to visit
PUBLISHED: 09:38 29 August 2018 | UPDATED: 08:39 31 July 2020
Low beamed ceilings, flagstone floors and white-washed walls; the Duchy boasts an abundance of historic pubs, long associated with mystic tales of smuggling and pirates. We list thirteen of Cornwall’s oldest pubs you need to visit
1. The Crown Inn, Lanlivery
With origins dating back as far as the 12th century, The Crown Inn is said to be one of the oldest pubs in Cornwall. One of the rare features of this traditional Cornish inn is that some of the building still originates from when it was first built. Expect plenty of wooden beams and exposed stone walls inside - and keep an eye out for the original bread oven found in the main bar.
2. The Sloop Inn, St Ives
The Sloop Inn is a familiar and well-loved landmark overlooking St Ives Harbour and you’ll often see punters enjoying pints of ale and sea views in the summer months. But did you know the pub is reputed to date back as far as circa 1312 making The Sloop quite possibly one of the oldest pubs in the UK.
The vast majority of the building with its slate roof and white washed exterior originate in the 17th and 18th century. The inn was once a popular haunt for artists in the Victorian era, including Louis Grier, whose paintings were displayed in the pub during that time.
3. The Turks Head, Penzance
The oldest pub in Penzance, The Turks Head, was first established in 1233 when the Turkish invaded Penzance from Jerusalem during the crusades. The original building burnt down during the Spanish Invasion but a lot of what you see today originates from the 16th century.
Penzance is famous for its pirates and The Turks Head is no different with an extensive history of smugglers and pirates frequenting the bar. By drinking a pint here, you’ll be stepping back in history by enjoying the same public house as pirates and smugglers from 750 years ago.
4. The Pandora Inn, Mylor Bridge
What started as humble beginnings as a farm, later turned into a ‘Passage House’ on what used to be the main road between Falmouth and Truro. The ‘Passage House’ then became known as ‘The Ship’ and eventually ‘The Pandora’ after the HMS Pandora which sank in 1791.
In March 2011 the pub had a devastating fire which completely destroyed the whole of the first floor. The owners restored the Grade II listed inn, rebuilding the chimneys and re-hatching the roof. You can now expect to see roaring open fires, flagstone floors and wooden beamed ceilings similar to those from centuries ago.
5. The Bush Inn, Morwenstow
The Bush Inn has a rumoured history that dates back as far as AD 940 but its confirmed roots originate in the 13th century. The pub is steeped in history and there is speculation it is home to some historic and ghoulish characters as a number of spooky sightings of ghosts have been recorded.
One sighting was that of an elderly seafaring man sitting on a bed upstairs. Another more frequently reported sighting is of a sailor walking around by the staircase.
6. Tinners Arms, Zennor
The story behind this pub dates back to 1271 when the inn was built to accommodate a band of stone masons who needed rest after a day spent building the nearby St Senara’s Church. Since opening its doors 750 years ago to the stone masons, the Tinners Arms has also served beer to miners, farmers, fishermen, musicians, poets, artists and writers.
These days the charm and character of this ancient pub still remains but the clientele is more likely to include walkers, residents and tourists. Cosy up by the fire and rest with a beer as those stone masons did many centuries ago.
7. St Kew Inn, St Kew
Similarly to the history of the Tinners Arms, St Kew Inn’s past is also said to date back to a time when stone masons were building the local church and needed some respite. It’s thought the cellar of the current pub is where the stone masons had set up their own brewery.
It’s believed the inn was around as far back as circa 1469 when records indicate a glass window was purchased for the construction of the St James the Great Parish Church in St Kew. However, there wasn’t any official documentation to mark the history of the pub until 1709 when the St Kew Inn is listed in the deeds of Nicholas Moore Bart.
8. Polgooth Inn, St Austell
Nestled in a rural valley between St Austell and Mevagissey, the Polgtooth Inn has firm roots on the historic map of Cornwall. Whilst the pub has evidence to suggest it was around in the sixteenth century, the majority of the building you see now wasn’t constructed until the nineteenth century.
The inn was once used as a pay house for miners – a contentious issue for their wives as the wages seemed to disappear on beer before they made it home. Perhaps time doesn’t change things after all.
9. The Ship Inn, Porthleven
The origins of The Ship Inn are up for debate. Whilst tradition puts the foundations of The Ship Inn in the seventeenth century, official documentation suggests the pub wasn’t around until the eighteenth century when the inn appears in some conveyance paperwork of Methleigh Manor. Either way, The Ship Inn has been a popular venue for drinking beer for many centuries.
Take a step inside and the history and character of the pub is still very clear to see. With large open fires and cosy nooks and crannies, The Ship Inn has the typical traits of a traditional Cornish pub we all know and love.
10. The Ship Inn, Mevagissey
The Ship Inn is such a historic and traditional pub it has an international following due to its unspoilt and authentic appearance and atmosphere.
One of the most famous landlords is Lil Barron who ran The Ship Inn from 1910 – 1947 and is now known as the ‘Guardian Angel’ of the inn. Lil’s special mark on the pub wasn’t so obvious back in her day but her aura became apparent in 2012 when the pub landlord handed in his notice after The Ship Inn flooded twelve times in as many weeks. It wasn’t until some regulars noticed Lil’s portrait was missing from above the bar that concerns were raised. The photograph was found discarded in a back room and restored to its rightful place and The Ship Inn has avoided flooding ever since.
11. The Golden Lion, Port Isaac
This gorgeous seaside pub instantly oozes historic charm and bonhomie as soon as you walk through the door, with period features dating back to the pub’s origins in the 18th century – including a smuggler’s tunnel that leads out to the causeway on the beach.
When you visit the pub today you’ll notice many of the features that would have existed a few centuries ago still remain, such as the fireplace and wooden flooring. The pub has retained a gentle nod towards its extensive seafaring history with nautical knick-knacks.
12. Jamaica Inn, Bolventor
This coaching inn was a welcoming spot for punters after the difficult journey across Bodmin Moor in the 18th century. Its isolated location made it the perfect spot for hiding and smuggling contraband into England too.
Smugglers aside, the pub also provided the setting and inspiration for Daphne du Maurier’s novel, Jamaica Inn published in 1936. It was later turned into a film which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1939. The story was based on the inn circa 1820.
13. The Working Boat, Falmouth
There has been a pub of some sorts in this waterfront location at the foot of the Greenbank Hotel for over 300 years now. The inn has a long history of being a popular spot for fishermen to unwind after a day at sea.
In some ways The Working Boat has a similar use today as it is used as a meeting point for the Falmouth Working Boat Association. For every pint of the pub’s own brew ‘The Working Boat’ is sold, 5p is donated to the FWBA (as if we needed an incentive to drink more beer).