Looe is located on the South East Coast of Cornwall, 20 miles west of Plymouth (Devon)
and 240 miles from London.
Liskeard is some 10 miles from Looe, Polperro 6 miles, and Fowey 12 miles.
Looe is actually made up of twin little towns -East and West Looe which face each
other, divided by the sandy estuary of the East and West Looe Rivers.
Until 1832 the two towns were represented by their own individual Member of Parliament.
At the time when the Shapcott Masons arrived in Looe, the two towns were linked by
a Tudor stone bridge, that had been built in the early 15th Century. It consisted
of 15 arches. At one time there was a chapel set in the middle of the bridge, dedicated
to St Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, however this wooden structure burned down
many years previous.
By the late seventeenth century, this old bridge was in a bad state of repair. The
town could not afford the work, and the County Magistrates, ordered the County purse
to pay the bill. To record their generosity, a plaque was made, and this can be seen
in the wall of the car park on Fore Street. It reads :
“REPEARED BY THE COUNTY 1689”.
This granite stone marks the position of the old bridge.
An old painting of the Looe showing the old bridge
Above the bridge the valley widens and the waters are calm and placid, and take on
the appearance of a Lake or Mill pond.
In fact, the name of Looe was derived from the Cornish word “Looe” – meaning Pool
(which is similar to the Scottish word “Loch” and the Welsh word “Llwch”).
The river valleys were, and still are, surrounded with steep, green, wooded hills
of beech and chestnut trees.
In the 17th century John Norden, Surveyor of the Duchy of Cornwall portrayed this
charming picture of the twin boroughs :
“East and West Low are two borowe townes united and knitt together with a fayre long
arched stone bridge, to which tounes belongeth a prettie little harbour of the south
These townes take name of the river running between them, the banks, which are very
high above the currante of the water … the most commodious fishe and richeste fishinge
is of the leaste fish, which is called a pilcharde: the commoditie that ariseth of
this sill small fishe is wonderful.”
An Old Print of Looe
In 1823 Thomas Bond wrote:
“I must not forget to mention Looe bridge as a very agreeable walk in a summer evening,
for a current of fine refreshing air is always passing up or down the river: and
the scenery, beautifully reflected in the twighlight or moonlight, is truly fine.
I have been told that in calm evenings a horse passing over Looe bridge is distinctly
heard at Sandplace, 2 miles up river. Probably, however, the tide must be in at
the time. Strangers are generally struck with the idea that the Looes must be uncomfortably
warm in summer being so pent up with hills, but this is a great mistake, for owing
to the flux and reflux with the tides and the form of the valleys, a fine refreshing
air, even in the calmest weather, is constantly passing up and down the river, and
consequently must ventilate the towns.”
East Looe was built on a sand spit along the river, and included a busy fishing harbour,
and the main commercial centre. It was made up of a maze of narrow streets and alley
ways with quaint little buildings.
An Extract From “An Illustrated Itinerary of the County of Cornwall" By Cyrus Redding
“Leaving St Keyne's Well, and passing down into the lower part of the valley the
road comes suddenly upon the Looe River, which flows through a narrow but very beautiful
defile, well wooded and abounding in picturesque sites. The hills look into the
recesses of the vales, … a continual change of scene. All around is verdant and
fertile, abrupt eminencies are crowned with tufted groves; corn fields wave; and
the beautiful cattle to the sister county are seen browsing, at times almost unheard.
The river flows along, clear as amber, around rocks, knolls and cottages, looking
like peace itself. A narrow canal from Liskeard to Looe, runs, in some places, parallel
with the river, but owing to the nature of the ground, in no way deforms the landscape
by its stiffness. We have never seen a sweeter vale; all so much in miniature, so
snug and narrow and over varying. About 2 miles above Looe this beautiful valley
expands into a fine estuary, presenting no outlet, fringed with woods, clothing lofty
promontories, the water putting on the appearance of a lake. The southern termination
of this estuary is in the sea, which is concealed by a stupendous hill; near the
foot of which are the towns of East and West Looe, which are behind the fine old
bridge, of which the following is a representation.
East and West Looe are small towns, consisting of a few narrow streets or rather
alleys. In East Looe stands a little chapel, with a low embattled tower, not far
from the entrance into the river seawards. There is a small breastwork at the mouth
of the port which has several times been injured by the waves, and this alone protects
the town from their fury. Vessels of considerable tonnage may enter, but they must
be able to take the ground, for at low water the harbour is almost dry. West Looe
is at the base of a very lofty hill, over which, until the new road was made, the
only outlet westward was almost inaccessible, from its steepness. New roads have
been made in other directions and these picturesque towns are now easily accessible
from Torpoint, Liskeard and Fowey. They lie as if at the bottom of a huge punchbowl.
Gardens and cottages line the hillsides, filled with shrubs, flowers, fruit trees,
literally "hanging gardens". Here myrtles bloom and geraniums exude their fragrance
throughout the year all is romantic and striking to the stranger. West Looe is situated
in the parish of Talland, East Looe is in that of St Martin. Some little distance
from the mouth of the harbour is Looe Island, on which stood a chapel dedicated to
St George. It is covered with grass and only inhabited by rabbits and is the property
of the Trelawney family.
The parish church of St Martin, having some remains of Saxon architecture, is about
a mile and a half north-east of East Looe.”