All About Looe


The Shapcott Stone Masons of Looe





As part of the renovations to the port of Looe the Town Committee decided that the old bridge linking East and West Looe was inadequate and not ideally situated.  


In 1843 a new bridge was built, at a cost of £2,980, and this was positioned 100 feet further up river than the original.


It was designed by the ingenious engineer John Thomas, and consisted of 7 arches and was 12 foot wide. There was no access into West Looe when the bridge was first built, but there was a tunnel constructed for this purpose.  The East and West Looe Harbour and Bridge Act was passed in 1848 by setting up a body of 13 Commissioners, with the intention of improving facilities at Looe.





Looe Bridge by  Eugene Birchall CC Geograph Wikipedia

As already mentioned new and longer quays were constructed, the harbour was dredged, the river bed cleared.


During the winter months Looe was often battered by fierce storms and terrific gales.  Such a storm and its consequences was well documented in a newspaper article in :

The West Briton”  


dated  24th January 1817 :


“ In consequence of the violent gale on Sunday night, the tide on Monday morning (at Looe) rose to a height scarcely ever before remembered here.  The lower part of the Town was inundated; the quay damaged: the cannons, 18 pounders, washed off the platforms, cellar doors burst open and property to a considerable amount damaged or destroyed.  In the lower streets, the inhabitants were confined to the upper storeys, being unable to escape.  A vessel of 60 tons burthen was thrown upon the quay by one wave and shortly afterwards carried off by another. When the tide ebbed the streets were found to be covered with ore weed.  The damages at the place are estimated at £1,000.”



CC photo by Martin Pettitt- Flickr

CC photo by Gnomedude Flickr

A long harbour arm, or stone breakwater known as the Groyne had been constructed at Churchend, at the mouth of river.  This was to offer some protection to the East side of the mouth of the Looe River from winter storms, and give safe passage into the harbour for returning vessels.  The West side was naturally protected by the rocky, river bank and coast line.   However, such storms were to continue to be a cause of grave anxiety and much expense to the Mayor and Townsmen of Looe.  Time and time again the stones were washed away, leaving gaps and causing serious harm to the structure, with the result that the Groyne was continually in need of repair.


The second Thomas Shapcott (Mason) suggested that furze should be used between the layers of stone and reek  

This work was carried out and never since, however fierce have been the storms, has the wreckage been repeated.  The bedwork of the old Groyne has resisted the onslaught of terrific waves, and is still as firm as when the work was done many years ago.


The Groyne was first known as “Admiral Riley” is now known as the “Banjo Pier”, because of its unusual shape.  The round end was added in 1898 by Joseph Thomas, to reduce the amount of sea sand being carried up river by the tides.   Around 1893 a light was put on the pier.  Prior to this a light was placed in the window of the watchtower of the old Lifeboat Station for guidance of vessels into the harbour. By day flags were hoisted on a pole when conditions were suitable for a vessel to enter. A few gas lamps lit the quays. The rocks were painted white to be seen more easily in the dark.

Another project of Joseph Thomas was to cut a road into the cliffs in West Looe.  This work involved blasting out much of the cliff and building retaining walls and took 2 years to complete.  Two arches were built over salt cellars belonging to the Pilchard Stores on the quay.  The towers were an after-thought, purely for aesthetic purposes. Hannafore Road is carried on the battlemented viaducts.


Much of the handiwork of the first Thomas Shapcott is still standing in the lower streets and fishing quarters of Looe.  The large stores on East Looe Quay were built by William Shapcott.  They have been much admired by visitors who understand Masonry, for their beauty of line and the stone ornamentations.

The excellence and beauty of their work was carried through the succeeding generations.  It is said that the Shapcotts were fine workmen, renowned for their splendid work.  An old quip was often used in Looe referring to the Masons, something to this effect -


“Let a Shapcott build your wall, it will never, never fall.”






The fortunes of the Shapcott Masons seemed steadily to rise until the 1850’s, and then began slowly to decline as they came up against rivals in Masonry.  


CC photo by Brian - Geographic Wikipedia

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