Boscastle takes its name from the Bottreaux family, one of the most important families in mediaeval Cornwall. They were known to have settled in the area during the reign of Henry II (1154 – 1189) although the castle is not actually documented until the 13th century.
Halfway up Dunn Street in Boscastle village you will find the site of Bottreaux Castle. It is thought that the castle was built in the mid to late twelfth century but nothing is left of it now, except the motte, a mound built for defensive purposes.
The castle was a traditional motte and bailey castle (the motte being the mound and the bailey being the secure area around the motte) and was situated at the summit of a steep spur overlooking the River Jordan, with wonderful views to the coast.
In 1584 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I Sir Richard Grenville, an English sailor and Captain of the galleon ‘Revenge’, built the two stone walls to protect the natural harbour. As the harbour entrance was a natural hazard sailing vessels couldn’t enter Boscastle unassisted so they were towed in by hobbler boats manned by eight oarsmen, with gangs of men on shore taking other ropes to keep the ships in the middle of the channel.
The harbour was a busy bustling commercial port as until the railways reached North Cornwall in 1893 all heavy goods from the area had to be carried by sea. More than a dozen ketches and schooners traded regularly through the port. Records show that even cargoes of timber direct from Canada came into Boscastle.
The railway came through Camelford in 1893 and the harbour fell into decline.
The Customs House, now The Cobweb Inn
The Cobweb was built some time before the 1600s and rumour has it that you have always been able to get a drink there; not surprising really as the building was first used as a bonded warehouse, storing all sorts of goods brought into the harbour by ship.
In the 1700s the Cobweb served as an off-licence, bottling its own beer, wine and spirits under the charge of the Customs Office. Imported alcohol was tested for strength and had to be approved by Customs officers before being sold to the 22 pubs of Boscastle and pubs further afield.
There were no bridges in Boscastle at that time and, following a dispute with landowners on either side of the river, a road was built to transport goods from the harbour to the Cobweb. This road, now referred to as Private Road, was accessed from a storage area on the fourth of five floors of the Cobweb building. Coal was also brought along this path and emptied over the cliff into storage beneath.
The first and second floors of the building were used for the storage of imports and exports of wine, beer, spirits, timber, iron, manures, corn, hardware bricks and pottery. The third floor stored grain and the original pulley used to lower the goods onto waiting wagons can still be seen outside the large opening on the on the car park side.
The first floor was an office leading onto a bar and more storage. Customers used to enter an office through the door at the front, order their wares and pop into the back room (still known as the “Bottom Bar”) while they waited for your order – the more they ordered the longer they stayed.
After the Ship Inn closed at the end of the first world war its licence was transferred to the Cobweb – then known as the Launceston Cellar. This allowed the sale of drink for six days a week, but it was still not trading as an official public house. In 1947 the arrangement was formalised with the ground floor being turned into a bar. The name came from the cobwebs that hung from the ceiling in a thick black mat, the theory being that the spiders would keep the flies away from the kegs of alcohol.
Since the 1960s the pub has been run by the Brights, a true Cornish family.
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