The Carrick Roads and creeks
Cowland and Coombe
The southern part of Kea parish is mainly agricultural, and is noted for giving its name to the unique and rare damson-type Kea plum. In the past the main industries were plum growing, oyster dredging, and coppicing oak to produce resin for the leather industry (obtained from 'barking' the oak trees).
Kea plums have been prized for centuries in Cornwall and some of the orchards at Coombe are shown on maps from the late eighteenth century although they probably existed earlier at Old Kea. Their origin is unknown. Perhaps they spontaneously arose and were then cultivated for their special taste and quality? The management of the historic orchards is now a full time job for a member of the Tregothnan Estate team. Orchards extend to about 20 acres along the waterfront. The plums are not picked in the conventional way but are gathered from a series of ‘shakes’. Four shakes are usually required to harvest the best plums, the first shake is discarded. The plums are both rare and exquisite. Jams, chutneys and dishes are created from the plums. The varieties of Kea Plum are excellent when stored frozen and the stones can then easily be removed for subsequent use. There are many local recipes for the plums.
Most of the local men in days past were oyster fishermen and tanks can still be found in Coombe where from the 1930s to the 1950s William Gunn and Co, the largest oyster merchant on the Fal, had their grading shed and purification plant. Along the foreshore traditional oyster rowing and sailing boats can usually be seen, the Fal being the only place in Europe where fishing is still carried out under sail.
Much of the woodland you can see on the opposite bank is coppice oak, this was part of a major local industry where the trees would have been cut down about every thirty years, the oak bark was essential to the local leather tanneries.
The last tannery was Croggons at Grampound which ran from 1712 to 2002. The bark would have been stripped in May when the rising sap made it easier to separate the bark from the tree, and the trees would have been sawn up for firewood.
Old Kea is full of history. Legend has it that in the fifth century an Irish monk floated across from Ireland on a hollowed out granite boulder and he founded a monastery where he landed. It is more likely that he was one of several monks from Glastonbury who did found small monasteries and one seems to have existed here in 500 AD. The manor of Landeke (Landegea or Kea) is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1068. A medieval church replaced the pre-Norman building and is recorded in 1265, but was rebuilt in the fifteenth century, but all that exists of it now is its tower. Unfortunately the church was at the extreme east end of its large parish and in 1802 it was dismantled. A new church was built to the west side of the A39 but seems to have been an early example of jerry-building as it was replaced by the present All Hallows church in 1895. (Its steeple can be seen when driving from Coombe up to the A39 when you reach Kea School. The new church is a fine Victorian building, very ‘unCornish’, and has a thriving congregation.)
When the fifteenth century church was demolished some of the materials were used to build a parish poor-house in the churchyard, and it is likely that parts of this building were then converted into the present mission church which held its first service on 5th October 1858, the Parish Feast of St Kea.
Extract from “Discovering Coombe” guided walks produced by Nigel Baker.