Presented by: Geoff Swallow


The first annual summer migrant to arrive on the coast of West Cornwall en masse was not the Victorian tourist but the pilchard. This presentation takes its title from sociologist Jean-Didier Urbain’s personifications of the transition of the beach from industrial zone to recreational site. It focuses on Porthminster beach in St Ives, Cornwall, for generations the site of the town’s seine fishery but which, between the construction of the railway in 1874 and the opening of the Porthminster hotel in 1894, was appropriated as the town’s bathing beach. The annual arrival of shoals of pilchards and visitors alike coincided in the months of August and September, bringing fisherman and bather into contestation for use of the beach. Touching on Foucault’s idea of ‘heterotopia’, this presentation will trace the contesting spatial, conceptual and symbolic meanings of the site for locals and visitors during the period of its transition from a site of industry to a site of recreation. Beginning with a description of the seine fishery, it will go on to show how, as the pilchards declined and the visitors increased, its objects and practices were co-opted into visitor constructions of Cornwall’s ‘otherness’. It will show the impact of exposure to imported bathing practices and protocols on the local community. It will conclude by suggesting similarities between the seine fishery and the annual swimming matches of the late Victorian and Edwardian era which may have served to perpetuate continuity in the face of change.

Article © Geoff Swallow