The Keigwin Arms, once known as Keigwin Manor, stands in the heart of Mousehole and is reputedly the oldest building in this historic fishing village. It is much photographed because of its age and elegant façade but this particular house also has many interesting tales to tell. It has seen a great deal over the centuries and its walls have played host to gentry and smugglers, coroner’s courts and ladies of ill-repute. Indeed, the tales of drunkenness, filth, crime and ghostly visitations may change how you look at this iconic house forever.
” This house for a number of years has been considered a curse rather than a blessing on the town”Cornish Telegraph, 29th August 1895
The Spanish Invasion
Keigwin Manor is said to be have been built by the Keigwin family during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and is thought to be the only building in the village to have survived after Mousehole was attacked by the Spanish in 1595. It is undoubtedly the most famous story about Keigwin Manor, which was owned by Jenkyn Keigwin at that time.
More than four hundred (some estimates vary) Spaniards commanded by Carlos de Amesquita had already bombarded Penzance, sinking a number of ships, before turning their attention to Newlyn, Paul and Mousehole, a short distance along the coast.
There were those who believe that this attack fulfilled an ancient prophecy said to have been predicted by Merlin hundreds of years earlier:
“There shall land on the stone of Merlyn
Those who shall burn Paul, Penzance and Newlyn
The Spanish arrived aboard four galleons and peppered the villages with shot. Jenkyn Keigwin supposedly died when he was stuck by “a cannonball” while defending his home.
The Spaniards then set Mousehole alight but supposedly the old manor house miraculously survived.
A plaque was later erected on the wall of the building which reads: ‘Squire Jenkyn Keigwin was killed here 23 July 1595 defending this house against the Spaniards’.
Sometime after this dramatic episode, around the mid-18th century, the house was sold by one of the last remaining members of the Keigwin family to a man called John Wills who had been a servant of the family since boyhood. It became a Public House for the next few hundred years and had a succession of different landlords, a number of whom claimed to own the cannonball that killed Squire Keigwin and had it on display inside.
The Cornish Telegraph writing on 14th November 1860 noted that “The house has been often resorted to by strangers and tourists to see the Spaniard’s shot.”
“Jenkin’s ancient house is now the ‘Keigwin Arms’ and the landlord exhibits the fatal bolt.”Daily Telegraph & Courier, 20 August 1871
What happened to that infamous shot isn’t clear, though Arthur Mee wrote in 1937 that the cannonball was in Newlyn and that Penzance Museum had Keigwin’s sword but I haven’t been able to locate either artefact.
The Keigwin Family
The Keigwin family are an ancient one in the neighbourhood of Mousehole and are said to have once owned large swaths of land in the area. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes them as “a long line of merchants and minor gentry”.
Jenkyn (or Jenkin) Keigwin was born in Mousehole in 1531, the son of John (1500 – 1588) and Katherine (1504 – 1578). He married Thomasine Rawe (1535 – 1616) and the couple had one surviving son, Richard (1562 – 1636). Through him there were a number of grandchildren, all born after Jenkyn’s death at the hands of the Spanish – Martin, Tamsin, John, Philip, Jane, Richard and Anne.
So far so ordinary, but various reports about this family lead us to the inevitable conclusion that they were not exactly squeaky clean landed gentry – there was something of the wild west about them – the wild West Penwith that is . . .
In January 1634 Arthur Basset reported to the High Sheriff of Cornwall that a ship in Mount’s Bay carrying a cargo of hides had been raided by “rebellious raskalls of Mousehole” in a boat known to belong to the Keigwins. Basset claimed that to avoid capture Keigwin’s men had taken the hides and hidden them on St Clement’s Isle, the little island close to Mousehole harbour.
Keigwin (it is unclear whether this is Richard or one of his sons) claimed that he hadn’t known that his boats were being used for such illegal activities and said that in the future he would remove their oars so that no one could take them without permission. However the following year the family’s reputation became even more notorious.
A passing Spanish galleon, which had been brought near land by bad weather, was raided by “riotous multitudes “.
The inhabitants of Mousehole and Market Jew . . . maintain the riot with the words ‘one and all’. They take the goods and threaten death to the sailors . . . one Keigwin of Mousehole was amongst the rebellious rascals.”From a Letter Fron Sir James Bagg to the Lords of the Admiralty, 7th Febuary 1635
This time King Charles I, who had only recently agreed a peace treaty with Spain, was informed and he decided that these rioters should be punished, though it isn’t clear what form this eventually punishment took.
Two of Jenkyn’s great grandchildren have also claimed a place in history. John Keigwin (1642 – 1716) was a noted scholar of Cornish, a native speaker who worked tirelessly to preserve the language. He translated a number of works into Cornish including the Ordinalia and a letter written by him in Cornish is now in the British Library.
While Richard Keigwin ( ? – 1690) was a naval and army officer for the Dutch East India Company. He was at one time governor of St Helena island, where there is apparently a rock formation known as Keigwin Rock. Richard also spent time in Bombay (now Mumbai) where he is said to have led a mutiny in a dispute over pay and he eventually died in St Kitts in the Caribbean in 1690 during an attack on the island.
It isn’t clear whether Richard ever married or had children and it seems as if the family’s influence began to dwindle by this point, along with its lineage.
The Servant, John Wills
In March 1800 the Sherborne Mercury newspaper reported the death of John Wills at the age of 89. The paper described how he had bought the house from the last of the Keigwin family and how he was very attached to the manor having spent much of his life there as a servant.
It was said that Wills had also been deeply attached to the memory of the Keigwin family and that his failing health, and perhaps even his death, had been the result of the recent opening of their family vault. The vault was being relocated to make way for new pews in Paul Parish Church and much to Wills’ distress the family bones had all been removed. Apparently until that time he had enjoyed “great vigour of the body and mind” but the actions of the workmen had upset him greatly.
I believe that John Wills was the first of the Keigwin Arms landlords but many more would follow . . .
The Landlords of Keigwin Arms
- until 1800 – John Wills
- 1855 – Catherine Pollard
- 1856 – John Hocking
- 1866 – Thomas Hocking
- 1867 – Reuben Full
- 1871 – James Pascoe
- 1873 – Josiah Wright
- 1874 – John Edward Trezise
- 1878? – Mrs Reynolds & daughter
- 1880 – Charles Brockman
- 1884 – Mrs Warren
- 1886 – Mr Gerry
- 1891 – John Trenoweth
- 1892 – William Henry Bennetts
- 1895 – Andrew Stephens (applied for a license and was denied.)
If Walls Could Talk!
“Ah what stirring tales these walls could tell could they but speak!”Article about the Keigwin Arms, Batley Reporter & Guardian, 1st October 1892
Over the centuries some of the inhabitants of the Keigwin Arms became scandalously embroiled with criminal activity. There were accusations of smuggling, drunkenness and tales of ‘ladies of the night’.
The inn had numerous landlords over the centuries, although one man, Josiah Wright, appears to have owned the house from about 1873 and until the late 1890s while leasing it to a number of slightly dodgy characters.
In 1892 William Henry Bennetts, a local man baptised in Paul in 1844, became the landlord. Bennetts seems to have been partially responsible for the premise’s then deteriorating reputation. There had also been complaints about the sanitation from the building around this time, with neighbours reporting filth running into the road.
In September 1893 the Keigwin Arms had its license suspended because of increasing reports of drunkenness and drinking during prohibited hours. In late August the police had been called to the bar because a brawl had broken out there during the Mousehole regatta. The magistrates decided that the license would not be renewed until the matter had been investigated further.
And then in May 1895, just a few months after getting his license back, Bennetts was charged with running a brothel out of the Keigwin Arms.
The case was heard at Penzance Guildhall and revolved around two sisters, Lydia and Sarah Bowditch. Apparently the police had come to the inn in the early hours of the morning after a tip off and had found Lydia upstairs in bed with “a young man” (notice how his blushes are saved). William Bennetts and his wife Mary denied that they knew the pair, they claimed that they had arrived earlier in the evening to rent a room and that they had never seen them before.
When it came to trial however Mary Bennetts refused to give evidence to support her husband, in fact despite a carriage being sent to Mousehole for her she failed to attend the hearing at all. Bennetts tried to continue to deny all knowledge of what had been going on but several neighbours reported seeing Lydia and her sister Sarah coming and going from the Keigwin Arms over the past several months.
One witness even reported that Bennetts had approached her while she was collecting water at the village pump and had threatened her to not give evidence against him. Both Lydia and Sarah Bowditch gave testimony claiming that they knew Mr and Mrs Bennetts well. Sarah said that she visited the pub with men around twice a week every week. On the last occasion before being caught Lydia told the magistrates that she and her sister had “entertained” two men in the same bed and that Mrs Bennetts had brought them all breakfast in the morning.
All the while William Henry Bennetts was shouting that they were “telling fibs” and that he had never seen them before.
Despite Bennetts’ repeated protests that he was “as innocent as a child just born” the evidence kept stacking up and he was found guilty of allowing the Keigwin Arms to be used as a brothel and fined. He also had his license revoked and was banned from holding one ever again.
In 1896 the Cornish Echo published an article stating that the inn had lost its license completely after the magistrates had decided it was the “resort of disorderly characters” and in a strange twist it was then said to have become a Temperance House.
But in the end it seems that this cloak of respectability couldn’t hide the ongoing shenanigans at the Keigwin Arms. In July 1898 the inn (now calling itself a restaurant) was in the headlines again, this time for a spot of smuggling.
“Harry Pomeroy of the Keigwin Arms Restaurant, Mousehole was charged with knowingly habouring 1lb of Cavendish tobacco upon with duty had not been paid. He pleaded not guilty and was defended by Mr G. Bodily. It may be remarked that the Keigwin Arms . . . is a fine old house with rambling passages . . . in the old days it was a famous smuggler’s haunt.”The Cornish Echo, 8th July 1898
It was said that news of the raid had reached Pomeroy before the police arrived and that he had had time to hide or destroy much of the contraband. The tobacco was discovered under an ashpan in the fireplace however.
The inspector stated to the court that he had been told that there was “a secret cellar” beneath the house but that his men had been unable to find it. Interestingly Mr Bodily’s defence for his client was that two days before the raid “two mysterious visitors” had come to the inn and that they must have left the tobacco there without Pomeroy knowing. It worked, the charges were dropped.
Things that go Bump in the Night
In the 19th century it appears that many inhabitants of Mousehole believed that the old house, which was now falling into serious disrepair, was haunted. In fact, it was said that the “old gentry”, meaning the Keigwin family, were “uneasy in their graves” because the building had been left “so degraded”.
Looking at the list of landlords (above) it certainly seems that most residents didn’t stay long!
Indeed The Cornish Telegraph reported why that might be the case in 1867:
“Any person in the town will tell you that there is scarcely a night but at the usual hour for ghosts to leave their graves these unrested old gentry revisit their family home and they hold a revel rout best part of the night. There is such a noisy getting up and down stairs with the ghostly gentlemen’s boots creaking and stamping, spurs and swords jingling, ladies’ silks rustling and their hoops striking the bannisters, that the living inmates get but little rest before the cockcrow when they betake themselves off. Sometimes these unwelcome visitors vary their fun by knocking about the furniture, smashing glasses, having a dance etc altogether they seem to be a right merry bunch of ghosts, yet they often succeed in making the tenants quit the house, as few people like to have their sleep disturbed by such troublesome visitors.”The Cornish Telegraph, 14th August 1867
On another occasion a female living in the house, perhaps the landlord in 1855, Catherine Pollard, had been woken by an almighty crash and the sound of breaking glass and china. Apparently the panic that her precious serving dishes had been smashed to smithereens overrode her fear of what had caused the noise and she hurried downstairs with a candle to investigate.
When she opened the door to the dining room she found that there was absolutely nothing amiss. All her china plates and serving dishes were still safely on their shelves and the room was empty. On hearing a sound behind her however she turned to see a band of revellers, men and women in old fashioned dress, climbing the stairs and disappearing.
The woman said that she recognised some of the ghostly figures as members of the Keigwin family from their portraits that still hung on the walls!
There may have been another reason that the public feared the building however. In the 19th century inns had more uses than simply serving alcohol. They were often where auctions were held, they hosted magistrates hearings and coroner’s courts too. The Keigwin Arms was the home of Mousehole’s coroner’s court which means that the bodies of those who had died a violent, unexplained or accidental death would have been laid out inside the house ready to be viewed by the officials or jury.
A Peep Inside!
Mousehole’s maze of narrow streets and alleyways are full of interesting old cottages, one just across the road from the Keigwin house is said to have been the home of Dolly Pentreath. Sadly I have never had the chance to see inside the Keigwin Arms but have often admired its remarkable exterior which includes a decorative granite doorway and bold projecting porch supported by fancy granite pillars.
The earliest description of the interior that I could find dates from 1861 when the tragic poet John Thomas Blight spent some time in the area. He wrote about the house and obviously went inside:
“There has been preserved in this house an old court dress – a coat of a light colour richly embroidered with red braiding, The ceiling of one of the rooms was ornamented with shields bearing men’s heads, dolphins, escallop shells and other devices.”
As far as I can tell this ornate plaster ceiling no longer exists but it sounds wonderful! About 20 years later in 1887 a local journalist visited, again mentioning this plasterwork and some of the interior.
“A bedroom with handsome panelling and a moulded ceiling, on one side a helmet surmounted by the crest of the Keigwin family ( a greyhound’s head erased) in relief, on the other sides busts, evidently portraits of a bygone generation . . . a cannonball fired by the Spaniards, originally weighing 32lbs was inspected as well as a very gorgeous waistcoat, part of a suit worn over 100 years ago.”Cornishman, 19th May 1887
As discussed earlier it has been widely believed that the Keigwin Arms dates back to at least 1595, it was certainly there at the time of the Spanish attack, although there is a belief that the manor that we see today may have been built around an even early 14th century building.
Now known as Keigwin House the inn has been a private home for many years now and in March 2022 came up for sale again for £750,000.
Mousehole has changed a great deal over the years, from a village where it was said that every man and boy made his living from the sea to a popular holiday destination. But Mousehole Regatta, now known as the Sea, Salts and Sail Festival, still runs every year and the community still celebrate it, and Tom Bawcock’s Eve, with some gently raucous behaviour.
And, in the centre of it all, the Keigwin Arms, this wonderful, characterful building, still remains. Its walls groaning with all the tales it wants to tell.