In the 19th century the village of Mousehole was described as “a little harbour with many fishing boats where every man and boy spends his life afloat.” These days though there is much less of this maritime industry it is still one of Cornwall’s most atmospheric fishing villages with a maze of narrow alleyways and a huddle of old houses crowding around the harbour.
In the centre of Mousehole (pronounced Mowzel) is the Keigwin Arms, reputedly the oldest of the buildings in the village, which is remarkable for its beautiful exterior which includes a decorative granite doorway and bold projecting porch supported by fancy granite pillars. The house is said to be have been built during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the only one to have survived after Mousehole was attacked by the Spanish in 1595. At that time it was Keigwin Manor, owned by Jenkyn Keigwin.
More than four hundred 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. The Spanish arrived on four galleons and peppered the villages with shot. Jenkyn Keigwin supposedly died when he was stuck by a cannonball while defending his home. Later a plaque was erected on the wall of the building which read: ‘Squire Jenkyn Keigwin was killed here 23 July 1595 defending this house against the Spaniards’.
The Spaniards then set Mousehole alight but supposedly the old manor house miraculously survived. Sometime after this it was sold by the last remaining members of the Keigwin family and became a public house. It was a pub for the next few hundred years and had a succession of different landlords, one of which claimed to own the cannonball that killed Squire Keigwin and had it on display. And over the centuries some of the other inhabitants also became scandalously embroiled with accusations of smuggling, drunkenness and tales of ‘ladies of the night’.
Now known as Keigwin House the inn has been a private home for many years and in 2022 has come up for sale again. Recent testing of the timbers inside the house suggests that much of the building that we see today dates from the 17th century so perhaps not quite as old as once thought. However this wonderful, characterful building still remains at the heart of the beautiful village of Mousehole and its walls certainly have many tales to tell.