Prussia Cove, probably the most renowned of Cornish smuggling coves, is seven miles from Penzance. Approached by a narrow winding lane off the A394 at Rosudgeon, it lies just beyond Cudden Point, the easternmost tip of Mount's Bay. It is, even today, a secluded spot with cars having to be parked at the top of a narrow hilly track and a path then followed down to the coves. The two coves, Bessy's and King's, forming the area known as Prussia Cove, are divided by a rocky headland with an islet at its tip called The Enys, meaning island.
Cornwall's best known smuggler, John Carter, lived and worked from King's Cove in the 18th century and, with his family, ran contraband from the French coast. His activities, although well known to the Excise men, were carried on without much hindrance and such was his popularity with the local inhabitants around the cove, most of whom were his customers, that they gave him the nickname'King of Prussia', after Frederick the Great, the real King of Prussia and a hero of the times.
In 1770 he built a house overlooking the cove, a part of which was used as an inn with its cellars located in the cliffs below. The Inn became known by Carter's nickname and in the cellars, which were also used to store his contraband, he had mounted a battery of six pounders. One day, when spying a naval sloop of war, the Fairy, that had ventured too close inshore for his liking, Carter let fly with these guns. The boat fled from this hostile reception but the next day soldiers from Penzance descended on the cove and drove Carter and his band of smugglers to another nearby Inn, the Kiddleywink, run by Bessie Burrows, on the cliffs above what is now called Bessy's Cove. No further action appears to have been taken and the soldiers returned to Penzance, satisfied that they had shown the 'King' their strength.
A further example of the Carter family's esteem is shown in another well-documented story. Hearing of his absence, a party of Excise officers raided the cove and took away a quantity of spirits to the Customs House in Penzance. They were no doubt feeling pleased with themselves but had not taken into account John Carter's ideas of justice. Upon his return, and discovering his loss, the 'King of Prussia' planned his revenge and so overnight broke into the Customs House and retrieved his goods. The story did not end there however, for when the Excise men inspected their store the following morning they realised what had happened. It must have been John Carter, because the only goods missing were those previously confiscated from Prussia Cove.
True to character the 'King' had left untouched the remaining contents of the store. The Excise men paid him a further surprise visit but came away empty handed. Later Carter successfully sued for the value of his property 'lost' while in the custody of the Excise men.
The 'King of Prussia' and his family continued to reign until 1807, with smuggling in Cornwall coming virtually to an end in 1856 when the Coastguard Act was passed, putting the watch of the English coasts under the control of the Admiralty.
For the following 140 years Prussia Cove remained for the most part unheard of, until in 1947 the famous battleship HMS Warspite broke her tow whilst on the way to the ship breakers, and went aground on the hazardous rocks. A piece from one of the ship's spars now stands as a monument on the small headland to the west. [Not on tourist leaflet: when I was about five years of age my family went on annual holidays to Cliff Cottage, which looked right out on the Warspite as seen in the picture which was taken by my father from the cottage. My parents befriended the salvage men working on the ship, and we were invited over to look around. My mother and nanny got into the local papers as being the first women ever top set foot on the ship. Below you can see us going over on the breaches-boy]>
Up until the turn of this century it was the practice of local farmers to collect seaweed from Bessy's Cove for use on their fields as fertiliser. Evidence of this can be seen at low tide when the ruts made by the wheels of the heavily laden horse and carts are visible cutting across the rocks.
On the coastal footpath at the top of the cove on the western side there is an old thatched fisherman's shed, with the brick built chimney and remains of a copper nearby. This was probably used for boiling locally caught lobsters prior to them being sold. From this point there are fine views to the Lizard peninsula and on a clear day the huge satellite tracking dishes of the Goonhilly Downs radio station dominate the far horizon.
A number of small boats still regularly use the natural harbour in the shelter of the cliffs.
The south east and south west facing cliffs from Prussia Cove to Cudden Point are mainly scrub with a strip of maritime grassland running alongside the coast, a smaller area of maritime heath near the point, and grassy heathland beyond. The scrub is predominantly European gorse and blackthorn with localised areas of bracken and bramble.
Among the noteworthy flowering plants that may be seen in this area are the knotted pearlwort and autumn squill.
Most of the buildings, farms, woods and cliffs surrounding Prussia Cove are privately owned, and its beauty lies largely in its peace and solitude. It has remained untouched for centuries by the commercialism affecting so many other more accessible spots, and we would ask you to respect this.