A Brief History Of Paimpol


One of the earliest references to Paimpol dates back to the 12th century. The name “Paimpol” comes from the Breton language “pen” (extremity) and “poull” (lake).

In the 16th century, Paimpol belonged to the Count of Vertus. For some years from 1591, the French king, Henri IV, was facing the forces of the Catholic League of Brittany (the Leaguers). The king was forced to request the help of the British Queen Elizabeth I, who sent a force of 2,400 soldiers under the command Sir John Norris who were garrisoned in Paimpol. In 1593, the bandit Guy Eder de la Fontelle, who supported the Leaguers, entered Paimpol, now undefended after the departure of the English, to pillage and burn the town and massacre a large number of its inhabitants.

Gradually the town developed due to its port which was the main base for Breton privateers and the trading of cider, salt and oil with England. Later, and above all, Paimpol became one of the home ports for the fishing fleets that fished the Icelandic waters in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. In 1886 the French novelist, Pierre Loti, wrote his book “Pêcheur d’Islande” (An Icelandic Fisherman) based on this period of Paimpol’s history.

Thanks to Portuguese trading at the beginning of the 15th century, Europe discovered a new fish – the cod! The subsequent growth in the popularity of this new found fish led to a big expansion of the offshore fishing fleets. In France, the Breton sailors from Paimpol and St. Malo, the Norman sailors from Barfleur and Dieppe, and others from La Rochelle and the Basque Country set out to fish for cod in the waters of the Canadian Grand Banks and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, even before the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus: the charter of Beauport indicated that the people from the nearby Ile de Bréhat knew of Newfoundland from 1456! All these adventurous crews found themselves in the open waters off Newfoundland in company with Portuguese, Irish, English, Venetian and Dutch fishermen.

In 1852, Paimpol’s fishermen turned their attention to fishing in the open waters around Iceland. By 1856 Iceland became the preferred destination because it was more profitable. 1895 saw the peak in the number of fishing boats going to Iceland. After this, Paimpol saw a decline in its fishing fleet, with many boats destroyed after the First World War, until in 1935, when the last Paimpolais goëlette (schooner), “La Glycine” set sail on its last fishing expedition to Iceland.

All photos taken at previous Classic Channel Regattas and reproduced by kind permission of Mike Wynne-Powell, Karine Gilles de Pelichy and waterlinemedia.com