History of Charlestown

Two hundred years ago, West Polmear as it was then known, was a tiny fishing village with no harbour and only nine residents living among three cottages, making a living from catching pilchards.

With the mines and China Clay pits in St Austell flourishing during the latter part of the 18th century, the need for a local port to offer security from the weather and suitable unloading facilities, became obvious to a local businessman by the name of Charles Rashleigh. With the aid of the plans of John Smeaton (a famous designer of lighthouses and harbours), Rashleigh began the mammoth task of constructing the harbour. The outer arm was completed first to shelter shipping and the inner piers were finished in stages after the rocks had been blasted away, manually cut and removed.

In addition to the harbour, Rashleigh built a gun battery to protect the village during the Napoleaonic Wars and this was also used by the ‘Huer', the look-out man. He could spot shoals of fish and alert the village, guiding the boats to the fish once they had put to sea. The name of the village was changed in 1799 to honour Mr Charles Rashleigh, and became Charles' town.

As many more ships used the harbour and local businesses began to flourish, the population grew, bringing the need for more cottages, a hotel, inn, chapel and eventually a church.

Although many of the industries of the time are now non-existent in the area, Charlestown still remains a working port and has found itself a place on the tourist map. The charm and appeal of the village and its harbour still attract thousands of people every year to visit this historical part of Cornwall.

The Charlestown Estate bell was situated at the weighbridge and was used to call the estate workers to work and inform them when it was time to finish. It rang from Monday to Saturday at 8am, 12pm and again at 1pm and 5pm. Villagers too used the bell to tell the time of day.

The bell also rang when ships were arriving and leaving the harbour to alert the Estate workers to open the lock gates which were manual at the time. A payment of five shillings was paid to Estate workers for opening the gates. When the bell rang at this time it was called ‘Gate Ho'.

The bell was last rung in approximately 1938. Many people searched for the lost bell over the years and it has only recently been found in the Old Mill House at the top of Charlestown Road.

Head over to the Charlestown Harbour website where you can learn more about the interesting history and geography of the unique location.

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The Shipwreck Centre Quay Road Charlestown St. Austell Cornwall PL25 3NJ
01726 69897