Charlestown, Cornwall

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Cornish: Porthmeur
Charlestown Harbour cottages fishermen St Austell Cornwall.jpg
Cottages overlooking the inner harbour at Charlestown
Charlestown is located in Cornwall
 Charlestown shown within Cornwall
OS grid reference SX037516
Civil parish St Austell Bay
Unitary authority Cornwall
Ceremonial county Cornwall
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town ST. AUSTELL
Postcode district PL25
Dialling code 01726
Police Devon and Cornwall
Fire Cornwall
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament St Austell and Newquay
List of places

Coordinates: 50°19′53″N 4°45′28″W / 50.3314°N 4.7578°W / 50.3314; -4.7578

St Paul's Church
Harbour entrance and outer harbour

Charlestown (Cornish: Porth Meur, meaning great cove) is a village and port on the south coast of Cornwall, England, United Kingdom, in the parish of St Austell Bay. It is situated approximately 2 miles (3 km) south east of St Austell town centre.[1]

The port at Charlestown developed from what was in the late 18th century the fishing village of West Polmear. Whereas other areas within the conurbation of St Austell have seen much development during the 20th century, Charlestown has remained relatively unchanged within this expansion. There are deposits of china clay in the area. Particles of mica quartz in the sea near Charlestown give it a turquoise-blue colour. The same colour is imparted to flooded china clay quarries.[2]


Charlestown grew out of a small fishing village called West Polmear (also West Porthmear), which consisted of a few cottages and three cellars, in which the catch of pilchards were processed.[3] The population amounted to nine fishermen and their families in 1790.[4] Prior to the building of the harbour trading vessels landed and loaded on the beach.[5] Charles Rashleigh moved to Duporth Manor, just outside the village, and in 1791, using plans prepared by John Smeaton, began the construction of a harbour and dock. After building an outer pier, he excavated a natural inlet to form the main dock. There was originally a shipyard at the inner end, but this was later demolished when the dock was extended.[3] The first dock gates were completed in 1799.[citation needed] In order to maintain the water levels within the dock, a leat was constructed, which brought water from the Luxulyan Valley, some 4 miles (6.4 km) away.[6]

In addition to the port, Rashleigh also planned the village, which featured a broad road running from the harbour to Mount Charles.[7] In 1793, a gun battery was built to the west of the harbour mouth, as a defence against possible French attacks. Volunteers from Rashleigh's estate formed an artillery company, and this continued until 1860, when the original four 18-pound cannons were replaced by 24-pound models.[7] The Crinnis Cliff Volunteers later became the Cornwall Artillery Volunteers, and the battery continued to be used for practice until 1898.[4] In 1799 the locals asked his permission to rename the place Charles's Town which in turn became Charlestown.

The port was built to facilitate the transport of copper from nearby mines. Crinnis Hill Mine was to the east of the village, and exported some 40,000 tons of copper ore between 1810 and 1813. South Polmear Mine was to the west of the village, while Charlestown United Mines operated from a site near Holmbush to the north of the village. This enterprise was particularly prolific, employing 431 men, 120 women and 263 children in 1838.[8] The 1851 census recorded 283 adults living in Holmbush, of whom ten were employed as miners, and there was also a mine agent. As the mines became exhausted and their output dropped, the port was used for the export of china clay from the region's quarries.[9]

Following the death of Charles Rashleigh in 1823 the fate of Charlestown was caught up in the financial problems of Rashleigh's estate. Joseph Dingle, once a servant and footman employed by Rashleigh, became Superintendent of Works when the construction of the harbour began, but systematically embezzled money from the project. By the time the case reached the courts in 1811, he was thought to have embezzled around £32,000 (£2,073,752 as of 2015) Dingle was bankrupted and died a pauper; Rashleigh also became bankrupt before his death.[10] As a result in 1825 Messrs. Crowder and Sartoris, trading as Charlestown Estate, agreed to accept all the leasehold property in Charlestown in lieu of sums owed to them and purchased the rest of the estate from the Rashleigh family thus becoming the new owners of the port and the surrounding settlement.

Despite competition from the port at Pentewan, which opened in 1826, and from Par, which opened shortly afterwards, Charlestown prospered from the rapid expansion in the export of china clay, and remained so until the onset of the First World War.[11] By 1911, its population had increase to 3,184.

The harbour was designed for small sailing vessels, and an awkward turn was required to avoid the protruding end of the outer harbour.[12] Following the widening of the entrance and the fitting of new gates in 1971, ships of up to 600 tons were able to enter the harbour,[13] but could only do so at high tide, and a system of ropes were used to manoeuvre vessels through the dock gates. By the 1990s, the size of vessels used for the transport of china clay had outgrown the harbour, and the last commercial load of clay to leave Charlestown did so in 2000.[12] Exports of china clay left Cornwall through Par or the deep water port at Fowey instead.[14] In 1994 the harbour was bought by Square Sail as a base for their sailing ships.[15] Much of Square Sail's business now involves using the harbour and their ships as film sets such as the 2015 Poldark television series.


Charlestown harbour is used by several local fishermen. The harbour itself is owned by Square Sail, a company that owns and sails a small fleet of tall ships, including Kaskelot. One or two of these can often be found at anchor in the harbour, and are frequently open for tours during the summer months. The best-known tall ship to regularly visit the port was the Maria Asumpta, first launched in 1858 and the world's oldest working square rigger. The Maria Asumpta was very popular with tourists and locals alike, until the ship ran aground and broke up on the north Cornish coast in May 1995, with the loss of three of her sixteen crew.

In July 2012 Robin Davies, the owner of Square Sail and the harbour, announced that he wanted to retire, and the harbour was offered for sale. The total price was £4.4 million,[16] made up of £1.5 million for the harbour itself, £1.4 million for Square Sail's assets, and another £1.5 million for adjacent land.[17]

Charlestown is a popular tourist destination. Attractions are the architecture, the sea, and the Charlestown Shipwreck, Rescue and Heritage Centre.[18] In addition, there is a restaurant called the Bosun's Diner which is situated on top of the Shipwreck centre. By the harbour entrance is the Pier House Hotel, and there is also a public house owned by St Austell Brewery called the Rashleigh Arms. A gift shop is also in the village, but the post office closed down without a replacement. There are several other eating establishments in and around the harbour.


The first church building to be erected in the village was the Methodist Chapel in 1827.[9] It continued to be used for this purpose until 2000, when it closed and was sold. In 2012, the structure was in a poor state of repair, which was causing concern because it is located within a World Heritage Site.[19] Both the chapel and the attached schoolrooms are Grade II* listed.[20]

The parish of Charlestown was created in 1846 by the Diocese of Exeter, when the population of the village was about 3000 people. It was split off from the parish of St Austell, and was given land for a building in 1848 by George Augustus Crowder, who was the Managing Director of the Charlestown Estates at the time. Building of St Pauls church began in the following year, and was completed in 1851.[21] The design was by Christopher Eales, and includes a nave and chancel with transepts and north and south aisles. It is constructed of rubble with granite dressings. The tower at the western end did not include a spire until 1971, when a glass reinforced plastic one was added. The south aisle includes late nineteenth century stained glass memorials to five local families. The building has been Grade II listed since 1999.[22] St. Paul's (see gallery of images[23]) is an Anglo-Catholic church in the Oxford Movement style of worship in the Church of England


Charlestown harbour has been used several times as a filming location for both film and television dramas. For example, on 25 September 2008 Tim Burton filmed a part of his Alice in Wonderland movie here.[24] Filming took place on 1 February 2011[25] for much of The Curse of the Black Spot, an episode of the Doctor Who television series. It was filmed at night on the sailing ship Phoenix of Dell Quay while it was moored in the harbour.[26]

In the Spring of 2012, it was a filming location for the fantasy adventure movie The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box.[27]


Charlestown Rowing Club is based in the village.


Charlestown Primary School is a one form entry primary school situated between Charlestown village and Carlyon Bay. It had 210 children in 2014.[28] In 1999 the school was awarded Beacon Status to work in partnership with other schools sharing good practice. In May 2002 the school achieved Healthy Schools Status.[29] The school's declared aim is to "Promote the highest standards of work and behaviour and to provide opportunities for success for all children in a caring environment of mutual trust, respect and harmony."


Charlestown is in the new parliamentary constituency of St Austell and Newquay. Previously, the village was in part of an unparished area with all local services directly administered by Cornwall County Council, but since 1 April 2009 is in the newly formed St Austell Bay civil parish.



  1. ^ Ordnance Survey: Landranger map sheet 200 Newquay & Bodmin ISBN 978-0-319-22938-5
  2. ^ Last Refuge
  3. ^ a b Hancock 2008, pp. 53-54.
  4. ^ a b Larn & Larn 2006, p. 5.
  5. ^ Larn & Larn 2006, p. 3.
  6. ^ Fogg 2011, p. 89.
  7. ^ a b Hancock 2008, p. 54.
  8. ^ Hancock 2008, pp. 55-56.
  9. ^ a b Hancock 2008, p. 56.
  10. ^ Larn & Larn 2006, p. 7.
  11. ^ Larn & Larn 2006, pp. 8-9.
  12. ^ a b Fogg 2011, pp. 89-90.
  13. ^ Larn & Larn 2006, p. 9.
  14. ^ Fogg 2011, p. 95.
  15. ^ "Charlestown Harbour". Square Sail. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  16. ^ "Charlestown harbour on sale for £4.4m". BBC. 13 July 2012. 
  17. ^ "For Sale". First Peninsula Marine. Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  18. ^ Fogg 2011, p. 88.
  19. ^ "Eyesore chapel deteriorating daily". Cornish Guardian. 21 December 2012. 
  20. ^ Historic England. "Wesleyan Chapel and attached schoolrooms (1144292)". National Heritage List for England. 
  21. ^ "Charlestown". GENUKI. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  22. ^ Historic England. "Church of St Paul (1379464)". National Heritage List for England. 
  23. ^ "Photographs of St Paul's parish church, including shots of the interior and stained glass windows". 
  24. ^ IMDB. "Alice in Wonderland (2010)". Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  25. ^ BBC (4 February 2011). "Dr Who is filmed in Charlestown". BBC News. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  26. ^ Mulkern, Patrick (7–13 May 2011). "Who ahhhhh!". Radio Times (BBC Magazines) 349 (4539): 6–7. 
  27. ^ "Filming Locations". IMDb. Retrieved 29 June 2014. 
  28. ^ "About Us". Charlestown School. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  29. ^ "Healthy Schools". Charlestown School. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 


  • Fogg, Roger (2011). Cornwall's China Clay Country. Halsgrove. ISBN 978-0-85704-103-6. 
  • Hancock, Peter (2008). The Mining Heritage of Cornwall and West Devon. Halsgrove. ISBN 978-1-84114-753-6. 
  • Larn, Richard; Larn, Bridget (1994). Charlestown - the history of a Cornish Seaport. Shipwreck & Marine. ISBN 978-0-9523971-0-6. 
  • Larn, Richard; Larn, Bridget (2006). Charlestown. Tor Mark Press. ISBN 978-0-85025-350-4. 

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