Launceston, Cornwall

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Cornish: Lannstevan
Town Square - - 1286355.jpg
Town Square, Launceston
Launceston is located in Cornwall
 Launceston shown within Cornwall
Population 11,700 (2011 census)[1])
OS grid reference SX335845
Civil parish Launceston
Unitary authority Cornwall
Ceremonial county Cornwall
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district PL15
Dialling code 01566
Police Devon and Cornwall
Fire Cornwall
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament North Cornwall
List of places

Coordinates: 50°38′06″N 4°21′14″W / 50.635°N 4.354°W / 50.635; -4.354

Launceston (/ˈlɑːnstən/ LARN-stən or /ˈlɔːnstən/ LAWN-stən), locally /ˈlænsən/ LAN-sən or /ˈlɑːnsən/ LARN-sən, (Cornish: Lannstevan;[2] rarely spelled Lanson) is a town, ancient borough, and civil parish in east Cornwall, England, United Kingdom.

Dunheved was the Southwestern Brittonic name for the town in the West Saxon period.

Launceston is situated just over one mile (1.6 km) west of the River Tamar which marks the border between Cornwall and Devon[3] and is often referred to as the "gateway to Cornwall".

The full title of the modern civil parish is Launceston, St Mary Magdalene (which includes the town itself) and it is in the Diocese of Truro. The population of Launceston, St Mary Magdalene parish in the 2001 census was 7,135.This had increased to 8,952 at the 2011 election[4]

Three electoral wards have the title Launceston ~.Their total population for the 2011 census is 11,837.[5]

Launceston's motto is Royale et Loyale for its adherence to the Cavalier cause during the English Civil War of the mid-17th century.


The River Kensey

The town is built on the side of a large hill, which makes it almost immune to flooding, unlike the nearby suburb of Newport, situated at the bottom of the hill, which is susceptible to flooding by the River Kensey. Launceston is a market town and the main shopping centre for the adjoining rural areas of west Devon and east Cornwall.

The suburb of Newport is recorded for the first time during the 13th century. The natural advantages of the Launceston district had been recognised by the Anglo-Saxon monks of St Stephen and by the Norman lord of Cornwall in the reign of King William I. At this point in the course of the River Tamar it is joined by four tributaries within a short distance and its flood plain is relatively large, while further south the Tamar valley is narrow and meandering.[6]

Launceston is on the A30 trunk road. The road used to pass through the town centre but a dual carriageway bypass now carries traffic south of the town. The bypass crosses the River Tamar on the Dunheved Bridge which was built in 1975/6 and substantially rebuilt in 2006/7.[7] Launceston is approximately 42 miles (67 km) west of Exeter, 26 miles (42 km) north of Plymouth and 21 miles (34 km) east of Bodmin. It is roughly midway between the north coast of Cornwall (at Bude) and the south coast (at Saltash).

Stourscombe SSSI, a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest, one mile to the east of Launceston, is designated ″... for the best inland exposure of the Upper Devonian in South West England and the type locality of the Stourscombe Beds (Upper Famennian).″[8]


Launceston from St Stephen's Hill
Town Square, in the centre of Launceston
Launceston Castle, the most prominent landmark of Launceston

The Cornish name of "Launceston", Lannstevan, means the "church enclosure of St Stephen" and is derived from the former monastery at St Stephen's a few miles north-west (the castle and town were originally named Dunheved) and the Common Brittonic placename element lan-.

The earliest known Cornish mint was at Launceston, which operated on a minimal scale at the time of Æthelred the Unready before Cornwall received full diocesan jurisdiction in the year 994 AD. Only one specimen is known to exist. In the reign of William the Conqueror, the mint was moved to Dunheved and remained in existence until the reign of Henry II, 1160.[9] During the reign of Henry III of England, another mint was established in Launceston.

Launceston Castle, which dominates the town, is a Norman castle of motte-and-bailey design, and was built by Robert, Count of Mortain (half-brother of William the Conqueror) c. 1070 to dominate the surrounding area. Launceston was the caput of the feudal barony of Launceston and of the Earldom of Cornwall until replaced by Lostwithiel in the 13th century. Launceston was later the county town of Cornwall until 1835 when Bodmin replaced it. The lands of Robert, Count of Mortain, became the core holdings of the feudal barony of Launceston,[4] and the Fleming family continued to hold most of their manors from that barony, as can be seen from entries in the Book of Fees.

In Domesday Book (1086) it is recorded that Launceston was held by Robert, Count of Mortain, and that he had his castle there. There was land for 10 ploughs, 1 villein and 13 smallholders with 4 ploughs, 2 mills which paid 40/- (£2 sterling) and 40 acres of pasture. The value of the manor was only £4 though it had formerly been worth £20.[10]

The Roman Catholic martyr Cuthbert Mayne was executed at Launceston and there are many memorials to him there.

Civil War[edit]

During the English Civil War Launceston was known to be Royale et Loyale to Charles I of England, hence its coat of arms. His son, who was later crowned Charles II of England, stayed in the town for a couple of days en route to the Cavalier army based further west.

In 1643, the Parliamentarian forces under the command of Major General James Chudleigh advanced in an attempt to capture Launceston from the Royalists. The Royalist commander, Ralph Hopton, 1st Baron Hopton, stationed his forces on the summit of Beacon Hill, a steep hill which overlooks the town. The Parliamentarians captured the foot of the hill, but were unable to dislodge the Royalist forces from the top. Hopton led a counterattack down the hill and, despite fierce fighting and the arrival of Parliamentary reinforcements, forced Chudleigh's troops to retreat.[11]

Sir Richard Grenville, 1st Baronet was committed by Prince Charles to Launceston Prison for refusing to obey Lord Hopton; Grenville had already quarrelled with General George Goring, Lord Goring.[12]

Later history[edit]

Launceston has the only document in the UK signed by Mary II of England and her husband, William III of England. Launceston is said to have gained its historical importance from being the furthest into Cornwall that Justices and other Officers of the Crown felt safe to venture.[citation needed] (A more realistic reason was the very poor means of transport within Cornwall at the time which did not begin to be improved until the late 18th century.) When the situation had been improved Bodmin became the county town where the assizes were held (in 1835). Launceston's role as the de facto county town of Cornwall became established in the 13th century but it was never officially designated as the county town.[6]

In the early 19th century, Launceston gave its name to the settlement which is now the second largest city in Tasmania.

Railway history[edit]

Launceston was once served by two different railway lines. The Great Western Railway (GWR) branch from Plymouth terminated in the town and the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) Exeter to Padstow North Cornwall Railway passed through.

Launceston's two stations were adjacent to each other (see Launceston railway station). The GWR station closed to passengers in 1952 after which all trains used the LSWR station until the North Cornwall line closed to passengers in 1966.

The Launceston Steam Railway narrow-gauge heritage railway now runs on the trackbed of the former North Cornwall line. It runs from Launceston station west along the River Kensey Valley for 2½ miles to Newmills.


The outskirts of Launceston have recently[when?] undergone rapid large business development, although the town centre has slowly become less and less commercial, with only small shops and many of those going out of business within only a few months. On the edges of the town are three industrial estates at Pennygillam, Scarne and Newport. The employment of immigrants from mainly Eastern European countries has allowed the town to sustain some of its primary industries, which it might not otherwise have been able to support due to the low number of potential employees in the existing population.

The town has ten pubs and a club as well as a large number of restaurants, cafés and take aways.

Newspapers and guides[edit]

The Cornish & Devon Post is one of the newspapers for the district and its office is in the town. Several different editions of the paper and other publications are produced. It was founded in 1856 and incorporates the Launceston Weekly News.

The Cornish Guardian publishes a North Cornwall edition which covers Launceston.

In December 2013 a new periodic community audio magazine was launched for the town, called The Launceston Podcast. Recent episodes can be heard at


A tucking mill was established in the 15th century by the Flemings at Newport. This was water-powered and continued in use for corn until 1968. A manuscript left by Richard Robbins (died 1910) records eight tanneries in the town in the 19th century. A mechanics' institute was founded in 1847 at the Central Subscription Room. The gasworks was established as early as 1834 by Waygood & Porter of Beaminster.[13]

The Natural Fibre Company (TNFC) is a British wool mill based in Launceston and is the only small-scale full range textile mill in the UK. The main focus of the business is to add value to naturally coloured raw fleece which is bought from farmers, smallholders and rare sheep breeders.

The Duchy Originals company did not manufacture Duchy Originals products until in 2006 when it opened a factory in Launceston. The factory made both sweet and savoury pastry products but made a loss of £447,158 in the financial year 2006/7.[14] During 2009, the bakery in Launceston was sold, this contributed to the Duchy Originals company making a loss for 2009 - 10.[15]


Traditional Cornish fairings

Before the Reformation it is frequently mentioned in the Launceston borough accounts that minstrels were hired to play for saints day celebrations.

The poet Charles Causley was a native and long-standing resident of the town where he was both born and died. He was at one time contender for Poet Laureate and died in 2003, aged 86. He contributed the account of Launceston to a feature in the Sunday Times magazine called "Village England". He describes it as belonging to England rather than to Cornwall "[16] Launceston is one of the most important towns in Daphne du Maurier's novel Jamaica Inn.

The Rev. Francis Vyvyan Jago Arundell, antiquarian, Anglican cleric, and orientalist was born in Launceston. The writer and historian, Joan Rendell lived at Yeolmbridge near Launceston.[17]

Launceston annually hosted the "Castle Rock" music festival in July, which took place on the lower grounds of the castle which overlooks the town (within the outer walls). As well as a vibrant mix of local bands, the 2006 festival was headlined by Capdown which massively improved the event's profile. The first concert was performed in 2000 and featured a young artist who was unknown at the time, Jamie Cullum. The festival was headlined on two occasions by local Rock band Syrup, who were signed to Great West Records, which was set up by Big Country bass player, Tony Butler.

Cornish fairings are a type of ginger biscuit commonly found in Cornwall. The recipe is reputed to have originated at the "maid hiring" fair, held the week after Christmas in Launceston.


There are five schools within the town of Launceston. Launceston College caters for students aged 11 to 19, whilst the three primary schools in the town (St Catherine's Church of England Primary, St Stephen's Community Primary School and Launceston Community Primary School) cater for pupils aged 4 to 11.

There is an independent day School, 'St. Joseph's School', situated on St Stephens Hill, Launceston. St Joseph's welcomes boys and girls from age 3, going from nursery through the early years, junior department and into the senior school. Boys are being accepted into the Senior School, from Year 7 2011, and both boys and girls will be accepted into the sixth form from September 2012.[18]

Launceston College was first established in 1409 and became a boys grammar school with boarding house. Famous former students include Roger Moore of James Bond fame. In 1962, Horwell Grammar School for Girls, also located in Dunheved Road, was merged with the school and in 1965 the former Pennygillam School was added to form the present day comprehensive school which is still known as Launceston College. Since the 19th century (exact date unknown) the College has been located at the southern end of Dunheved Road, approximately one kilometre from the town centre. The current College Principal is Jack Jackson (2007–present). Previous principals include Alan Wroath (1995–2007), Charlie Cooper, Danny Rowe and Henry Spencer Toy. In 1966 H Spencer Toy published 'A History of Education at Launceston', detailing the development of education in the town and surrounding area.

Launceston Community Primary School is commonly known as Windmill Primary due to its location adjacent to the site of the former windmill in Coronation Park.


Town Halll & Guildhall (1881–87)

Launceston was a Parliamentary Borough from medieval times, with the right to return two members of parliament. However, the right to vote was not held by all the residents but only by the freemen of the borough, and by the 19th century there were fewer than 50 and it had come to be regarded as a rotten borough, one of many in Cornwall. Neighbouring Newport was also a borough with two MPs of its own. Launceston lost one of its two MPs and Newport both by the Great Reform Act of 1832; the area included in the borough of Launceston was considerably extended to enable the franchise to be opened up. It finally lost its right to separate representation in 1885. It is now part of the North Cornwall parliamentary constituency. The current MP is Dan Rogerson.

Launceston was once the capital of Cornwall (before this title passed to Bodmin in 1835), and in 1973 the Prince of Wales visited to receive his feudal dues from the Duchy of Cornwall.

The arms of the town are Gu. a triple circular tower in a pyramidical form Or the first battlements mounted with cannon of the last, all within a bordure Az. charged with eight towers domed on the second. A badge was granted on 26 Mar 1906, being the first ever granted to a civic body: A keep or castle Gold.[19]

Notable buildings[edit]

Prior's Bridge
Church of St Mary Magdalene
St Thomas's Church, St Thomas by Launceston

Part of the town wall is still in existence including the South Gate of two arches. The White Hart Hotel incorporates a Norman doorway possibly removed from the Castle. New Bridge (early 16th century) crosses the River Tamar: it is of granite. Two old bridges cross the River Kensey: one mediaeval and one built in 1580. The Baptist chapel is late 18th century and a number of Georgian houses may also be seen.[20]


The fine Tudor church of St Mary Magdalene was built in 1511–1524 by Sir Henry Trecarrel as a memorial to his infant son who died whilst being bathed. The ornate carvings in granite originally carved for the mansion he began to build at Trecarrel, Lezant have withstood the test of time. The tower of the church dates from the 14th century, an earlier church and graveyard having previously occupied the site. The church's organ is a fine instrument presented by a member of the Morice family of Werrington Park. The donor was either Sir William Morice, 3rd Baronet (1707–50)[21] or his successor Humphry Morice (1723–85). The casework is most elaborate and is regarded as a superb example of 18th century woodwork; the 18th century pipework is also of very high quality.[22] The modern Roman Catholic Church is dedicated to the martyr Saint Cuthbert Mayne; it was built in the Byzantine style and opened in 1911.[23] The churches at St Stephens and St Thomas by Launceston are not in Launceston ecclesiastical parish.

There have been three Nonconformist chapels: Wesleyan Methodist, Bible Christian, and Calvinist.[24]

There is also an Elim church in the town. Gateway 2 New Life[25] currently meets at the Gateway Centre which used to be the old tax office on Madford Lane. The church was planted in Launceston in 2010.


There are several sporting clubs in the town. These include Non-League football club Launceston F.C. who play at Pennygillam. Launceston R.F.C. is the local Rugby club.[26] There is also a golf club, Launceston Cricket Club and Dunheved Bowling Club.

Related places and people[edit]

Notable residents[edit]

  • Francis Vyvyan Jago Arundell, born at Launceston in July 1780, being the only son of Thomas Jago, a solicitor in that town, who had married Catherine, a daughter of Mr. Bolt, a surgeon at Launceston. He was in later life the Rector of Landulph, an antiquary and an oriental traveller. The materials which he collected for a history of his native town were never used, and are probably lost.
  • Charles Causley, poet
  • Mary Ann Davenport, actress, born at Launceston in 1759
  • James Ruse, a Cornishman from Launceston, arrived in New South Wales aboard the transport Scarborough, part of the First Fleet of Australian convict ships, in 1788.[28]


  1. ^ "Launceston Town populations 2011 census". Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  2. ^ "List of Place-names agreed by the MAGA Signage Panel" (PDF). Cornish Language Partnership. May 2014. Retrieved 2015-01-11. 
  3. ^ Ordnance Survey: Landranger map sheet 201 Plymouth & Launceston ISBN 978-0-319-23146-3
  4. ^ "Launceston, St Mary Magdalene". GENUKI: UK & Ireland Genealogy. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  5. ^ "Launceston Ward population census 2011". Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Balchin, W. G. V. (1967) Cornwall: a description of the Ordnance Survey seventh edition one-inch sheets covering Cornwall. (British Landscapes through Maps.) Sheffield: Geographical Association; p. 25
  7. ^ "Highways Agency press release: Dunheved Bridge". Highways Agency. Retrieved 19 April 2010. 
  8. ^ "Stourcombe Quarry" (PDF). Natural England. Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  9. ^ Cornish Church Guide (1925) Truro: Blackford; p. 198
  10. ^ Thorn, C., et al., eds. (1979) Cornwall. (Domesday Book; 10.) Chichester: Phillimore; entry 5,1,22
  11. ^ "Cornwall and Devon, 1643". 2014-10-19. Retrieved 2015-04-09. 
  12. ^ "The Cornwall Register: Containing Collections Relative to the Past and ... - John Wallis - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-04-09. 
  13. ^ Todd, A. C. & Laws, Peter (1972) The Industrial Archaeology of Cornwall. Newton Abbot: David & Charles; p. 231
  14. ^ "Duchy Originals Foods Ltd Accounts 2006/7". Retrieved 2015-04-09. 
  15. ^ Dean Best (2010-02-11). "Just Food -UK: Duchy Originals reports loss as sales slump". Aroq Ltd. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  16. ^ "Launceston ... still encloses a particularly secret and inward-looking community. If an eye is cast beyond itself at all it is in the direction of England: half-marooned from the rest of Cornwall as we were until a century ago by the dangerous barrier of Bodmin Moor."--Village England, p. 7
  17. ^ "BBC News - Blanket fire led to Joan Rendell death". BBC Online. 30 November 2011. Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  18. ^ "St Joseph's School - Launceston, Cornwall". Retrieved 2015-04-09. 
  19. ^ Pascoe, W. H. (1979) A Cornish Armory. Padstow: Lodenek Press; pp. 133, 136
  20. ^ Pevsner, N. (1970) Cornwall, 2nd ed. Penguin Books
  21. ^ "The Acorn Archive - Sir William Morice, Knight; and his descendents". Retrieved 2015-01-28. 
  22. ^ Rendell, Joan (1982) Cornish Churches. St Teath: Bossiney Books; p. 10
  23. ^ "Launceston St Mary Magdalene". GenUKI. Retrieved 17 April 2010. 
  24. ^ GenUKI, op. cit.
  25. ^ "Home". Retrieved 2015-01-28. 
  26. ^ "Launceston R.F.C. website". Retrieved 9 June 2009. 
  27. ^ "Latest News from Twinning Association". Retrieved 17 January 2012. 
  28. ^ Tolchard, C. (1965) The Humble Adventurer. Melbourne: Lansdowne Press

External links[edit]