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Pentewan Village Square - - 31459.jpg
Pentewan is located in Cornwall
Pentewan shown within Cornwall
OS grid reference SX 019 472
Civil parish
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town ST AUSTELL
Postcode district PL26
Dialling code 01726
Police Devon and Cornwall
Fire Cornwall
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament
List of places
50°17′31″N 4°46′59″W / 50.292°N 4.783°W / 50.292; -4.783Coordinates: 50°17′31″N 4°46′59″W / 50.292°N 4.783°W / 50.292; -4.783
Pentewan Harbour

Pentewan (Cornish: Bentewyn, meaning foot of the radiant stream) is a coastal village and former port in south Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. It is situated at grid reference SX 019 472 3 miles (4.8 km) south of St Austell at the mouth of the St Austell River. [1]

Pentewan is in the civil parish of Pentewan Valley and the ecclesiastical parish of St Austell.

Pentewan lies within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Almost a third of Cornwall has AONB designation, with the same status and protection as a National Park.

Village and harbour[edit]

The village and its harbour date back to medieval times, when Pentewan was mainly a fishing community, with some stone-quarrying, tin-streaming, and agriculture. Leland, writing in 1549, referred briefly to 'Pentowan' as "a sandy bay witherto fischer bootes repair for socour". Between 1818 and 1826, local land- and quarry owner Sir Christopher Hawkins substantially rebuilt the harbour, partly to improve the existing pilchard-fishery and partly to turn the village into a major china clay port. At its peak, Pentewan shipped a third of Cornwall's china clay, but continual problems with silting (caused by tin and clay mining) and the rise of the rival ports of Charlestown and Par meant that Pentewan's status as a port lasted for little more than a century. The last trading ship left in 1940. After that, the harbour entrance gradually silted up, though it was still possible for small boats to enter the harbour in the 1960s. Now, although the water-filled basin remains, Pentewan harbour is entirely cut off from the sea.[2][3]

Tramway and railway[edit]

In 1829, Sir Christopher Hawkins made further improvements by linking the harbour to St Austell by means of a horse-drawn tramway that hauled china clay from the quarries on St Austell moor and tin from the Polgooth mines for shipment from Pentewan. Coal was shipped in and transported to the mines and (later) to the St Austell gasworks. In 1874, the engineer John Barraclough Fell replaced the tramway with a narrow gauge railway. This operated till 1918, when the rails and locomotives were requisitioned by the War Office.[4] The Pentewan Railway was almost entirely a mineral line, but did occasionally transport passengers on special excursions. A Sunday school outing was described by A.L. Rowse in his memories of a Cornish childhood. Part of the old railway line, from London Apprentice to Pentewan, is now a footpath and cycle path.[5]

Mines and quarries[edit]

Pentewan stone[edit]

Pentewan Quarry was the source of a fine building stone, a variety of elvan. Many medieval churches in Cornwall, including those at Botusfleming, Duloe, Fowey, Golant, Gorran, Lostwithiel, Mevagissey, St Austell, and St Columb Major, were wholly or partly constructed out of the stone,[6] as were some later buildings such as the eighteenth century Antony House. In 1985 blocks of Pentewan stone were recovered from the beach near the quarry to restore St Austell church.[7]

Tin mining[edit]

'Happy-Union', a stream work for tin, was opened near Pentewan in 1780 and was worked down the valley towards the sea. A second working, 'Wheal Virgin', went up the valley. The tin streamers considered both to be places where "the old men had been", since they uncovered charcoal ashes, human remains, and bones of animals "of a different description from any now known in Britain".[8] John William Colenso (father of the bishop of the same name) invested his capital into these workings but the speculation proved to be ruinous when the investment was lost following a sea flood. The Happy-Union closed in 1837, Wheal Virgin around 1874.[2]


The Domesday Book and the Manor of Pentewan[edit]

Pentewan was originally known as 'Lower Pentewan', 'Higher Pentewan' being a separate and earlier settlement to the south-west of the village, centred on Barton Farm.[2] In 1086, Higher Pentewan was listed in the Domesday Book as the Manor of 'Bentewoin', one of many Cornish manors held by Robert, Comte de Mortain. It was subsequently held by the families of Pentire, Roscarrock, Dart, and Robartes (the Earls of Radnor), then by Sir James La Roche, the MP for Bodmin (1768–80), and (in 1792) by the Rev. Henry Hawkins Tremayne of nearby Heligan.[9]

Natural History of Pentewan[edit]

Pentewan was likely once the breeding site for the extinct in the Atlantic[10] grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus) as 2 of the 7 European grey whale fossils were found here.[11][12] The grey whale prefers shallow seas and the shallow seas over the continental shelf of the South Western Approaches is one of the widest in north-western Europe. It is possible that the grey whale will soon again breed near Pentewan. The first grey whale to be seen in the Atlantic in centuries was sighted in 2010. The Northwest Passage was then ice-free[13] and so apparently a grey whale from the Pacific Ocean made it to Europe.[14] More whales are likely to follow.[15] In 2005 it was proposed to reintroduce them to Pentewan,[16][17] which would likely attract throngs of tourists to the beaches during the summer breeding season.

The submerged forests of Pentewan are another interesting part of its past natural history.[18] This forest was submerged so quickly that oysters are now found fastened to its tree stumps.

Second World War[edit]

A pill box was erected in the harbour and the beach mined as part of the dragon's teeth anti-tank defences.[2] Bombs fell near Pentewan in 1941[19] and an air raid on the port in August 1942 destroyed the Methodist chapel[20] and damaged several houses.[21]

The village today[edit]

Pentewan Sands

Since 1945, Pentewan has been dominated by the large 'Pentewan Sands' caravan and camping site that covers much of the beach to the west. The village itself contains the Ship Inn (owned by the St Austell Brewery), a post office, and several shops. Pentewan Board School, designed and built in 1877/78 by Silvanus Trevail, is now a restaurant.[22] Many of the older buildings, as well as the harbour, are constructed out of Pentewan stone. Some – including All Saints Church, completed in 1821 – were built by Sir Christopher Hawkins as part of his long campaign to improve the village.[2] A former village pub was named The Hawkins Arms, but has now been converted to a guest house called 'Piskey Cove'. Tourism is the only substantial industry remaining in the village. Session guitarist Tim Renwick is a Pentewan resident.


  1. ^ Ordnance Survey: Landranger map sheet 204 Truro & Falmouth ISBN 978-0-319-23149-4
  2. ^ a b c d e
  3. ^ photos of harbour today[dead link]
  4. ^ "Pentewan Railway 2 Information and Photographs". Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  5. ^ "The Clay Trails of Cornwall". Archived from the original on 21 October 2011. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  6. ^ Cox, J. Charles (1912) Cornwall (County Churches). London: G. Allen & Company, p. 10
  7. ^ Ashurst, John & Dimes, Francis G., eds. (1998) Conservation of Building and Decorative Stone; 2nd ed. Oxford; Woburn, Mass.: Butterworth-Heinemann ISBN 0-7506-3898-2; p. 53
  8. ^ Colenso, J. W. (1828) "A description of the Happy-Union tin stream work at Pentuan", in: Trans. Royal Geological Soc. Cornwall; no. 3 & 4, pp. 29–39
  9. ^ Hitchins, F. (1824) The History of Cornwall, p. 474
  10. ^ Hamilton, D. (1979). Chapter 5 The Geology of the English Channel, South Celtic Sea and Continental Margin, South Western Approaches. Elsevier Oceanography Series. 
  11. ^ Mead, James G.; Mitchell, Edward D. Mary Lou Jones; Steven L. Swartz; Stephen Leatherwood, eds. Atlantic Gray Whales in: The Gray Whale: Eschrichtius Robustus: Eschrichtius Robustus. 
  12. ^ Van Deinse, A.B.; Junge, G. C. A. (1936). "Recent and older finds of the California grey whale in the Atlantic". Temminckia. 2: 161–188. 
  13. ^ McGarrity and Henning Gloystein, John (27 September 2013). "Big freighter traverses Northwest Passage for 1st time". Reuters. 
  14. ^ Scheinin, Aviad P (19 April 2011). "Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) in the Mediterranean Sea: anomalous event or early sign of climate-driven distribution change?". Marine Biodiversity Records. 4: e28. doi:10.1017/s1755267211000042. 
  15. ^ Heide-Jørgensen, Mads Peter (2011). "The Northwest Passage opens for bowhead whales". Biol. Lett. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2011.0731. PMC 3297376Freely accessible. 
  16. ^ Wolff, Wim J. (2000). "The south-eastern North Sea: losses of vertebrate fauna during the past 2000 years". Biological Conservation. 95 (2): 209–217. doi:10.1016/s0006-3207(00)00035-5. 
  17. ^ Hooper, Rowan (18 July 2005). "US whales may be brought to UK". BBC News. Retrieved 22 August 2013. 
  18. ^ French, C.N. (1999). "The 'Submerged Forest' palaeosols of Cornwall" (PDF). Geoscience in south-west England. 9: 365–369. 
  19. ^ "WW2 People's War – "When Bombs Fell" – The air-raids on Cornwall during WW2 : Part 4 – 1941 May to August". BBC. 7 January 2006. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  20. ^ "WW2 People's War – A childhood in Pentewan and the bombs seemed to follow me". BBC. 2 August 2005. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  21. ^ "WW2 People's War – "When Bombs Fell" – The air-raids on Cornwall during WW2 : Part 6 – 1942 (complete year)". BBC. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  22. ^ Malcolm Surl. "Schools designed by Silvanus Trevail". Retrieved 16 October 2011. 

External links[edit]