Charlestown is located about a mile outside the town of St Austell. We mentioned St Austell in a previous blog for the St Austell Brewery, if you haven’t read it follow the link here. Charlestown is a beautiful village and most of its charm comes from the wonderful port. In its absolute perfect condition you can see an unspoiled example of a late Georgian working port.
The History of Charlestown
Charlestown was originally known as West Polmear and had a total population of only 9 people. Alongside the 9 residents there was also a small fishing fleet that used the beach as a harbour to sort out their catch. The port was constructed somewhere between 1791 and 1801. I have read many different articles that give a slightly different date but this gap tends to be the general consensus. The Port was created by Charles Raleigh, a local entrepreneur and member of a wealthy land owning family. It is because of Charles that the village got its new name and since then has been known as Charlestown.
The port was built to deal with the growth of the local mining industry and was originally used to export copper and import coal, before soon being used to export China Clay. The project to build the port began by constructing a pier, this provided shelter for the fleet and started off the process of this magnificent port. Next they slowly cut a basin out of the bedrock and this took time. The basin was big, it needed to be to allow the sailing ships in to dock and drop off their cargo. After completing the basin they realised they would also need to widen the roads and at the same time paved them. This made it much easier for the wagons to carry the cargo to and from the harbour. After what we can only imagine was a lot of time and effort, the new port was complete!
By the 19th Century word had got out about Raleigh’s new port and people were flocking from all around to start up a new life there. Businesses began to boom and various sheds and warehouses around the port were converted to house the new businesses. They consisted of brick makers, pilchard curers and ship builders. Kilns were assembled to heat the lime.
Charlestown had now grown to a population of 3,000. Charles Raleigh was finally beginning to see all the hard work and money he had put in, finally pay off!
Charlestown for filming!
The port remains in very good condition today and keeps much of its Georgian character. The uniqueness of this location and the fact it still has so many characteristics means that it is very popular with film and television companies. Over the past 40 years Charlestown has become one of the most popular filming locations in Cornwall.
The port has been used frequently for filming the hit period drama, Poldark, since it first aired on BBC in 2015. It’s first scene was used to recreate Truro’s 18th Century Harbour. Winston Graham’s novels have always been very popular since they were published. However bringing them to the screen opened them up to a whole new audience.
Poldark was not the only famous thing filmed here, there have been many others. The most recent Alice in Wonderland was filmed in Charlestown with the harbour and boats being used. For Doctor Who fans you might recognise Charlestown from the 2011 set, where they a used a tall ship in the Harbour to film a pirate scene for series three. Filming is still going on the harbour with Tom Hardy’s ‘Taboo’ regularly using it for scenes. You might be lucky enough to see something being filmed when you visit!
Visiting Charlestown today!
Aside from the beautiful port and the possibility that you may be able to spot a famous face, there is plenty to explore in Charlestown. Close to the port and located in one of the china clay buildings is the Shipwreck, Rescue and Heritage centre. The centre contains a large number of exhibits relating to Charlestown’s maritime past and other more general shipwrecks that have been salvaged.
The collection at the centre houses over 8,000 finds that have been gathered from over 150 different shipwrecks found in seas, rivers and oceans throughout the world. The date range for these artefacts range from Ancient Egyptian and Roman times right through to surprisingly modern discoveries. You will find pieces from The Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s famous warship that sank in 1545 after a gust of wind caught them whilst they turned. You will also learn about the fate of the pride of the British navy, HMS Association. It was wrecked in 1707 under the command of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell.
After the museum find yourself a cosy cafe or a welcoming restaurant and enjoy some food. Before wandering around the beautiful village and taking in all the sights. Many people rush to get selfies in the famous scenes used in their favourite movies. There is so much more to see, you will have a wonderful day out!
Charlestown Tunnels, a new attraction!
After more than 50 years those in charge of the tunnels have decided to re open them. This is wonderful news for the tourists visiting Charlestown as it opens up a whole new world underground. With 100’s of meters of tunnels that are located under the Shipwreck museum it gives a real insight into how things would have worked back then. The tunnels were last opened back from 1907 until 1968 and were operated as the Lovering Clay Dry.
As the tunnels are now opened to the public once again, you have the opportunity to explore the original rail system. You can follow the tracks through the system while you contemplate those that have walked the ground before you. The tunnels also feature the original gurneys that were used to shift the clay onto waiting ships. Not many places get kept so well intact with the past preserved so perfectly. The residents of Charlestown have certainly looked after and respected the village they live in.
Getting to Charlestown
more easilyThere are a few options when it comes to getting to Charlestown if you don’t have your own car. If you do have a car then it is around a 30 minute drive from us going via the A3059.
If you don’t have a car by far the easiest and quickest method is to get a taxi, we can arrange this for you so just let us know if you would like one booked. The other two options are either by train or bus. I will include links for both of these to enable you to plan your journey more easily. If you decide to get a train you will need to change at Par. Follow the links to find a break down of times and bus numbers. Unfortunately public transport to this location is quite time consuming, taking roughly 2 hours. You may prefer to use public transport one way and use a taxi the other!