Charlestown Harbour in Cornwall

Living History

Charlestown Harbour in Cornwall

Charlestown is the last open 18th Century Georgian harbour in the UK and a UNESCO world heritage site. By a quirk of history it remained unchanged whilst the world moved on around it, and is now the home of a fleet of tall ships.

Charlestown is a village and port on the south coast of Cornwall about 2 miles south east of St Austell.

The harbour was built in the late 1700s, and named after local man Charles Rashleigh, who saw the opportunity in what was then West Porthmeur, to create a sheltered port to facilitate the transport of china clay. 

Upon Rashleigh's death, it was discovered that he had been swindled by one of his servants and the estate was bankrupt. The harbour passed out of the control of his family but prospered for many years.

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.

In 1994 the harbour was bought by Square Sail as a base for their traditional sailing ships. Much of Square Sail's business involves using the harbour and their ships as film sets such as the 2015 Poldark television series.

Charlestown now functions as a specialist port for old-style sailing ships, where vessels don’t need to compete either with modern yachts or commercial fishing. Many of the Harbour team are themselves traditional sailors and understand the particular needs of these boats.

Consequently, the harbour has become a tourist attraction as there are usually some of the these tall ships in the harbour. There are also restaurants, a pub, hotel and a Shipwreck Museum.

It was recently reported that Tim Smit (of Eden Project and Lost Gardens of Heligan fame) had purchased the harbour.

Further reading

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