Everything you see here is here for a reason’ said Lyndon Allen, our guide and local historian pronounced as we began our tour of Charlestown today. I’ve been trying to join him for one of his history tours for months was really looking forward to it.
The trip started at St Pauls parish church where we examined the graves of some of Charlestown’s illustrious residents – these ranged from the first vicar to the church, the builders who were never paid, harbourmasters and war heroes.
He was born into the wealthy local Rashleigh family at Menabilly near Fowey and trained to be a solicitor, marrying Grace Tremayne whose family owned the Heligan Estate near Mevagissey.
Charles made money from property dealing and mining tin and copper. He was struggling to transport these materials to the ports at Fowey and Mevagissey so decided to build a harbour at Charlestown. There was no available water supply so he built a long series of leats from the Luxulyan valley some 7 miles away to fill his ponds.
He commissioned John Smeaton to build his harbour and work commenced in 1791. Tragically neither he or Rashleigh would live to see the finished port.
Rashleigh took two young lads from the local workhouse and trained them to run his mining and harbour business which were both generating big profits.
Unfortunately they both swindled him out of millions of pounds and made him bankrupt. A firm of solicitors ended up owning all of Rashleigh’s property in lieu of debts outstanding until 1986 when it was put up for sale. This is the reason so much of the village retains its character and original buildings without much alteration over the years.
Lyndon continued our walk to point out the important houses in the village, the cooperage, farriers, police station and Rashleigh pub, the capstans which allowed the Hobblers to winch sailing ships into port, the weighbridge, school house, coal yard, mule stables and everything which was needed to supply a bustling port and up to 3000 people.
We ended up by his family home, the yellow cottage next to the Harbourside pub – the oldest house in the village and originally a pub.
It was low tide and the beach was uncovered. Lyndon explained that the shingle beach was a product of the tonnes of ballast, unloaded on the beach before the ships entered the harbour.
It was a truly fascinating tour, lasted 2 hours and Lyndon’s knowledge of the historical and social details about the village were encyclopaedic and helped me appreciate the rich network of historic evidence which tell the story of the place I am fortunate enough to call home.
Do take a tour if you have time, it costs £10 per person and in my view worth every penny!
Visit Www.Charlestowntours.Co.uk to book online and tours run daily, Monday to Friday.
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