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Charlestown Harbour
Charlestown, Cornwall
associated engineer
John Smeaton
date  1791 - 1800
era  Georgian  |  category  Harbour  |  reference  SX038515
ICE reference number  HEW 139
Charlestown Harbour was built for and named after local industrialist Charles Rashleigh, to the design of John Smeaton, for the export of china-clay and copper ore and the import of coal and mining supplies. It is now the best-preserved china-clay and copper ore port of its period anywhere in the world
Smeaton, however, did not see the work completed as he died in 1792.
Charles Rashleigh also gave his name to the village that surrounds the harbour, once known as Polmear or West Polmear, which had just nine inhabitants when he acquired it in 1790 but became a thriving community of over 3,000 people as a result of trade through the harbour.
China-clay and copper ore mining became big business in this period and no less than three industrialists set up harbours in the area around St Austell. The other two are at Pentewan and Par. The clay was sent north to the potteries and the copper ore to smelting works in South Wales.
Construction of Charlestown Harbour began in 1791 and continued until 1800. Many of the surrounding buildings date from the same period. The complex consists of an inner non-tidal wet dock and an outer harbour protected by a breakwater and small spending beach. A seven-mile leat or channel brought water from the Luxulyan Valley, feeding two reservoirs east of the town. This water was used to scour the outer harbour and keep the wet dock full.
The work was carried out in granite, including the breakwater of randon-course work. The harbour can accommodate ships up to 52m in length.
Since Georgian times, the only major change to the harbour has been the replacement of the wet-dock mitre gates by a rising gate that sits on the invert of the basin entrance when open. This change increased the entrance width from 8.5m to 10.7m and enabled ships with a draught of up to 3.7m to enter.
During the 19th century, the harbour was surrounded with thriving associated businesses — boat building, rope making, lime burning, pilchard curing, brickworks, net houses and bark houses.
The export of copper ore continued until the mid-19th century and china-clay continues to be exported, although not in the quantities that once passed through the harbour at the peak of the industry.
The harbour is now home port to a number of tall ships, used both for sailing training and for film and television productions. The wet dock has room for up to four tall ships.
Research: ECPK
bibliography
“Cornish Place Names & Language” by C. Weatherhill
Sigma Leisure, Cheshire, 1995
www.bbc.co.uk
www.cornish-mining.org.uk
reference sources   CEH SouthSmiles2
Location

Charlestown Harbour