Charlestown (Cornish: Porthmeur) is a village and port in Cornwall, United Kingdom. It is situated approximately one mile (1.6km) southeast of St Austell.
The port at Charlestown developed from what was in the late 18th century the fishing village of West Polmear.
Other villages in the St Austell area have seen much development during the 20th century but Charlestown has remained relatively unchanged.
There are deposits of china clay in the area. Particles of mica quartz in the sea near Charlestown give it a turquoise-blue colour. The same colour is imparted to flooded china clay quarries.
Charlestown grew out of a small fishing village called West Polmear (also West Porthmear). Prior to the building of the harbour trading vessels landed and loaded on the beach. It was developed in the Georgian era (specifically from 1790 when work on building an outer quay began to 1799 when the first dock gates were erected) as a new town, and named after local landowner Charles Rashleigh who had a hand in its design. In 1799 the locals asked his permission to rename the place Charles’s Town which in turn became Charlestown. The works were to the plans of John Smeaton. It was built to facilitate the transport of copper from nearby mines but its main function became the export of china clay from the region’s quarries and, to a limited extent, still serves that purpose today.
Following the death of Charles Rashleigh in 1823 the fate of Charlestown was caught up in the financial problems of Rashleigh’s estate. As a result in 1825 Messrs. Crowder and Sartoris, trading as Charlestown Estate, agreed to accept all the leasehold property in Charlestown in lieu of sums owed to them and purchased the rest of the estate from the Rashleigh family thus becoming the new owners of the port and the surrounding settlement.
In 1790 the settlement was known as West Polmear and had a population of 9, which increased to 3,184 by 1911.
Charlestown harbour is used by several local fisherman. The harbour itself is owned by Square Sail, a company that owns and sails a small fleet of tall ships, including Kaskelot. One or two of these can often be found at anchor in the harbour, and are frequently open for tours during the summer months. The best-known tall ship to regularly visit the port was the Maria Asumpta, first launched in 1858 and the world’s oldest working square rigger. The Maria Asumpta was very popular with tourists and locals alike, until the ship ran aground and broke up on the north Cornish coast in May 1995, with the loss of three of her sixteen crew.
Charlestown is a popular tourist destination. Attractions are the architecture, the sea, and the Charlestown Shipwreck, Rescue and Heritage Centre.
Charlestown harbour has several times been disguised as other historic ports, such as Bristol Harbour, for film and television productions. For example, it has starred in Poldark, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion and films such as the 1993 version of The Three Musketeers. The sequence set in Alderney in the film The Eagle Has Landed was filmed in and around the harbour and the adjacent beach. The famous Heart Of The Ocean necklace from the 1997 film Titanic resides at the town’s National Shipwreck Museum. Charlestown Rowing Club is based in the village. On September 25, 2008, Tim Burton filmed a part of his new movie Alice in Wonderland there.
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