Launceston, Cornwall

launceston cornwall towns

Launceston (pronounced "Lanson" locally) was the country town of Cornwall from early times until 1838, when the right of assize passed to Bodmin. Strategically positioned to guard the main route into Cornwall, the Normans built a castle here. It was also the only town in Cornwall to have a town wall. The town walls survive in many places, and the castle is still there but in ruins. Executions were carried out here until 1821. During the reign of Henry III, a Royal Mint for coining money was established in Launceston.

Launceston during the Civil War in the 1640s, was loyal King Charles I, and this is reflected in its coat of arms. King Charles II's son, the Prince of Wales, stayed in the town while travelling to meet up with the Royalist army further south in Cornwall. In 1643 the Parliamentarian forces under Oliver Cromwell attempted to capture Launceston from the Royalists. The Parliamentarian army captured the town, but was unable defeat the Royalist forces who were ensconced on Windmill Hill. Sir Ralph Hopton, commander of the Royalist army charged his cavalry down the hill, forcing Cromwell's army back across the Tamar. Launceston eventually fell to Parliament in 1645.

Launceston was a Parliamentary Borough from medieval times, with two Members of Parliament. It was a classic "rotten borough" with only 50 electors. Neighbouring Newport was also a borough with two MPs. Launceston lost one of its two MPs and Newport both by the Reform Act of 1832, and finally lost that MP in 1885.

Today Launceston is a small busy market town with a number of well preserved red-brick Georgian houses,

The Northgate and Prison was where the Quaker George Fox was imprisoned.

Southgate Arch is the only remaining gateway of the original three to the old walled town. The two rooms above date from the reign of Edward VI, and had a battlement parapet added in 1887. The track of the original portcullis can be still be made out. Around the arch are slate hung cottages which must look very much as they were in the 18th century.

Parish Church of St. Thomas is to be found north of the Town, close to the ruins of Launceston Priory. It is beside the River Kensey with its ancient Clapper Bridge.

Launceston Priory, founded in 1126 by the Bishop of Exeter,became one of the wealthiest monasteries in Cornwall, reaching its zenith in the 16th century. It was dedicated to St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr. The building was flattened during the Dissolution, and not found again until the late 19th Century when the railway was being pushed through the area, and the foundations of the old Priory were discovered.

Philip Gidley-King, who in 1800 he became the Governor of New South Wales, was born in number 5, Southgate Street. He was the son of a Launceston draper, was born at No. 5 in 1758. This connection was the reason that Launceston on the Tasmanian River Tamar came to be so named.

Around the Town Square are 16th century buildings put up by Thomas Hicks, Mayor of the town. These houses have slate hangings, panel studded doors, and the double hung sash windows with granite jambs which are believed to have been salvaged from St Thomas Priory. The War Memorial in the centre of the square was erected on the site of the old Town Butter Market.

The Town's Guildhall has an interesting clock with quaterjacks that strike the quarter-hour from a niche above the clock.

Castle Street, where traces of the old cobble stones can be seen, is mainly Georgian architecture and has been greatly admired by John Betjeman, the late Poet Laureate. These buildings look very much as they must have done 250 years ago.

The Eagle House Hotel was originally a Town Hall built in the 18th century by the Constable of Launceston Castle out of lottery winnings.

Lawrence House, is now owned by the National Trust and houses the local museum and the Mayor's Parlour.

The village of St Stephens was originally a Celtic settlement and the site of the original Launceston and Royal Mint.

The old Market Building has unusual curved roof slating, and clerestory windows in the roof . It has been converted now to a shopping arcade.

Church Stile, a fine Georgian House with plastered stucco finish. The top story was added about 1900 above the band stringing course.

Old Vicarage is mainly 18th century with a 17th century arched gateway attached.

The Prince of Wales visited the town in 1973 to receive his feudal dues from the Duchy of Cornwall.

The Norman castle which dominates the town is of motte-and-bailey design, and was built by Robert de Mortain, half-brother of William I, in 1087 to control and garrison the surrounding area. St Cuthbert Mayne, a priest, was hung drawn and quartered on the castle walls in 1574.

St Mary Magdalene Church , built between 1511 and 1524, by Sir Henry Trecarrel as a memorial to his infant son who died whilst being bathed, carvings in memory of his wife were latter added. The fine ornate carvings have withstood the test of time. The tower of the church dates from the 14th century, an earlier church and graveyard had previously occupied the site. There are three other churches, plus a Methodist Chapel and Kingdom Hall.

Educationally there are three Primary Schools, one private school and Launceston College.

Outside Launceston there is the Launceston Steam Railway which runs along the beautiful Kensey Valley.

And just north at North Petherwin, the Tamar Otter Park will teach you all you need to know about otters.

The poet Charles Causley was born and lived in the town. He was among the most important British poets of his generation and died in 2003, aged 86.

Launceston, Cornwall Genalogical information on Genuki

Old Launceston John Neale

Return to Map of Cornwall - Gazetteer