Nestling at the intersection of three scenic valleys Bodmin, Gover and Pentewan lies St Austell once described by John Wesley the prolific preacher as ‘a neat little town on the side of a fruitful hill’. The town itself has known great prosperity thanks to its rich mining heritage and investment.
Named after the Cornish saint ‘St. Austol’ the earliest historical reference lies in the Doomsday Book (1086) which describes the Manor of Tewington as located near ‘St Awstle situate not farr from the head of Tywardreth baye, nare vnto Gwallon Downes’.
Mining has always featured in the locale of St Austell, originally early settlers mined tin but later on with the discovery of copper new shafts were dug. The demand was so great that in 1580 Queen Elizabeth I employed immigrant German miners, interestingly many names considered Cornish like Hore, Keast, Lobb, Sleeman, Starke and Waldron can all trace their ancestry back to this time.
Unfortunately in 1865 there was a dramatic drop in the price of copper which led to the closure of many mines. This led to the emigration of many miners from Charlestown port to America, Australia and South Africa. All was not lost, prosperity returned to the town with the continued development of china clay originally discovered by Quaker and Potter William Cookworthy (1705-1780). Demand increased so much that in 1820 there were only 12 clay works, by 1858 this had grown to 96.
With all the new employment opportunities the town centre blossomed, buildings like the Market House were built (1844). The expansion of wealth meant both the increase in local hostelry’s like ‘the White Hart’ hotel, the General Wolfe, as well as Christian places of worship. The established Holy Trinity Church building was described by Canon Edward Roberts as “one of the most spacious and dignified of the Cornish Parish Churches.” With the spread of the gospel other groups built meeting places, the Quakers (1829), the Baptists, the Methodists and the Bible Christians have all left their mark on the built environment. The poor were also cared for as several Alms Houses were created, the philanthropic spirit also spread to education with the introduction of the first Board School built on Mount Charles on land donated by the Quaker Veale family.
Today St Austell is undergoing an inner regeneration with help from the tourist industry, crowds now come not just to see the ‘Cornish Alps’ but a vast array of other attractions, ‘the Eden Project, Heligan Gardens, the China Clay Musuem, Charlestown and many more. We can be assured that St Austell’s rich architectural heritage will be added to as the centre becomes a major tourist attraction in itself.