Situated in St. Austell Bay, just 2 miles south-east of St. Austell’s town centre, Charlestown boasts a harbour with a fleet of Tall Ships that can easily transport the receptive mind back to times gone by – and to complete the image of pirates and treasure it also has a Shipwreck and Heritage Centre.

West Polmeor, as it was originally called, was just a small fishing village until a harbour was constructed to fulfil the needs of the local mineral mines and clay pits.

A local businessman by the name of Charles Rashleigh was the man responsible for building the harbour, and in 1799 the village was re-named ‘Charles’ Town’ after him.

The Rashleigh Estate has changed hands several times over the years and the harbour is still in private hands. Until recently, it was owned by a company called Square Sail who used the location as a film set for period dramas such as Poldark. One of the people who was involved in the recent purchase (Aug 2018) was Tim Smit, the man behind the Eden Project and Lost Gardens of Heligan.

The Shipwreck and Heritage Centre was also bought by the same team, who have promised to make the harbour area an even better attraction.

As its name suggests, the Shipwreck and Heritage Centre is in two parts, and although it was definitely worth walking through the tunnel that was used for transporting China Clay on trucks through to the harbour, and watching the associated film, my main interest here was the shipwreck part of the museum.

View of the Harbour from the Tunnel
View of the Harbour from the Tunnel

There are over 8,000 shipwreck treasures that come from over 150 ships that found their way to the bottom of Davy Jones’s Locker. There are artefacts from ships like the Lusitania and others, but the real interest for me came from ships like HMS Colossus, and HMS Association, both of which sank off the Scilly Isles, and included Spanish coins, weapons and all manner of other stuff.

Coins from the Admiral Gardner
Coins from the Admiral Gardner

Much of this treasure has been brought to the surface by a modern-day Cornish buccaneer named Roland Morris and his team.

A real Cornish character, Roland Morris exhibited many of these artefacts in his own museum in Chapel Street, Penzance, as well as in the Admiral Benbow on the other side of the street.

Most of the stuff was sold off when he died in 1992, but thankfully a good amount came to Charlestown, and there’s still plenty to see in the Admiral Benbow.

Spanish 'Pieces of Eight' from 'The Association'
Spanish 'Pieces of Eight' from 'The Association'

Charlestown is a fairly low-key harbour village compared to others that are more well-known, but that could change under the new ownership. That said, Tim Smit is passionate about Cornwall, and hopefully any changes that are made will be for the better. Let’s hope so, because there’s nothing wrong with it as it is.


2 thoughts on “Charlestown

  1. Sarah Wilkie

    Looks an interesting place – I like these quirky ‘one person’s passion’ museums! I remember visiting St Austell with my family as a child and seeing a beautiful white sand, as we thought, beach and turquoise sea from the road, only to discover when we went to explore that the beach was in fact of sticky white clay!


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