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Launceston in 1839

LAUNCESTON (also called Dunheved), a corporate town in the county of Cornwall, of which it is usually regarded as the capital. It is pleasantly situated on a steep hill rising from the banks of the Attery, a few miles above the confluence of that stream with the Tamar, and 210 miles west-south-west from London.

The houses are in general mean and irregularly built, and the streets narrow and inconvenient. Within the last few years the town has been greatly improved, and is now lighted with gas, the expense of which is defrayed by a rate.

Both the assizes for the county of Cornwall were formerly held at Launceston (by virtue of a charter from Richard, king of the Romans), but by the statute of 1st George I, c. 45, the summer assizes were removed to Bodmin, and in consequence of the completion of new courts at the latter place in 1838, and the situation of the county gaol there, both assizes are now held at Bodmin.

The corporate revenue, arising principally from tolls, markets, fairs, &c, amounted in 1835 to £285 per annum, which was about sufficient to cover its ordinary expenditure.

Until the passing of the Reform Act the borough had returned two members to parliament continuously from the reign of Edward I, the right of election being vested exclusively in the mayor, aldermen, and freemen. By the Reform Act, Launceston and the adjoining borough of Newport are included in a district, and both together now return one member. Launceston is one of the polling places for the eastern division of the county.

The remains of the ancient castle of Launceston are very remarkable. King, in his ‘Munimenta Antiqua,’ vol. iii, describes it minutely, and assigns to it the most remote antiquity, on account of its dissimilarity from castles built by the Romans, Saxons, Danes, or Norman’s.

The church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, is in the diocese of Exeter, and the living, a paid curacy of the net annual value of £116, was, until the passing of the Municipal Corporation Reform Act, in the patronage of the corporation. It is a very remarkable structure, composed of granite, ornamented with scriptural devices, and curious carved work.

The grammar-school of Launceston was originally endowed by Queen Elizabeth, and subsequently by the duke of Northumberland. In the year 1811 the corporation erected a new school-house at an expense of £1000, but the first master having absconded, and the second resigned, no new appointment has been made since the year 1821 (Corporation Reports, 1835), neither has the revenue been received since that date, in consequence of which the house has become dilapidated and no longer fit to be inhabited. The fees were six guineas per annum, on the payment of which the school was open to the children of any inhabitant. The population of the town in 1831 was 2,231, and had increased about 50 per cent. since the census of 1801.