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St. Austell in 1835

ST. AUSTELL or ST. AUSTLE, a considerable market-town in the east division of the hundred of Powder, in the county of Cornwall, on the road from London through Lostwithiel, to Grampound, Truro, Redruth, and St. Ives ; 243 miles west-south-west from London, 8½ from Lostwithiel, and 13 from Truro.

It occupies the side of a hill, and slopes gradually to a small rivulet that waters a narrow valley. The streets are narrow, and without foot pavement, which is the more inconvenient as the town is a considerable thoroughfare.

The church is a handsome fabric, consisting of a nave and chancel, with side aisles separated by clustered pillars. It has a good tower, adorned with singular sculpture ; some other parts of the edifice were also fancifully ornamented. Round the second storey of the tower are several rude statues in richly ornamented niches. There are many figures on the west side and four on each of the others. Those on the west side are thus described, in the MS collections of Messrs. Lysons in the British Museum :- "The uppermost niche has the figure of God the Father, with the crucifix. This niche is supported by two angels holding a cloth inclosing some little figure praying. In the next row of niches, St. Gabriel and the Virgin pray with the lily-pot : in the lower one our Saviour is in the centre with his right hand elevated, the cross in the left, and the crown of thorns on. This niche is richly ornamented with scrolls of foliage on the side. On the right hand of this niche is a saint with a staff in his right hand, a cord in his left ; on the right of the niche is a bishop." The remaining twelve figures, on the other sides, are supposed to be the apostles. Over the south porch is an inscription on stone relief, of the meaning of which the best informed antiquaries seem in doubt. Various shields of ornaments are carved on the outside of the church, and on the seats ; and from the frequent appearance of the shovel, hammer, &c, it would seem that the miners were the chief contributors to the building. The font is a very ancient one, covered with curious sculpture of grotesque animals. The archdeacon of Winchester, Philip Cornwallis, gave an endowment for a chantry chapel in the churchyard of St. Austell, and there was once a sanctuary here.

St. Austell was described by Leland, in the time of Henry VIII as a poor village. It has risen to eminence from its vicinity to the great tin mine of Polgooth (which is partly in this parish, and was at one timed esteemed the richest mine ever worked in England), and other considerable mines. It still owes its principal importance to the tin mines, and the copper mine of Crennis, and the porcelain-clay works in or near the parish. The pilchard fishery is carried on to a considerable extent (for the parish extends to the coast, though the town itself is a little inland), and there have been harbours formed at Charlestown and Pentewan for the convenience of importing coals from Wales, or exporting the ores or porcelain-clay of the district. A railroad connects the town with the harbour of Pentewan. There are, at the west end of the town, three blowing-houses (for some years the only ones in the county) for smelting ore. The ore smelted in these houses is for some purposes preferable to what is smelted in the common way. Copper ore is said to have been smelted at St. Austell before any other place in Cornwall. There is a dock and shipwright’s yard at Charlestown, and the manufacture of coarse woollens was carried out in St. Austell some years since, but whether it is still continued, we have no information. There is at Pentewan a famous stone quarry, from which stone has been got for building many churches and gentlemen’s seats in the county.

There is a considerable weekly market on Friday for corn and other articles. It is held under a charter granted by Queen Elizabeth, who directed that the tolls be directed to the relief and maintenance of the poor. There are two fairs, one on the Thursday in Whitsun-week, and the other on 30th November. It is said there was once another fair, viz., on Palm Sunday. The circumstances of the Blackmore Court (the most considerable of the Stannary Courts) being held there has contributed to the prosperity of the town.

The parish includes several villages ; of which the principal are, Carvath, Corbean, Pentuan or Pentewan, Porthpean, Rescorla, Tregonissy, Tregorick, Trenarren, Trethergy, Trevarrick, and Charlestown, formerly Porthmear. The number of houses in the whole parish in 1831 was 1,628 (including 15 building and 70 uninhabited), and of the inhabitants 8,758. The increase of population which has taken place is very considerable. The number of inhabitants has more than doubled in the last twenty years. This is ascribed to the demand for labour in the mines.

The living is a vicarage in the gift of the crown. It is in the rural deanery of Powder, the archdeaconry of Cornwall, and the diocese of Exeter. There are several dissenting places of worship ; also an alms-house built in 1809, but not endowed. There was anciently a free chapel at Menacuddle in the parish, with an ancient Gothic building over the old chapel well. There is also a chapel of St. Mary at Millinse, and another at Treverbin Courtenay.

The town of St. Austell, in which part of the parliamentary army, under the Earl of Essex, had been quartered during the great civil war, was taken by Charles I in the year 1644, a little before the capitulation of that army.

The old town of St. Austell was a little distance to the east of the present. Its site is still marked by a few cottages.