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Fowey Harbour Heritage Society
Blockhouse, Fowey

Fowey Harbour Heritage Society Blog

The Rashleigh family, Charles and the creation of Charlestown, a talk delivered by Andy Trudgian 10 February 2024

One man, one vision
It was Charles Rashleigh, a member of the Rashleigh family of Menabilly, near Fowey, who had the vision to create Charlestown. Already an astute landowner and businessman with premises in St Austell, he created Duporth Manor as his new residence in 1781, and then commissioned the famous engineer John Smeaton in 1791 to design and build a harbour and dock to export copper from the local mines. A planned village was developed around the harbour with all the associated industries …. blacksmiths, coopers, tanners, masons, ropemakers…and eventually a Methodist chapel, school, inn, hotel and church. The village even had its own gun battery during the Napoleonic Wars to protect the harbour from marauding French which still exists today, on the western cliff top. It also had a well drilled artillery company to fight Charlestown’s corner.

Scandal – Dingle and Daniel
One of the most extraordinary stories about Charles Rashleigh is how he was “betrayed” by, not just one, but two men. Joseph Dingle plays an increasingly important role in the planning and building of the village and harbour, becoming superintendent of works. Over time, he systematically embezzled thousands from the project. Finally, Dingle was found guilty and owed Rashleigh and others in the region of £32,000, over £2.5 million in today’s money. Dingle was declared bankrupt and died a pauper. But it also largely destroyed Rashleigh. To make matters worse, he was then duped by another manservant, Joseph Daniel. He had hopes of Daniel becoming a magistrate which required that he was a property owner, so Rashleigh bequeathed him his house and estate at Duporth on the assumption that it would be returned to him later. But it wasn’t! The result of all of this was that Charles Rashleigh died in 1823, a broken man, and bankrupt. His daughter, Martha, who would have lived in luxury in Duporth Manor was forced out to live in a small cottage in Holmbush. And two years later, in 1825, Messrs Crowder and Sartoris, bankers, and trading as Charlestown Estates, accepted the leasehold properties of the village and the harbour in lieu of debts owed. And so it remained in the hands of Charlestown Estates as owners of the port until sold in 1986.
Unspoilt and Unique
The planned nature of Charlestown in Georgian times, and its ownership in the hands of, firstly, Charles Rashleigh and then Charlestown Estates for close to 200 years, has resulted in a port that is unique. Its inscription as part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site (WHS) in 2006 honours this uniqueness.

"The best preserved china clay and copper Georgian port in the world, with fine examples of vernacular architecture, nearly all buildings listed Grade II and a picturesque harbour. It remains relatively unspoilt to this day".
WHS inscription


Harvey's Forgotten Shipyard By Daisy Culmer

Daisy Culmer has worked as the Museum Curator for Harvey's Foundry Trust at Hayle Heritage Centre in West Cornwall for more than seven years. There, Daisy is responsible for managing a diverse social and industrial history collection of around 8,000 objects and archival items relating to Hayle and the surrounding area.
She gave a fascinating and well illustrated talk about the company Harveys of Hayle. During the 19th century Hayle became the most important foundry in the world for making Cornish engines and Cornish boilers, and had many overseas sales offices. The great Cornish engineers and engine designers, including Richard Trevithick, all provided expertise to Harvey’s Foundry which was unmatched by other foundries. Harvey’s made the largest steam pumping engine ever built, the Cruquius steam engine in Holland with a bore of 12 feet and which is preserved in the Cruquius Museum.
She outlined their other activities, including shipbuilding and running a regular ferry service between Hayle and Bristol. They worked in cooperation with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, manufacturinghalf of the chain links for Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge across the Tamar at Saltash (this, following a glowing report from Brunel himself after his visit to the premises in 1840) and perhaps most famously the links for the Clifton Suspension Bridge. She detailed the rivalry between the Cornish Copper Company at the east end of town and Harveys at the west. The CCC wound up in 1869. The decline of the mining industry spelled Harvey's downfall and although the engineering works and shipyard had closed down by 1904, other lines of business survived. The name of Harvey was finally dropped in the 1980s, a building supplies business, now run by Jewson, still operates from part of the original Harvey site at Carnsew Road.


The Remarkable Pinwill Sisters

The Remarkable Pinwill Sisters
A talk by Dr Helen Wilson - Saturday, 8 April 2023
Following our AGM, The Society were treated to a fascinating talk over the Easter weekend by Dr Helen Wilson. Helen has spent the last 10 years researching the Pinwill sisters, Mary, Ethel and Violet, who with the support of their mother, learnt to carve as teenagers during the restoration of their father’s church at Ermington, Devon. With the patronage of architect Edmund H. Sedding, they established a professional woodcarving business, Rashleigh, Pinwill & Co in 1890, which later relocated to Plymouth. After about 1907, Violet ran the business single-handedly, with a workforce of nearly 30 carvers and joiners during the peak years, establishing one of the best wood and stone carving companies in the West Country. By the time Violet died in 1957, there were over 650 pieces of carving work in more than 180 churches in Devon and Cornwall.
Helen has now published a book about these remarkable women which is beautifully illustrated.


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