Our History


Charlestown has a rich and fascinating history that visitors can explore during a scenic tour of the Inner Harbour. The Harbour was designed and built in the late 1700s and remains mostly unspoilt to this day.

Over 200 years ago West Porthmear, as Charlestown was then known, was a small fishing village with no harbour and just three cottages where the local people made a living from fishing for pilchards. The China Clay pits in nearby St. Austell began to flourish in the latter half of the 18th Century, so there became a need for a local port to facilitate the transport of the clay. A local man, Charles Rashleigh, saw the opportunity and with the plans of Civil Engineer John Smeaton, Rashleigh began constructing the Harbour. The outer arm was completed first to shelter shipping and the inner piers were finished in stages after the rocks had been blasted away and manually cut and removed.

Rashleigh built the gun battery to protect the village and this was used by the ‘Huer’ or look-out man. The Huer would see shoals of fish and alert the fishermen, guiding them to the fish. The name of the village was changed in order to honour Charles Rashleigh and became Charlestown.

Charlestown began to flourish, and the population grew, bringing the need for more cottages, an Inn, a hotel, a chapel and eventually a church.

The Charlestown Estate Bell was situated at the weighbridge and was used to call the estate workers to work. It rang from Monday to Saturday at 8am, 12pm, 1pm and 5pm, indicating work times. The bell also rang when ships were coming in and going out of the harbour to alert the workers to open the manual lock gates. This was called ‘Gate Ho’. The last bell rang in about 1938 just before the beginning of the Second World War.

July 1931, a visit from HRH The Prince of Wales