Before the Industrial Revolution, there was no Charlestown and no harbour. In its place was West Polmear (polmear means "large cove" in Cornish) - a small fishing village, launching boats from the beach. Other than a handful of houses, there were just a couple of buildings associated with fishing such as fish cellars.

The port of Charlestown was an enterprise of Charles Rashleigh, initially to export copper ore from the mines from around St Austell to the smelters in South Wales. The port town was planned in meticulous detail, including the wide road that could accommodate 6 carts abreast. Small cottages were built near the harbour for workers, a terrace of fashionable Georgian houses with decorative alcoves was constructed for merchants and an inn (The Pier House) was built right beside the harbour where business could be conducted.

The harbour itself was designed by the marine architect John Smeaton whose other achievements included the Eddystone Lighthouse now on Plymouth Hoe and the pier at St Ives. The outer wall is angled to protect the harbour from waves driven into St Austell Bay by southeasterly winds. The remains of capstans can still be seen on the ends of the piers which were used to haul ships into the harbour when there was no favourable wind to sail in. The inner harbour is gated so that ships could remain afloat at all states of the tide and be continuously unloaded and loaded, ready to set sail immediately on the next tide. Charles Rashleigh had plans for an ambitious extension to the harbour which would have added a further set of piers to the outside to create a large outer harbour beyond the tidal beach area but was never able to realise them as he was swindled out of his fortune by two of his employees.

At the beginning of the 19th Century, Charlestown became the main port for the export of China Clay from the St Austell area and enjoyed a monopoly until the 1820s when competing ports were built at Par and Pentewan. Despite this, the port prospered until the First World War then gradually declined through the remainder of the 20th Century as the design of the port was unable to accommodate large modern ships. The last commercial shipment was in 2000.

By 1907, a pipeline was in place from the pit at Carclaze to transport china clay as a slurry all the way to Charlestown. Two clay driers were built at Charlestown. These used coal-fired underfloor heating to evaporate the water. Tunnels were dug for tramways to transport the clay to chutes above the quayside. The pipeline was used until it was replaced by road transport in the 1960s. The remains of a loading chute is still present along one side of the dock and part of the tunnels is now open to the public as part of the Shipwreck Museum.

The protected harbour at Charlestown is now used for sailing ships. The combination of the tall ships and undeveloped location has made it a popular Hollywood filming location which features in Pirates of the Caribbean and many others.

On walks

Get the iWalkCornwall app

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Download the app and use it to explore the walks and to purchase a guided route.
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The app will direct you to the start of the walk via satnav.
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The app guides you around the walk using GPS, removing any worries about getting lost.
Phone showing walk directions page in the iWalk Cornwall app
The walk route is described with detailed, regularly-updated, hand-written directions.
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Each time there is a new direction to follow, the app will beep to remind you, and will warn you if you go off-route.
Phone showing walk map page in the iWalk Cornwall app
A map shows the route, where you are at all times and even which way you are facing.
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Each walk is packed with information about the history and nature along the route, from over a decade of research than spans more than 3,000 topics.
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Once a walk is downloaded, the app doesn't need a phone or wifi signal during the walk.
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The app counts down distance to the next direction and estimates time remaining based on your personal walking speed.
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We keep the directions continually updated for changes to the paths/landmarks - the price for a walk includes ongoing free updates.