St Austell

Street Map

St Austell (/sɨnt ˈɔːstəl/; Cornish: Austol) is a civil parish and a major town in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. It is situated on the south coast approximately ten miles (16 km) south of Bodmin and 30 miles (48 km) west of the border with Devon at Saltash. The town is known locally as “Snozzle”.

St Austell is close to The Luxulyan Valley and Charlestown, one of ten sites comprising the Cornwall & West Devon Mining Landscape UNESCO World Heritage Site.

St Austell is the largest town in Cornwall: in the 2001 census, the population was 22,658 (larger than the county town, Truro, which had a population of 20,920). St Austell civil parish (see below) is entirely urban in character.

One of the earliest references to St Austell is in John Leland’s Itinerary, where he says “At S. Austelles is nothing notable but the paroch chirch”.

Not long after William Cookworthy discovered china clay in Tregonning, the same mineral was found in greater quantity in the hills north of St Austell town. Clay mining soon took over from tin and copper mining as the principal industry in the area, and this eventually contributed enormously to the growth of the town. The clay industry really only came into its own during the mid 19th to early 20th century, at a time when the falling prices of tin and other metals forced many mines to close down or convert to clay mining. The success and high profitability of the industry attracted many families whose breadwinner had been put out of work by the depression in the local metal mining industry, and increased the population of the town considerably. This meant that more shops and businesses took root, providing more jobs and improving trade. This, along with other factors, led to St Austell becoming one of the ten most important commercial centres of Cornwall.

Work began in 1963 on the pedestrian precinct which included shops, offices and flats: the design was by Alister MacDonald & Partners and the materials reinforced concrete with some stone facing.The town centre recently underwent a £75 million redevelopment process. The redevelopment attracted heavy opposition from its outset, with the main argument coming from Friends for a Better St Austell. In 2007, developers moved onto the town centre site to complete the preparation for the new development, with the Filmcentre which was originally an Odeon cinema dating back to 1936, being demolished. New Look, Peacocks, Bonmarché and Wilkinson opened stores.

In 2008, the new White River Cinema opened its doors for the first time: the cinema is technically advanced and the first purpose-built cinema in Cornwall for over 60 years. In 2009, White River Place first opened its doors to the public. At the same time, a weekly local Produce Market started, located on Market Street between St Austell Market House and the Parish Church, which takes place every Saturday, between 10.00hrs and 15.00hrs.

The Torchlight Carnival took place in 2009 and 2010. Both these initiatives were spearheaded by the new Town Council, which was responding to public demand voiced through a survey conducted prior to the establishment of the Town Council. The Market House CIC was also involved and is the lead partner in establishing the Produce Market in St Austell.

The St Austell and Clay Country Eco-town is a plan for several new settlements around St Austell on old Imerys sites. It was given outline government approval in July 2009.

On 6 July 2011, Cornwall Council’s strategic planning committee voted to approve a £250 million beach resort scheme at Carlyon Bay, St Austell. The development was initially proposed in 2003.

The arms of St Austell are Arg. a saltire raguly Gu.

St Austell is in the new parliamentary constituency of St Austell and Newquay which was created by the Boundary Commission for England (increasing the number of seats in Cornwall from five to six).

The main local authority is Cornwall Council, the unitary authority created as part of the 2009 structural changes to local government in England . The six former Districts and the former Cornwall County Council were abolished and replaced by Cornwall Council on 1 April 2009. Also on 1 April 2009, four new parishes were created for the St Austell area.

The china clay industry now employs only just over 2000 people, a mere fraction of the workforce in the early 20th century.However, the industry still achieves a higher annual output than ever before.

The town’s economy is supported by its town centre shops and supporting businesses.

The St Austell Brewery, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2001, supplies cask ale to pubs in Cornwall and the rest of the UK. They are best known for their flagship beer, St Austell Tribute; a number of other ales are brewed but are rarely seen outside Cornwall. St Austell Brewery’s original brewery ‘The Seven Stars Inn’ still stands today in the main town on East Hill.

As in much of Cornwall and neighbouring counties, tourism is increasingly important to St Austell’s economy. Tourists are drawn to the area by nearby beaches and attractions such as the Eden Project, sited in a former clay pit, and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Summer visitors to the town make a big contribution to the local economy.The China Clay Country Park, in a former china-clay pit two miles north of the town, tells the story of the men, women and children who lived, worked and played in the shadow of the clay tips around St Austell.

St Austell is home to several public houses, numerous high street retailers, and several independent shops, many of which cater for tourists.

The town has two weekly newspapers, the St Austell Guardian and the St Austell Voice. The St Austell Guardian is part of the Cornish Guardian series published by Cornwall and Devon Media Ltd. The newspaper has a long history in the town. The St Austell Voice, sister paper to the Newquay Voice has offices at Truro Road, close to the town centre. Both papers publish on Wednesdays.

St Austell is also home to Radio St Austell Bay, a local radio station which broadcasts from studios at Tregorrick Park, St Austell. Radio St Austell Bay launched in January 2008 to a potential audience of approximately 30,000 in the St Austell area from Trewoon in the west to Tywardreath in the east.

Most of the shops on the old high street near the centre occupy original buildings either in renovated or modified form.Notable Cornish architect Silvanus Trevail designed many of St Austell’s buildings and houses, including the Thin End and the Moorland Road terrace (originally known as Work House Lane, said work house having since been razed to the ground by arsonists).Of other notable architects from St Austell, John Goode contributed considerably during the 1970s to residential developments in the area.

Pevsner remarks in his guide to Cornwall that the following buildings are notable:

  • The Parish Church (see Church history above)
  • The Town Hall, in Italian Renaissance style, 1844
  • Friends Meeting House, 1829, a plain granite structure
  • White Hart Hotel: once contained panoramic wallpaper of the Bay of Naples by Dufour (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum)
  • Holy Well at Menacuddle.
  • Three buildings of the 1960s: Penrice School, 1960; Public Library, 1961; Magistrates’ Court, 1966.

The Masonic Hall in South Street had its cornerstones laid on 20 June 1900. It is an outstanding building, with the apex crowned with a pentagonal star and various Masonic symbols around the front, as well as the coat of arms of the United Grand Lodge of England.

St Austell railway station was opened by the Cornwall Railway on 4 May 1859 on the hillside above the town centre. Two branch lines west of the town were later opened to serve the china clay industry; the Newquay and Cornwall Junction Railway which is still partly open, and the short-lived Trenance Valley line. The independent narrow gauge Pentewan Railway ran from West Hill to the coast at Pentewan. The Cornish Main Line in St Austell is quite renowned for its viaduct which passes through the Gover Valley and Trenance areas of the town. the original timber structure was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it was 115 feet (35 m) high, 720 feet (220 m) long on 10 piers; it was replaced by a new stone viaduct in 1899. There was a siding located west of the viaduct. In the early years trains from St Austell had to push wagons over the tall, curving viaduct to shunt this siding. The Great Western Railway’s instructions stated that: “Trucks may be pushed from St Austell to the Siding, but when this is done the speed of the Train between the two places must not exceed 8 miles an hour, and the head Guard must ride on the leading vehicle, unless it be a bonnet end one, in which case he must ride in the first low sided vehicle from it, to keep a good look out, and be prepared to give a signal to the Driver either by Day or Night, as may be required”. Train services today operate west to Truro and Penzance, and east to Plymouth and London. There are also three services on most days to the North of England and Scotland.

The church was originally dedicated to St Austol, a Breton saint associated with St Meven, but is now dedicated to the Holy Trinity. By 1150 it had been appropriated to the Priory of Tywardreath by the Cardinhams: this continued until 1535. There was originally a Norman church here, of which some remains may be seen. The present church is of the 15th century and is large because the mediaeval parish was also a large one: the tower is impressive. All four outside walls bear sculptural groups in carved niches: the Twelve Apostles in three groups on the north, east and south; the Holy Trinity above the Annunciation and below that the Risen Christ between two saints on the west. The tower can be dated to between 1478 and 1487 by the arms of Bishop Courtenay, and the walls are faced in Pentewan stone.

On the south side of the church, a formerly separate chantry has been incorporated into the church when it was extended. (The chantry itself was abolished in 1543.) There are holy wells at Menacuddle and Towan. In the 19th century the following parishes were created out of St Austell parish: St Blazey (1845); Charlestown (1846), Treverbyn (1847), and Par (1846 out of St Blazey and Tywardreath).

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