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Launceston, St Mary Magdalene

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Launceston, (Cornish: Lannstefan), otherwise St Mary Magdalene - including the ancient borough of Launceston, alias Dunheved (the Saxon name for the town), is situated in the Deanery of Trigg Major and the Hundred of East; its Cornish prounciation does not include the 't' sound - and is usually pronounced as 'Lanson' or 'Launson'. It is bounded on the north by St Thomas and St Stephens, on the east by Lawhitton, on the south by South Petherwin, and on the west by South Petherwin and St Thomas. Originally the town was known as 'Lann-Stephen', the church site of St Stephen.

Launceston is the ancient Capital of Cornwall and holder of several Royal Charters. The town provided the only crossing points of the River Tamar for many centuries as revealed by several impressive arch bridges, all of which date back to the 15th century or earlier. These were financed from 40 day indulgences granted by the Abbot of Tavistock Abbey.

Launceston lies right on the Cornwall-Devon border, in the far south-west of England. To the west lies Bodmin Moor, to the north the rugged Atlantic Coast, with its great beaches. To the east Dartmoor, and the tranquil River Tamar, which runs all the way to the English Channel on the South Coast. This ancient town guarded the gateway to Cornwall in medieval times, being on the main northern route into the county. The South Gate of Robert of Mortain's eleventh century Norman castle still survives, restricting the modern vehicular traffic to one lane. In the centre of the town the imposing church of St Mary Magdalene has many interesting carvings on its granite exterior. The priest Cuthbert Mayne was hung, drawn and quartered at Launceston in 1574 for his allegiance to the Catholic faith. He was canonized in 1972.

The Borough sent two members to Parliament from 1294; it was incorporated in 1555, the corporation consisting of a Mayor, eight Aldermen and a Recorder. Under the Reform Act of 1832, the borough lost one of its MPs.
A residential place in this town is St Thomas Street. St. Thomas the Apostle parish was split between the borough of Launceston and a rural part. For some reason this rural area has always been known as St. Thomas Hamlet or St. Thomas Street (or both); it is a part of St Thomas-by-Launceston parish. This became an enumeration district in the 1841 census, and from which its inhabitants recorded their origins.


The Cornwall Family History Society have published Monumental Inscriptions for:

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Census information for this parish (1841 - 1901) is held in the Cornwall Record Office. The Cornwall Family History Society offers a census search service for its members. The Cornwall Family History Society have also published on-line census detail by surname on the FamilyHistoryonLine site.

Specific census information for this parish is available as follows:

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Church History

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Church Records

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Civil Registration

Both the town of Launceston and the parish of Launceston St Mary Magdalene, are in the Launceston Registration District, and have been since 1st July 1837. There were sub-districts at Altarnun, Launceston, North Hill, North Petherwin and St Stephen-by-Launceston, but these are now all closed. Parishes within the district were: Altarnun, Boyton, Egloskerry, Laneast, Launceston, Lawhitton, Lewannick, Lezant, Northill, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Stephens by Launceston, St. Thomas the Apostle, St. Thomas Street, South Petherwin, Stokeclimsland, Tremaine, Treneglos, Tresmeer, Trewen, Warbstow.

The Superintendant Registrar can be contacted at: Hendra, Dunheved Road, Launceston, PL15 9JG. Tel: 01566 772464.

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Correctional Institutions

Launceston Castle was at times used as a prison. The celebrated Quaker, George Fox, was confined here for eight months in 1656 for distributing an earnest religious paper. The rooms over the south-gate were later fitted up as the town prison.

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Description & Travel

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Historical Geography

The Domesday Settlements of Cornwall, a study undertaken by the Cornwall Branch of the Historical Association, has identified and located settlements listed in the Exeter and Exchequer Domesday Survey of AD 1086. The following places have been identified in St Mary Magdalene, Launceston, ecclesiastical parish:

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Land & Property

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The following Newspapers covered this region: Acknowledgements are made to the British Library Board for permission to reproduce the gist of this text.

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Poorhouses, Poor Law, etc.

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  • Population in 1801 - 1483 persons
  • Population in 1811 - 1758 persons
  • Population in 1821 - 2183 persons
  • Population in 1831 - 2231 persons
  • Population in 1841 - 2460 persons
  • Population in 1851 - 3397 persons
  • Population in 1861 - 2790 persons
  • Population in 1871 - 2935 persons
  • Population in 1881 - 3217 persons
  • Population in 1891 - 3808 persons
  • Population in 1901 - 4053 persons
  • Population in 1911 - 4117 persons
  • Population in 1921 - 3979 persons
  • Population in 1931 - 4071 persons
  • Population in 1951 - 4467 persons
  • Population in 1961 - 4524 persons
  • Population in 1971 - 4741 persons
  • Population in 1981 - 6105 persons
  • Population in 1991 - 6510 persons
  • Population in 2001 - 7135 persons
  • Population in 2011 - 8952 persons

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The parish comprises 1113 acres of land.

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