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1868 - The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland

"LAUNCESTON, (or Launston), a parish, market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, in the N. division of the hundred of East, county Cornwall, 13 miles from Tavistock, 20 N.E. of Bodmin, and 213 S.W. by W. of London. It is situated on the high road to Truro and Falmouth, at the head of the Bude canal, close to the rivers Kensey and Tamar, over which latter is an iron bridge. It was anciently called Dunneheved, or the "Swelling Hill," and is mentioned in Domesday Book as a town before the Norman Conquest. On a hill, partly formed by nature and partly artificial, are the ruins of a castle, rebuilt by William Earl of Mortaigne, which became the seat of the dukes of Cornwall, and was alternately occupied by the royalists and parliamentarians in the civil war of Charles I. The principal portion now remaining, and recently occupied as the county gaol, is the round keep, 18 feet in diameter, and 32 high, crowning the summit of the bill, and enclosed by three or four walls about 6 feet apart and 12 thick, overgrown with ivy and evergreens. The castle grounds have been laid out at the expense of the dukes of Northumberland, constables of the castle under the Prince of Wales, to whom the manor belongs, and on whom it confers the title of viscount. The town, which was anciently surrounded by a wall with three gateways, was first chartered by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother to Henry III. It sent two members to parliament from the reign of Edward I., and was incorporated by Queen Mary in 1555, with the style of "mayor and commonalty of the borough of Dunneheved, otherwise Launceston." At the passing of the Reform Act the ancient boundaries of the parliamentary borough were extended, so as to include the disfranchised borough of Newport, with the adjoining parishes of St. Thomas, South Petherwin, Lawhiton, and St. Stephen's, which last includes Newport. The consolidated borough of Launceston-with-Newport now returns one member to the imperial parliament, elected by the freeholders and £10 householders, but the Duke of Northumberland has some influence. The limits of the parliamentary borough are considerably more extensive than the municipal, the former comprising an area of 13,463 acres, with a population, in 1861, of 5,140, while the municipal comprises only 1,635 acres, with a population of 2,790. The municipal borough is governed by a mayor, who is returning officer, four aldermen, and twelve councillors, town clerk, &c., and has a revenue of about £574. The town, in 1861, consisted of 542 inhabited houses principally built in one long street, with the hamlet of St. Thomas Street at one end. It contains the mayoralty rooms, recently built at the expense of the Duke of Northumberland, in place of the old guildhall, which has been demolished to the great improvement of the town, public assembly rooms, a mechanics' institute, four banks, a savings-bank, union poorhouse, and town gaol, which last is known as Southgate, and is the only one of the three gate towers by which the town was formerly entered now standing. Two large markets have been lately built, one for meat and provisions, the other for corn and light goods, the latter occupying the site of the old guildhall. No particular trade or manufacture is carried on, but the town presents a respectable and business-like appearance, much business being done in agricultural produce and general trade for supply of the surrounding district. The want of the facility of railway communication has recently much diminished the importance of the town, and the population, in the decennial period 18511861, declined by 607, being above one-fifth of the whole. It is an assize and petty sessions town and a polling-place for the county elections. Launceston gives name to a Poor-law Union embracing nineteen parishes in Cornwall and two in Devonshire; it is also the seat of a new County Court and superintendent registry districts, comprising the same. The living is a perpetual curacy in the diocese of Exeter, value £116. The church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, whose recumbent figure occupies a niche in the outer wall at the E. end, is a structure of the middle of the sixteenth century, built of square blocks of granite, each block being carved with figures, and having at the W. end a tower built of different materials, and apparently of earlier date. A gratulatory dedication in Latin runs round the outside, each letter of the inscription, surrounded by an heraldic shield, being carved on a separate stone. The church has a timber ceiling, and is otherwise rich in ornamental carved work; it contains several interesting monuments of the Piper and Wise families. The church of St. Thomas the Apostle, in the adjoining parish, occupies the site, and is partly built of the materials, of the ancient priory of St. Austin, which is said to have had communication by a subterranean passage with the castle of Launceston. In this church are a very ancient font and remains of some ancient fresco paintings. The Wesleyans, Reformed Wesleyans, Independents, and Bible Christians have places of worship. The parochial charities produce about £105 per annum, including £26, the endowment of Queen Elizabeth's free grammar school, now not used, and £20 belonging to St. Leonard's Hospital, originally founded for lepers before the reign of Richard II. There are National and Sunday schools. In the vicinity of this ancient town are many interesting antiquities, including the Norman gateway of the old priory, which now forms the entrance to the White Hart hotel, situated in Broad Street; the ruins of the castle above mentioned; and Roman or British entrenchments, where Roman coins and some coins of leather have been found. Saturday is market day. Fairs are held on the 26th January, first Thursday in March, 25th March, third Thursday in April, Whit-Monday 6th July, and 17th November.