Launceston, St Mary Magdalene


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.

Most parish and church description(s) on these pages are from Lake's Parochial History of the County of Cornwall by J Polsue (Truro, 1867 - 1873)



The Cornwall Family History Society have published Monumental Inscriptions for:

  • The Parish Church - 322 entries.
  • Dockacre Cemetery.


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.
Specific census information for this parish is available as follows:


Church History

  • Anglican. Originally there was a Priory at Launceston which, in its time, was the wealthiest in Cornwall.
    The parish church is located in OS Grid Square SX3384, and is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. On 12th July 1380, the mayor and burgesses of Launceston obtained a licence from Bishop Brantyngham to have services performed in a chapel dedicated to St Mary Magdalene 'in burgo ville Laneston'.
    The present church building was consecrated on 18th June 1524 by John Veysey, the then Bishop of Exeter. It comprises a chancel, nave and north and south aisles. The arcades each comprise eight arches, seven of which are four-centred; the one at the junction of the nave and chancel being elliptical and of much greater span than the others. The pillars are monolith and the material granite. The church is traversed at the west end by galleries and an organ loft. There are five entrances to the church: a south porch, a north door, a priest's door, a west door, and the door from the council chamber. The tower, which is supposed to have been built around 1380, is of three stages and is finished with battlements and pinnacles; it is detached from the church. The tower is 84 feet and 8 inches in height, and contains six bells and a clock. Photographs of Launceston Church are available on-line.
  • Roman Catholics. The mission in Launceston was established in 1886 at Kensey Villa by a convert Anglican clergyman, Fr. Charles Langdon. A year later, a temporary Church was erected adjacent to the original mission (the presbytery). The Byzantine style permanent Church, designed by Fr. Langdon's brother and dedicated to the English martyrs, was constructed and opened in 1911.
    Ten years later, the first pilgrimage in honour of St. Cuthbert Mayne was organised by the parish priest, Fr. Richard McElroy. He also set about providing a fitting shrine for the Launceston martyr in the chapel that Fr. Langdon had built, but not furnished. Of particular interest at the Shrine is the relic of the saint's skull and the "Inspeximus" issued by the Crown to Sir George Carey in 1581, giving details of the charge against Cuthbert Mayne. The latter provides evidence that the saint suffered martyrdom solely because of his religion.
    In September 1935, Bishop Barrett consecrated the Church, dedicating it to St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More and the Blessed English Martyrs. In 1970, Pope Paul VI canonized Blessed Cuthbert Mayne. The Church was renamed Saint Cuthbert Mayne in 1977.
  • Non-Conformist. There is a chapel belonging to the Wesleyan Methodists in Castle Street; the Bible Christians had on in Back Lane, and there was Calvinist chapel at St Thomas Hill.

Church Records

  • LDS Church Records.
  • The Cornwall Record Office holdings: Baptisms 1559 - 1949, Burials 1559 - 1852, Marriages 1559 - 1887, Boyd's Marriage Index 1559 - 1812, Pallot's Marriage Index 1800 - 1812, Non-Conformist records 1777 - 1837, Launceston Bible Christian registers 1841 - 1910.
  • The Cornwall Family History Society have published on-line transcripts of:
    • Pre 1813 Marriages
    • 1813-37 Marriages
    • 1813-37 Burials.
  • Baptisms.
    • Baptisms in this parish are available on-line through the OPC Search Facility - (C-PROP), as follows:
      • Parish church baptisms 1677 to 1911.
      • Launceston Bible Christian baptisms 1871 to 1911, and Launceston United Methodist Chapel baptisms 1868 to 1909.
      • Launceston Wesleyan Methodist Circuit Baptisms 1813 to 1911.
      • Launceston Congregational Church - Baptisms 1874 to 1912.
      • Launceston, St. Thomas United Methodist Free Church Baptisms 1868 to 1909.
    • The Parish Chest have published baptisms 1671 to 1842 for this parish on CD.
  • Marriages.
    • Marriages are available on-line through the OPC Search Facility - (C-PROP), as follows:
      • Phillimore marriages in this parish 1559 to 1812, and parish church marriage transcriptions 1813 to 1837.
      • Launceston Congregational Church - Marriages 1904 to 1908.
    • The Cornwall Family History Society have published transcripts of: Parish Marriages 1559 to 1837, which is available in CD or downloadable .pdf file formats.
    • Phillimore's Marriages at Launceston, St Mary Magdalene 1559 to 1812 are available on-line from UK Genealogy Archives.
  • Burials.
    • Burials are available on-line through the OPC Search Facility - (C-PROP), as follows:
      • Parish church burials 1677 to 1936.
      • Launceston Wesleyan Chapel burials 1823 to 1837 and 1858 to 1910.
      • St.Thomas Wesleyan Burial Ground 1842 to 1905.
      • Launceston Congregational Church - Burials 1874 to 1909.
      • Launceston Wesleyan Circuit Burials 1819 to 1880
    • The Cornwall Family History Society have published transcripts of: Parish Burials 1813 to 1837, which is available in Book and CD formats.

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.


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.


Description & Travel

You can see pictures of Launceston, St Mary Magdalene which are provided by:





  • OPC Assistance. The On-line Parish Clerk (OPC) scheme operates a service to help family historians; the OPC page for this parish is available on-line, from where the OPC can be contacted by email.
  • Mailing List. There is a mailing list for anyone with a genealogical and or historical interest in Bodmin Moor and its surrounding villages. Villages covered are: Advent (Tresinney), Alternun, Blisland, Bodmin, Boventor, Camelford (Lanteglos), Cardinham, Davidstow, Egloshayle, Helland, Laneast, Lanteglos by Camelford, Launceston, Lewannick, Liskeard, Michaelstow, North Hill, St Breward, St Breock, St Cleer, St Clether, St Mabyn, St Neot, St Tudy, Temple, Tresinney, Trewen, Wadebridge (Egloshayle & St Breock), and Warleggan. See the list  administration page
  • British-Genealogy have a mailing list for those wanting to discuss ancestry in Launceston, (including St Thomas-by-Launceston and St Stephen-by-Launceston).

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:


Land & Property

  • The parish and town tithe maps, and accompanying survey books of c1840, provide a fascinating snap-shot of land use and ownership in the 19th century. In order to preserve the documents and improve access to them, the Cornwall Record Office are digitising these maps and survey books. The CD ROM tithe package include a map and survey books, together with a reader, for this parish; it is now available from the Cornwall Record Office. Details are on their website.


You can see maps centred on OS grid reference SX333835 (Lat/Lon: 50.62699, -4.358486), Launceston, St Mary Magdalene which are provided by:



The following Newspapers covered this region:

  • Cornish Times. (December 1856-1859). This newspaper was published in Liskeard and Callington, with a free supplement of the Launceston News. The Cornish and Devon Post offices hold copies from May 1857, but will not allow filming. The newspapers are wrapped in brown paper parcels, which are rather dirty and crudely wrapped, but the newspapers themselves are in quite good condition.
  • East Cornwall Times. (1859-1877). This newspaper was a continuation of the Cornish Times, but is now published in Launceston. An incomplete set for three years out of the first eight was found in the Cornish and Devon Post offices; there may be more, but the bundles were large and dirty, and the missing years could not be found. The British Library Online Newspaper Archive (BLNL) holds the last 10 years, i.e. 1867-1877, and it would be desirable to get a microfilm of the first eight years, and of its predecessor the Cornish Times; it should be noted that, as with the early years of the Launceston Weekly News, only the first page held any local news - the remainder was a pre-printed sheet from London, containing only national and international news.
  • Cornish and Devon Post. (1877-to date). This is a continuation of the above, this can only be filmed to 1934 as the offices have refused permission to film more recent editions. The BLNL hold a set from 1877, which would require approximately one reel/year to film, i.e. approximately 57 reels, to 1934. The offices hold a complete set, including the BLNL's missing year (1895), but this set is in poor condition.

Acknowledgements are made to the British Library Board for permission to reproduce the gist of this text.



  • Apprenticeship Indentures for Launceston (1690 - 1795) can be found in the Cornwall Record Office.

Poor Houses, Poor Law

  • Launceston (St Mary Magdalene) parish was part of the Launceston Union for Poor Law administration and parish relief. The Launceston Workhouse was located at Page's Cross. It was a plain block of buildings intended for 212 inmates, and was erected in 1838.
  • Overseers' Accounts (1817 to 1825) and Settlement Papers (1708 to 1850) are available in the Cornwall Record Office.


  • 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


The parish comprises 1113 acres of land.