Car Free Day Out TC01
This is a fascinating heritage trail that winds its way around St Austell providing an insight into the town’s history and architecture. The circular trail,which starts and finishes at The Holy Trinity Church in the centre of the town. The walk is approximately 1.5 miles long and takes about an hour to complete.
1. St. Austell Church / Mengu Stone / Queen’s Head / Market House
Our walk starts at Holy Trinity Church – St. Austell’s oldest building, dating from the 15th Century. However, records show that there has been a church here since 1169. Built from Pentewan Elvan stone, the church has an impressive tower with sculptures of the twelve apostles on three sides and another magnificent group in three tiers on the western front. Two on the
bottom row are thought to represent St. Mewan and St. Austell – a 6th Century Welsh missionary saint and legendary founder of the town. The original clock face beneath these has a 24hour dial instead of the usual 12 and peering down from above, an array of grotesque gargoyles. Above the church entrance is a carving of a pelican piercing her breast to feed her young with blood – symbolic of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross
In the church one of the stained glass windows is dedicated to Bishop Colenso of Natal, who was born in St. Austell. He was the greatest Biblical scholar of 19th Century Britain, though he was eventually excommunicated for what were considered heretical views.
See if you can find the Mengu Stone. It was originally located across the road from the churchyard and marked the boundaries of three local manors which converged at this point. It has almost mythical status in local folklore, having been an important landmark in the town’s early history –
here people gathered for the reading of proclamations, impounding of cattle and even, the burning of witches! Now it lies insignificantly on the ground, with only a small plaque to remind us of its previous importance. In medieval times there were also stocks outside the church door, where lawbreakers were confined and subjected to public abuse.
Opposite the entrance to the churchyard is the Queen’s Head, dating from the 17th Century and the oldest alehouse in town. It is allegedly haunted by a young chambermaid called Betsy, who hanged herself there after becoming pregnant with the landlord’s child.
Here also on 17th September 1870 St. Austell AFC was formed.
Exit the churchyard through the main entrance and go straight to the Market House across the road.
The Market House is another of St. Austell’s impressive buildings, built from locally quarried granite in an Italian Renaissance style. The upper floor, originally designed as the Town Hall, has had a variety of uses – Picture House, Fire Station and Court, while the market continued on the ground floor. Both William Gladstone and
Winston Churchill addressed St. Austell residents from the landing. As you walk through the main entrance note the large granite pillars supporting a vaulted ceiling and beyond these, stone staircases on each side lead you up to the galleried first floor. Here you get a closer view of the immense, single-span, timber roof structure – the largest of its time in Northern Europe. Below on the wall of the market floor is a reproduction of the lists of tariffs and tolls.
Exit the Market House turning right into pedestrianised Fore Street and then right into the narrow entrance of North Street.
2. North Street / Manor House / Coaching House
As you enter North Street you will see facing you the lovely Manor House of Tewington (1700), home of one of the most important landowners of the Parish in the Middle Ages. Follow the road up the hill, bearing left past the Grade Two listed Elm Terrace. High boundary walls of mixed rubble snake up the hill punctuated with elaborate gateways – many flanked by granite posts with ornate capstones. The greenery above them gives a sense of enclosure, forming an urban equivalent of the rural Cornish Hedge. Behind these walls are large villas with mature gardens, which are part of St. Austell’s distinctive ‘green belt’ – evidence of 19th Century suburban expansion in the wake of wealth from the Clay and Mining industries. Many boast
flashes of architectural flamboyance, notably North Hill House, with its distinctive glass turret. Look out too for the ornate cast-iron lanterns on its gateposts, remnants of a past era when most lighting was powered by gas. Just before the railway bridge there is a gatepost on the left marked Bojea. This leads into what was once the Workhouse, built in 1838 to house up to 300 of the most destitute people in the town. It became a hospital for geriatric patients in 1948 but was sadly demolished in 1969 to make way for the Priory Car Park! The Town Trail continues over the railway bridge and eventually turns right into Menacuddle Lane. At the end of this road follow the footpath fronted by metal railings.
3. St. Austell Brewery / Poltair Park
The footpath brings you out onto Trevarthian Road – turn left here and carry on up the hill. St. Austell Brewery is on your left. This was originally the Walter Hicks’ Brewery, founded in the town in 1851 and moved to these premises in 1893. It is still run by descendants of the Hicks’ family and the distinctive aroma of brewing hops continues to fill the air as it has done for over 150 years. Beyond the Brewery are the granite buildings of the old St. Austell Grammar School built in 1906 (now Poltair School), which local historian/author A.L. Rowse attended. Cross the road just past the brewery and follow the path down the side of St. Austell Rifle & Pistol Club. You will pass the grounds of St. Austell Football Club on your left. Known as the Lilywhites the club moved to this ground at the turn of the 20th century. In 1949 15,000 people came here to watch St. Austell beat Penzance in the final of The
Senior Cup. The path brings you to Poltair Park, a welcome green and tree-filled space with a wonderful array of facilities including play areas, skate park and bowling green. As you emerge from the park you will see in
front of you St. Austell Library – an iconic 1960’s listed building designed by F.K. Hicklin and winner of the RIBA Bronze Award in 1961. A revolutionary design, it was eco-friendly ahead of its time, making the best use of the sun to provide both light and warmth. Beyond this building to the left is the Polkyth Leisure Centre, with a good pool and
sports facilities. Turn right onto Carlyon Road and carry on past the Police Station on the corner of Palace Road. On the mini-roundabout there is a tiny church with a Coronation Stone for Edward V11 set into its wall. Continue over the Railway Bridge, which provides a good view of the north side of St. Austell with the clay district beyond and walk down towards the Bus & Train station.
4. Railway Station and Trevarthian Road
Can you spot the old Boundary Marker for the Great Western Railway? It is made from cast metal and dated 1911. The railway station is worth a visit – opened on 4th May 1859 it still has the original Victorian Footbridge dating from 1882. Standing on this bridge it is easy to imagine what it must have been like to be enveloped in clouds of steam and smoke as the old trains hurtled underneath. A pavement to the left of the bus/car park leads to a large viewing area, where the height affords a panoramic view of St. Austell and the green fields beyond. Below is the Quakers Meeting House (1829), built from warm honey-coloured granite and on the horizon you can see Taylor’s Engine House (1823), part of Polgooth Mine – one of the most commercially productive tin mines in Cornwall. Continue westwards along the pathway through the Bus & Train Station. Notice the old Signal Box on the opposite side of the tracks. This once had 43 levers but closed in 1980 when signalling was moved to Par. There are plans to convert the signal box to an exhibition room for the local Model Railway Club. Turn left down Trevarthian Rd. following the Clay Trail sign.
Trevarthian Road has some fascinating buildings including the Bible Christian Zion Church (1891) and its old Sunday School. These are on opposite sides of the junction with Tregarne Terrace – a marvellous row of stone villas designed by the Luxulyan-born architect, Silvanus Trevail. Note the beautiful stained glass doorways, no doubt influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement of the time.
Further down on the right is the impressive granite structure of Tregonissey House (1869). This was the original Steam Brewery for Walter Hicks – water was brought in via underground conduits and stored in a huge cistern beneath the building. On the other side of the road at the top of Cross Lane is a bow-windowed building that was once The Temperance Hotel – an ironic location considering the brewery across the road! Turn left down the narrow Cross Lane and left again up High Cross St. You pass the Post Office; a fine building dating from the 1930’s and then come to The Station Pub (1908) on your right. This was the former Head Office of the main China Clay Company and features some interesting architectural detail.
5. Cemetery Park / Quakers’ Meeting House / Bullring / Red Bank
Continue up High Cross St. and you will notice a lovely old stone archway on your right, opposite the Quakers’ Meeting House. This leads you into an old cemetery which has recently been transformed into a tranquil park. In the centre the large sundial (2009) commemorates those whose gravestones now line the boundary walls. Exit the park to the right, past a group of newly-planted trees and turn right down the hill before turning left up Beech Lane. This will bring you out onto East Hill, where you turn right again and follow the road down the hill. On your right you will see the Territorial Drill Hall built in 1911 and now home to the St. Austell Band Club. Just a little
further on you turn right into a pedestrian & cycle route, leading you away from the busy road onto the old part of East Hill. Note the distinctive Metal Milestone on the right – this is one of a thousand milestones erected round the country by SUSTRANS to mark the National Cycle Network. The bottom of East Hill leads onto an area called the Bullring, possibly because it was used for the bloody sport of bull- baiting. Thankfully this practice was finally stopped by the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835. It is said that “a Lady of the neighbourhood had her stand for viewing the sport from the churchyard wall.” (A.L. Rowse 1960). China clay was originally carried by horse-drawn wagons through St.
Austell to Charlestown Harbour and the Bullring was where these wagons collected prior to negotiating the very steep East Hill. Three extra horses were coupled to each wagon here to help manage the hill and a water trough stood at the top for the thirsty horses. There were often as many as eight or ten wagons at a time, no doubt creating 19th Century traffic congestion.
The Red Bank facing the Bullring ranks as one of St. Austell’s most impressive buildings, both in design and colour. It was built in 1898 and designed by Silvanus Trevail. The red bricks, made at Ruabon Quarry in North Wales, feature in many of Trevail’s buildings.
6. Warehouse / Masonic Lodge / East Hill
Turn left into South St. leading you back onto the main road. Across the road is a small car park, once the site for the old Pig Market. Turn right down the hill. An old stone warehouse on the opposite side of the road still possesses an iron hoist, originally used for lifting heavy sacks and goods. Just after this building is the Masonic Lodge, built in 1900 and decorated with symbols and signs typical of the Free Masons. Note the pentagonal star on the top of the gable and look out for the inverted Compass & Dividers. Opposite the Lodge turn right into Duke Street and bear right past The Stag Inn until you reach Church St.
7. Churchyard / Stone Inscription / Celtic Cross / Market House
Straight opposite on the Churchyard wall, look closely for a stone inscribed – ‘Here lyeth the body of Mary Harris who died 7th of June 1734 aged one and twenty.’ Parish records tell us that Mary Harris was a 21-year old girl who died of drowning. What was so significant about this girl’s death that it warranted a stone tablet set into the Churchyard wall? Did she perhaps drown by ducking, an ancient practice used for the murder of witches? Nearby Duke St. is a shortening of ‘Ducking St.’, named after the ducking posts found here and used for such purpose. Perhaps this is why she is buried outside the consecrated grounds of the church and the tablet is a dire warning to others of the fate awaiting witches!
Looking back across the road we see Provincial House, the rendered façade decorated with raised and painted swags and scrolls, popular in the Victorian era. Beyond that is a splendid granite building, The White Hart Hotel. This was the town house of Charles Rashleigh (1747-1825) who created Charlestown Harbour for the export of locally mined minerals and clay. The dining room was once decorated with a panoramic wallpaper featuring the ‘Bay of Naples’, by the French designer, Joseph Dufour. The choice was perhaps inspired by the ‘Grand Tour’, popular with 18th & 19th century aristocrats. The wallpaper was removed in 1935 and is now in the V & A Museum.
Follow the road past The White Hart and return into the churchyard via its side entrance.
Here you will find an ancient Celtic cross believed to be one of the oldest in the St. Austell area. There were many ancient customs in the Parish and one involved the sexton wearing a cocked hat to Church on Easter Sunday. He would announce from the churchyard that the hat would be wrestled for in the nearby hamlet of London Apprentice on Easter Monday. One can only imagine that the prize of the hat was secondary to the kudos bestowed on the victor. Cornish Wrestling is an ancient tradition mentioned in legend as far back as 1,000BC. The first written evidence is in a 1590 poem celebrating the Battle of Agincourt. Cornish men who accompanied King Henry V into battle had a standard that depicted two wrestlers.