Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for LAUNCESTON

LAUNCESTON, a town, a parish, a sub-district, and a district in Cornwall. The town stands on the river Kensey, at the terminus of the Launceston and South Devon railway, near the end of a short branch of the Bude canal, 2 miles W of the river Tamar and the boundary with Devon, 13 miles by road NW of Tavistock and 20 NE of Bodmin. It was anciently called Dunheved or Dunneheved, signifying "the swelling hill;" and it got its present name by corruption either of Lanstephadon, signifying "ST. Stephen's church, " or more probably of Lancesterton, signifying " Church-castletown. '' It possibly was the site of a Roman station; it was the scene of many severe contests between the ancient Britons and the Saxons; it figures in Domesday book as a town before the Norman conquest; it has extensive remains of a castle which is believed to date from the old Cornish times; and it was the scene, in 1643-5, of important actions in the civil wars of Charles I. The castle occupies a scarped and terraced trap rock knoll, rising about 100 feet above the river Kensey; is defended, on two sides, by a deep natural valley; comand 32 feet high, -a concentric surrounding wall, at the distance of about 10 feet, standing like a coronal on the cap of the knoll, -a gate tower, at the base, reached by stairs going down the steep, -a considerable space there, which seems to have been originally occupied by basement works, and where the county courts were not long ago held, -and traces of walls outside that space, which appear to have encircled the whole castle. The pristine masonry has all disappeared; the oldest extant portions do not present any feature which can be called even early Norman; one gate is possibly of the early decorated period; and the stairs leading down from the summit to the gate tower are entirely modern. Yet most of the existing structures are believed to have been preceded by more ancient ones on the same sites; they also, as a whole, present a venerable, ivy clad appearance; and they have been repaired, at much cost, by the Dukes of Northumberland, to arrest the progress of decay. The encircling walls are remarkable, and have been compared to those of Ecbatana and other ancient oriental towns. The precinct has been laid out, in a tasteful manner, as a public pleasure ground. The castle was a chief residence of the native Earls of Cornwall; it was given, by William the Conqueror, to the Earl of Mortaigne; it reverted from that earl to the Crown; it ed into a ruinous condition so early as the time of Edward III., and was then annexed to the duchy of Cornwall; it. underwent repair in 1645, was then garrisoned for Charles I., and was captured in the following year by Fairfax; it was given, at the Restoration, to Sir Hugh Pyper, as lessee; and it remained with that knight's representatives till 1754, and then passed in lease to the Dukes of Northumberland. Roman coins have been found; and some leather coins were found in 1540. The Prince of Wales takes from Launceston the title of Viscount. The town occupies declivitous and uneven ground, contiguous to the castle. It was formerly walled; and it retains some vestiges of its walls. Only one gate way, on the SE, at the entrance from Devon, is standing; and this is of decorated English date. Launceston was one of the decayed towns, for the rebuilding of which an act of parliament was passed in the time of Henry VIII.; and it was recorded by Norden to have been "much repaired of late years, " and to have "increased in wealth." It now consists of two principal streets, with several smaller ones, in general narrow, but well built; and it is connected by a bridge over the Kensey, with the town and disfranchised borough of Newport, in the parish of St. Stephen. The old guildhall has been demolished; and the mayoralty rooms and two large markets have been built in its place. A college of secular canons stood, before the conquest, about ½ a mile from the town; was given, by Henry I., to the Bishop of Exeter; and was suppressed, by Bishop Warlewast, before 1126. An Augustinian priory was founded by that bishop, in the W suburb under the castle hill, and endowed with the best part of the college lands; and several fragments of the priory are included in houses now occupying its siteA Norman arch also, with eight jamb shafts and chevron mouldings, was removed from the priory ruins, and now forms the entrance of the White Hart inn. The parish church was built in 1524, by Sir Henry Trecarrel; was recently restored; is in the early Tudor style; consists entirely of square granite blocks, all richly filled with sculptured representations of shields, armorial bearings, flowers, and other emblems; and contains a curious polygonal wooden pulpit, and monuments of the Pypers. The tower is of earlier date, and of different material; and it stands apart from the church, but is connected with it by a large vestry. The church of St. Stephen, in the adjacent parish, is a fine granite edifice, with a nave partly early English, and with a later English tower. There are chapels for Independents, Wesleyans, United Free Methodists, and Bible Christians. There are also a mechanics' institute, national schools, St. Leonard's hospital, a workhouse, and charities £105. The hospital was originally founded for lepers, before the time of Richard II.: and has an endowed income of £2o. The workhouse serves for Launceston district; and, at the census of 1861, had 72 inmates. The town has a head post office, ‡ a railway station, four banking offices, and two chief inns; and is a seat of petty sessions and county courts, and a polling place. A weekly market is held on Saturday; and fairs are held on 26 January, the first Thursday of March, 25 March, the third Thursdays of April, Whit-Monday, 6 July, and 17 November. The town was chartered by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of Henry III.; received numerous subsequent charters from the Crown; is governed, under the new act, by a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 12 councillors; sent two members to parliament from the time of Edward I. till the reform act; and now sends one. The municipal boundaries include all Launceston parish, and parts of the parishes of St. Thomas, Lawhitton, and South Petherwin. Corporation income in 1855, £293. Pop. in 1851, 3, 397; in 1861, 2, 790. Houses, 542. The parliamentary limits include also additional parts of St. Thomas, Lawhitton, and South Petherwin parishes, and the entire parish of St. Stephen, with its disfranchised borough of Newport. Area 223/10 square miles. Amount of property and income tax in 1863, £1, 578. Electors in 1863, 431. Pop. in 1851, 6, 005; in 1861, 5, 140. Houses, 1, 020. The parish bears the name of Launceston-St. Mary Magdalene. Acres, 2, 180. Real property, £9, 231. Pop. in 1851, 2, 589; in 1861, 2, 069. Houses, 374. The decrease of pop. arose partly from the stoppage of mining operations, partly from other causes. The living is a p. curacy in the diocese of Exeter. Value, £116. Patron, H. H. Campbell, Esq.—The sub-district contains also Lawhitton parish and the St. Thomas-street portion of St. Thomas parish. Pop., 3, 125. Houses, 614.—The district comprehends also the sub-district of Northill, containing the parishes of Northill, South Petherwin, Lezant, and Stoke-Climsland; the subdistrict of Alternon, containing the parishes of Alternon, Laneast, Trewen, and Lewannick; the sub-district of North Petherwin, containing the parishes of Treneglos, Warbstow, Tresmeer, Egloskerry, Tremaine, and North Petherwin, -the last electorally in Devon; and the subdistrict of St. Stephen, containing the parishes of St. Stephen, Boyton, Virginstow, Broadwoodwidger, St. Giles-on-the-Heath, Werrington, and part of St. Thomas, - all, excepting St. Stephen, part of Boyton, and the part of St. Thomas, electorally in Devon. Acres, 101, 777. Poor rates in 1863, £7, 091. Pop. in 1851, 18, 305; in 1861, 17, 005. Houses, 3, 378. Marriages in 1863, 132; births, 563, -of which 39 were illegitimate; deaths, 312, - of which 126 were at ages under 5 years, and 12 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 1, 309; births, 5, 642; deaths, 3, 326. The places of worship, in 1851, were 21 of the Church of England, with 5, 670 sittings; 5 of Independents, with 1, 317 s.; 3 of Baptists, with 215 s.; 23 of Wesleyans, with 3, 555 s.; 22 of Bible Christians, with 1,877 s.; 8 of the Wesleyan Association, with 1, 082 s.; 1 of Brethren, with 200 s.; and 2 undefined, with 90 s. The schools were 20 public day schools, with 1, 302 scholars; 37 private day schools, with 696 s.; 54 Sunday schools, with 2, 794 s.; and 1 evening school for adults, with 15 s.


(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a town, a parish, a sub-district, and a district"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Launceston CP       Launceston SubD       Launceston PLU/RegD       Cornwall AncC
Place names: DUNHEVED     |     DUNNEHEVED     |     LAUNCESTON
Place: Launceston

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