There’s nowhere else quite like Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
With around 14,000 sites, buildings and monuments protected on the National Heritage List for England, Cornwall offers an enormous amount of stories to discover.
Here are just a few historic highlights:
1. Attractive architecture
One of the most spectacular buildings in Cornwall is the Egyptian House in Penzance, built between 1834 and 1837 for John Lavin, a mineral and fossil collector and dealer.
The Egyptian style was at the height of fashion during the Regency period. The Penzance building is likely based on the now lost Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London, which opened in 1812 to display the private museum of the collector William Bullock.
Cornwall has the highest concentration of Methodist and Nonconformist chapels in Britain. One of the most outstanding examples of its type is a Quaker meeting house built in 1710 at Come-to-Good, Kea.
The Friends Meeting House was built using funds raised from Quaker subscribers. The land was owned by the Quaker James Mayo and was later leased to Vyvian, whose name is scratched on a window pane at a nearby farmhouse.
Read our brief introduction to Quaker meeting houses
In the 1920s, sea bathing became considered a leisure activity rather than just something to benefit your health. This shift in attitude led to the building of lidos all around the country.
The Jubilee Pool in Penzance is a triangular seaside lido jutting out into the sea. It’s not quite an infinity pool, but the design was considered particularly striking in 1935. The concrete has been moulded to create a series of Art Deco curves.
Along with the Saltdean Lido in Brighton, it’s one of the finest surviving examples of its type.
Read our brief introduction to lidos
Read our guide to Art Deco architecture
2. Mining memories
Much of the Cornish landscape was transformed in the 18th and early 19th centuries as a result of the rapid growth of copper and tin mining.
The development of mining in Cornwall had a profound impact on industrialisation across England and around the world.
Today, mining landscapes across Cornwall are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, placing Cornish mining heritage on a par with international treasures like the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.
Geevor Mine is the largest and most complete surviving tin mine in Britain and Europe, remaining much as it was when it closed in 1991.
The site includes a large number of 18th to 20th-century structures ranging from small stone buildings through to large industrial complexes and specialised machines.
By the mid-19th century, Cornwall was the world’s most important mining area. Hayle was identified as the ideal location for an explosives factory to supply the industry, and the site is a rare surviving example of a state-of-the-art factory structure.
Opened in 1889, the National Explosives Factory near Hayle was designed and built by Oscar Guttmann, a Hungarian engineer. Later the factory became a supplier to the Royal Navy during the First World War and was also a major employer of local women.
3. Ancient agriculture
Fascinating agricultural history can be found all over Cornwall. This tower mill is located on the Lizard peninsula and is recorded on a map as early as 1695.
Tower mills were introduced during the medieval period for grinding grain. They were common in areas where there wasn’t enough water power to run watermills.
There were about 10,000 tower mills in England at the peak of their construction in the mid-18th century, but today less than 400 are known to survive.
The tower mill west of Windmill farm was re-used as a Home Guard observation post during the Second World War as part of the defences of Predannack Airfield. It is also famous as the den, in the 18th century, of the locally notorious ‘Windmill Gang’ of highwaymen!
Brewing is an ancient occupation which became an organised industry in the Middle Ages. Until the appearance of large industrial brewers in the 18th century, the majority of brewing was done in brewhouses attached to inns and pubs.
The Blue Anchor in Helston started life as a 15th-century rest house run by monks who also brewed mead on the site. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it became a tavern and a brewery, today selling its own ales which it has been brewing on-site for hundreds of years.
One of only four remaining brewing pubs in the UK, The Blue Anchor has played a central role in the social lives of Helston locals for centuries. Around 100 years ago, local tin miners even began receiving their wages at the bar.
Listen to our podcast about the history of industry, trade & commerce in England
The Isles of Scilly contain a remarkable abundance of archaeological remains from over 4000 years of human activity.
This crushing mill in Tresco on St. Mary’s is an early example of the simple animal mill and is unusual in being carved directly from the bedrock.
Local tradition suggests it was used as an apple crusher for making cider. What could be more West Country?
4. Castles, castles, castles
No list of Cornish heritage would be complete without its amazing castles.
Associated with the legend of King Arthur, the medieval Tintagel Castle was built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall between 1227 and 1233, facing the full force of the Atlantic.
Richard spent considerable resources building a castle with no real strategic or military value. As a result, many believe this was a symbolic location – Tintagel has long been believed to be the seat of previous legendary rulers of Cornwall.
Read our research into the legend of Tintagel
Launceston Castle was built on an existing rock outcrop in the late 11th century. It was made for Robert, Count of Mortain (a half-brother of William the Conqueror) who later became Earl of Cornwall.
The castle became the administrative centre for the control of Cornwall from just after the Norman Conquest until 1272. For much of the Medieval period, the High Tower was used as a prison.
There’s also Pendennis Castle and St. Mawes Castle near Falmouth, plus Restormel Castle overlooking the River Fowey, to name just a few more!
What have we missed? Let us know your favourite historic Cornish places in the comments below.
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