Town Square, Launceston
Launceston shown within Cornwall
|Population||7,135 (2001 census)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Police||Devon and Cornwall|
|EU Parliament||South West England|
|UK Parliament||North Cornwall|
|List of places: UK • England • Cornwall|
Launceston (occasionally Lanson) (Cornish: Lannstefan; the English name is pronounced /ˈlæns(t)ən/ (traditional), /ˈlɔːns(t)ən/ (common) or /ˈlɑːns(t)ən/ (less-common), usually without the 't' by the Cornish, but with by non-Cornish people) is a town, an ancient borough, and a civil parish in the north of Cornwall, United Kingdom. The spelling form 'Lanson', phonetically based on the traditional pronunciation, is almost obsolete (some old milestones and signposts have it).
Launceston is situated about two miles from the border with Devon at the River Tamar, and is known as the "gateway to Cornwall". Its motto is "Royale et Loyale" from its adherence to the Royalist cause in the Civil War of the 17th century.
The Saxon name for the town was Dunheved. The full title of the modern civil parish is Launceston, St Mary Magdalene and it includes the town itself. The population of the civil parish in the 2001 census was 7,135.
The town is built on the side of a large hill, which makes it almost immune to flooding, unlike the nearby suburb of Newport, situated at the bottom of the hill, which is susceptible to flooding by the River Kensey. Launceston is on the A30 trunk road from Exeter to Bodmin and the west of Cornwall and is a market town and shopping centre for the adjoining rural areas of north-west Devon and north Cornwall.
The Cornish & Devon Post is the newspaper for the district and its offices are in the town. Several different editions of the paper and other publications are produced. It was founded in 1856 and incorporates the Launceston Weekly News.
The outskirts of Launceston have recently undergone rapid large business development, although the town centre has slowly become less and less commercial, with only small shops and many of those going out of business within only a few months. On the edges of the town are two industrial estates at Pennygillam and Scarne. The employment of immigrants from mainly Eastern European countries has allowed the town to sustain some of its primary industries, which the town might not otherwise have been able to support due to the low number of potential employees in the existing population.
The town has ten pubs including The White Hart. There is also a club called Rumours (formerly called Oasis) on the Pennygillam Industrial Estate. It opens on Friday and Saturday nights and is known locally as The Shed. Launceston has a large number of restaurants, cafes and take aways.
The poet Charles Causley was a native and long-standing resident of the town. He was at one time contender for Poet Laureate and died in 2003, aged 86. Launceston is one of the most important towns in Daphne du Maurier's novel Jamaica Inn.
Launceston annually hosted the "Castle Rock" music festival in July, which took place on the lower grounds of the castle which overlooks the town (within the outer walls). As well as a vibrant mix of local bands, the 2006 festival was headlined by Capdown which massively improved the event's profile.
There are five schools within the town of Launceston. Launceston College caters for students aged 11 to 19, whilst the three primary schools in the town (St Catherine's Church of England Primary, St Stephen's Community Primary School and Launceston Community Primary School*) cater for pupils aged 4 to 11. There is also an independent School, 'St. Joseph's', which takes boys from 5-11 and girls from 5-16. They are however, planning to take integrate boys into the secondary school in 2011.
Launceston Technology College was first established in 1409 and became a boys grammar school with boarding house. Famous former students include Roger Moore of James Bond fame. In 1962, Horwell Grammar School for Girls, located in Newport, merged and in 1965 the former Pennygillam School was added to form the present day comprehensive school which is still known as Launceston College. Since the 19th century (exact date unknown) the College has been located at the southern end of Dunheved Road, approximately one kilometre from the town centre.
The current College Principal is Jack Jackson (2007–present). Previous principals include Alan Wroath (1995–2007), Charlie Cooper and Danny Rowe.
Launceston Community Primary School is commonly known as Windmill Primary due to its location adjacent to the site of the former windmill in Coronation Park.
Launceston railway station opened on 1 June 1865, it closed to passengers on 3 October 1966. The Launceston Steam Railway is a heritage railway which runs from the town. Launceston is on the A30 trunk road connecting Exeter and Truro with long distance coach services.
Launceston was a Parliamentary Borough from medieval times, with the right to return two Members of Parliament. However, the right to vote was not held by all the residents but only by the freemen of the borough, and by the 19th century there were fewer than 50 and it had come to be regarded as a rotten borough, one of many in Cornwall. Neighbouring Newport was also a borough with two MPs of its own. Launceston lost one of its two MPs and Newport both by the Great Reform Act of 1832; the area included in the borough of Launceston was considerably extended to enable the franchise to be opened up. It finally lost its right to separate representation in 1885. It is now part of the North Cornwall parliamentary constituency. The current MP is Dan Rogerson.
The Cornish name of "Launceston", Lannstefan, means the "church of St Stephen" and is derived from the former monastery at St Stephen's a few miles north-west (the castle and town were originally named Dunheved).
The earlist known Cornish mint was at Launceston, which operated on a minimal scale (before Cornwall received full diocesan jurisdiction in the year 994 AD) at the time of Ethelred II. Only one specimen is known to exist. The mint was reopened half-way through the Conqueror's reign.
Launceston Castle, which dominates the town, is a Norman castle of motte-and-bailey design, and was built by Robert de Mortain, half-brother of William I, ca. 1067 to dominate the surrounding area. Launceston was the county town of Cornwall until 1835 when Bodmin replaced it.
During the Civil War Launceston was known to be Royale et Loyale to King Charles I, hence its coat of arms. His son, the Prince of Wales, stayed in the town for a couple of days en route to the Royalist army based further west.
In 1643, the Parliamentarian forces under the command of Major General James Chudleigh advanced in an attempt to capture Launceston from the Royalists. The Royalist commander, Sir Ralph Hopton, stationed his forces on the summit of Beacon Hill, a steep hill which overlooks the town. The Parliamentarians captured the foot of the hill, but were unable to dislodge the Royalist forces from the top. Hopton led a counterattack down the hill and, despite fierce fighting and the arrival of Parliamentary reinforcements, forced Chudleigh's troops to retreat.
Launceston has the only document in the UK signed by Queen Mary and her husband, William of Orange. Launceston is said to have gained its historical importance from being the furthest into Cornwall that Justices and other Officers of the Crown felt safe to venture. (A more realistic reason was the very poor means of transport within Cornwall at the time which did not begin to be improved until the late 18th century.) When the situation had been improved Bodmin became the county town where the assizes were held.
Launceston was the birthplace of the notable actress Mary Ann Davenport in 1759. In the early 19th century, Launceston gave its name to the settlement which is now the second largest city in Tasmania. In an amusing mix-up between the two towns, an ornate cast iron fountain that was supposed to be shipped to Launceston in Cornwall, was mistakenly shipped the 11,000 miles (17,500 kilometres) to Launceston in Tasmania instead. Realising the immense cost of returning it, it was instead decided to keep the fountain, which can now be seen in Tasmania's Launceston Prince's Square.
The fine Tudor church of St Mary Magdalene was built in 1511–1524 by Sir Henry Trecarrel as a memorial to his infant son who died whilst being bathed. The ornate carvings in granite originally carved for the mansion he began to build at Trecarrel, Lezant have withstood the test of time. The tower of the church dates from the 14th century, an earlier church and graveyard having previously occupied the site. The modern Roman Catholic Church is dedicated to the martyr Saint Cuthbert Mayne. The churches at St Stephens and St Thomas by Launceston are not in Launceston ecclesiastical parish.
Part of the town wall is still in existence including the South Gate of two arches. The White Hart Hotel incorporates a Norman doorway possibly removed from the Castle. New Bridge (early 16th century) crosses the River Tamar: it is of granite. Two old bridges cross the River Kensey: one mediaeval and one built in 1580. The Baptist chapel is late 18th century and a number of Georgian houses may also be seen.