Lostwithiel lies tucked away in the Fowey valley, hidden by richly wooded hills, between the busy A390 and the upper tidal reaches of the river. John Betjeman is reputed to have said “There is history in every stone in Lostwithiel”. Once the County Capital, this small town has a character all it’s own, proud of its heritage, independent, yet friendly and happy to share its many charms.
Now quiet and peaceful, Lostwithiel has become the antiques centre of the county. Its many antique shops, fairs, markets and auctions draw people from far and wide. Here also, one can browse at leisure for paintings, ceramics, lace, jewellery and old books, and enjoy the excellent food in the hotels, inns, restaurants and cafes. Stroll through the riverside parks and picnic by the water’s edge or fish for salmon, trout, sea bass or flounder. Licenses for fishing are available at the Post Office. Stay a while and watch the abundant bird life of the river.
There are delightful walks in the surrounding countryside. Restormel Castle, with its fascinating history and wonderful views is only one mile to the north. For the more energetic there is a splendid gold course, with swimming pool, tennis courts and a gym, while squash, badminton, table tennis and dancing can be enjoyed at the Community Centre.
There are guided walks through the town starting from the Tourist Information Centre once a week through the summer season.
There is accommodation to suit all tastes, comfortable hotels, excellent B&B and superb self-catering cottages. The staff in the Tourist Information Centre (in the Community Centre) will give you all the information you need.
History in every stone
Lostwithiel has a rich heritage. Founded by the Norman lords, who built the original Restormel Castle, it was developed from a Saxon Manor, to become a major port for seagoing ships, exporting tin to Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean.
The castle was rebuilt in the late 13th century for Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, who also built the bridge, the church tower and the Shire Hall. Edmund was very proud of his beautiful, thriving little town and called it his “Lily of the Valley” and “Fairest of Fair Cities”.
Throughout the 14th Century Lostwithiel, known as “The Port of Fawi”, administered both County and Stannary (relating to tin mining) affairs from the Shire Hall. The Stannary Parliament was held here until it was discontinued in 1752. The Shire Hall became known as the Duchy Palace after the creation of the Dukedom of Cornwall in 1337.
As a result of streaming for tin on the moors, the river began to silt up and by the fifteenth century it had become innavigable to sea-going ships. Lostwithiel lost its shipping to Fowey, sending tin and other goods down river in boats of shallower draught.
Production of tin in this area gradually declined and Lostwithiel developed its trade in weaving, pottery and pewter.
In 1644 Lostwithiel and the Fowey peninsular were occupied by 10,000 Parliamentary soldiers, who were besieged throughout the month of August by the Royalists. King Charles stayed at Boconnoc, a mile or so to the east. It was a disastrous month for Lostwithiel. The church was damaged, the Duchy Palace was burned and records destroyed, the bridge just escaped being blown up. Starvation and plague were rife amongst the population and the occupying army. Eventually the Parliamentarians surrendered. It was a Royalist victory, but the town was left badly shattered. Many of the town houses, some now converted into shops, were built in the years that followed the Civil War.
In the 18th century, Lostwithiel was a “Pocket Borough” for the Pitts and the Edgcumbes. The Edgcumbes bought land and built several substantial properties.
Iron was found in the hills north of Lostwithiel, early in the 19th century, resulting in the rapid growth of the town. This “boom industry” lasted for almost 100 years. During the iron mining period Coulson Park was the scene of much noisy activity. Iron ore was carried down from the mines in horse drawn wagons running on tram lines, through the town to the jetties, and transferred to barges for shipping down river. The river was used commercially into the 20th century, when lime was barged up to the lime kilns to be made into fertilizer.
The Great Western Railway came through in 1859 and the maintenance works, designed by I. K. Brunel were built here, providing work for Lostwithiel men for almost a century.
The “creamery “ 1932 – 91, developed rapidly and became the major employer in Lostwithiel until it too closed down.
Today there is a variety of small scale businesses in the town. Lostwithiel is once again at a turning point in its long, proud history. The people of the town are actively involved in the developments taking place, and welcome the interest of visitors in this “fairest of fair cities”.
Compiled by Barbara Fraser.
Photo by Mat Connolley (Matnkat) – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2133712