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Historical Attractions on the Roseland Peninsula

St Mawes Castle, Roseland, Cornwall St Anthony Lighthouse, Roseland, Cornwall

Historical Attractions on The Roseland, Cornwall

St Mawes Castle
St Mawes Castle was built by Henry VIII in 1540-45 as one of a pair of artillery forts to protect the Fal Estuary and Falmouth Harbour from the threat of invasion from France and Spain. Pendennis Castle was built on the Falmouth side of the estuary and between the two castles, the entire entrance to the Fal estuary was within range of their powerful canon.

The castle has a central circular tower with three lower semi-circular bastions that give the castle the appearance of a clover leaf when viewed from above. The main entrance is on the landward side, protected by a rock-cut ditch. Cannon could be mounted on the roof of the main tower and bastions and on floors within the bastions. The defences at St Mawes were designed to counter the threat of an attack from the sea, but overlooked by high ground it was vulnerable to an attack from the land. The more defensible Pendennis Castle became the dominant fortress in the region and as a result St Mawes did not see the major alterations that took place at Pendennis and has retained most of its original Tudor design.

When the castle came under attack in 1646, during the Civil War, the governor of St Mawes surrendered without a shot being fired, realising it was hopeless to try and defend against an attack from the land. However it continued to serve a useful purpose as a gun emplacement protecting the harbour at Falmouth until as recently as the Second World War.

St Just in Roseland Church
The little vilage of St Just in Roseland to the north of St Mawes is famous for its picturesque 13th century church, set in magnificent gardens luxuriantly planted with semitropical shrubs and trees, many of which are species rare in England.  The church, often described as one of the most beautiful in England, perches on the edge of the tidal creek, with numerous paths leading from the churchyard onto the coastal footpath which continues around the headland, through some National Trust lands to St. Mawes. 

The church is situated just outside the main village, signposted down a small side road, taking the visitor down the hillside toward the church gates. There is a small carpark and limited parking along the side of the road by the church gate. The path from the road to the Church is lined with granite blocks carved with quotations and verses taken from the Bible.  Because the slope is so steep, as visitors stand at the lych-gate on the road, looking down to the Church, they will find themselves looking down on the Church Tower.

Veryan Roundhouses 
These curious dwellings were built in 1782 by a former vicar of the parish, Jeremiah Trist, although the idea was said to be that of a certain Charles Penrose of St.Winnow.  It is believed that the houses were built for each of his five daughters although curiously at the time of their construction the Rev.Trist is known to have only had three daughters!  All five houses are built of cob - an amalgam of clay, earth and straw - on stone foundations.  There are two pairs of roundhouses (one at each end of the village) and a fifth behind the village school.  The latter boasts a slate roof whereas the others are all thatched.  It is commonly said that the houses were so constructed to provide no corners for the devil to hide in!  With their roofs surmounted with crosses the roundhouses of Veryan were well designed and ideally positioned to guard the entrances to the village against encroaching evil.

D-Day Embarkation Sites 
The Roseland Peninsula was a critically important embarkation site for the D-Day landings.  The evidence of these sites still exist at Turnaware Point and Smugglers Cottage in the Polgerran Woods.  To visit Turnaware, take the King Harry Ferry road from St Just in Roseland and turn left at the sign to Roundhouse Barns.  Follow the road which becomes private with a right of way to Comerrans and you will finally come to the National Trust site at Turnaware.  Park the car in the little car park and walk down the old access road to the embarkation hard.  The site at Smugglers Cottage is signposted off the King Harry Ferry Road only about 400 yards from the ferry landing point.  

The evidence you see at both sites shows the infrastructure necessary to launch such a massive sea force. Camps, depots and new roads had to be built along the south coasts of England and Wales to facilitate the movement of troops. Crucially, beaches had to be given a hard surface to enable the direct loading of vehicles from sand to ships.  Two types of hard were developed: one designed for Landing Craft Tanks (LCT) and the other for Landing Ship Tanks (LST); they differed in size, serving four or two vessels.  The basic design consisted of a concrete approach road serving an apron that led onto a rectangular hard that descended down the shore to the low-water mark, to enable loading of ships at all states of the tide. It consisted of a flexible mat made of small rectangular concrete blocks called ‘biscuits’. Each hard was served by a jetty that extended centrally from the shoreline to beyond the low water mark, allowing landing craft to tie up alongside, and large steel fairleads (bollards) were situated to the sides of each hard for tying-up.The embarkation hards and their roads may be amongst the least glamorous of the surviving monuments associated with D-Day, but were essential to the success of the Allied invasion of Europe, and today are easily understood.

A granite memorial stone stands dedicated to the men of the 29th Infantry Division,V Corps, US Army, who embarked at Turnaware Point and who landed at the hell hole that was Omaha Beach.  It is hard to imagine the numbers of men and machines that were present in such a peaceful place and also how many failed to return.

At Smugglers Cottage, various hut bases, platforms, water tanks etc. remain extant.  The owner has provided interpretation panels for visitors.  The Cottage itself was requisitioned as the Hardmaster and Embarkation Staff Office.  General Eisenhower visited the Cottage in 1944, while carrying out inspections of troops in the area.  A memorial tree planted to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day stands a short distance from the hard.

Gerrans Parish Heritage & Information Centre
The centre is located about 50 metres past Gerrans church as you drive through the village towards St Anthony.  The history of the parish is illustrated with displays depicting Farming through the Ages, the Fishing Industry, Education, Doomsday Book entries, the Manors, World Wars, Coastguards, Churches, Chapels and much more. Illustrated by photographs, tithe maps, documents, parish records and other artefacts. For those with an interest in family history there is a database containing the baptisms/christenings, marriages and deaths/burials of more than 10,500 parishioners. Indexes are also available for Gerrans and St Anthony parishes covering, marriages, burials and a churchyard plan. The 1841 - 1901 census has also been indexed.

Caerhays Castle 
The home of the Williams family, Caerhays Castle overlooks Porthluney Cove. It is near Mevagissey and it is four miles south east of Tregony and signposted off the A3078. The Trevanion family had owned the land since 1390. The house itself was built for John Bettesworth Trevanion, who at the age of 21, inherited the estate in 1801. John Nash, a fashionable architect of the day, was employed to create the mansion in 1808. Profligate living plus the costs of building the mansion ruined the family, and in 1840 the family were so heavily in debt that they fled to Paris, where John Trevanion died. Caerhays Castle was thus abandoned for 13 years.

Eventually in 1853 it was purchased by a Cornish Member of Parliament, Michael Williams, who restored the property. He was also a mine owner. It is said that ducks were found swimming in the round dining room. There is a good example of a Porte Cochere outside the front door (this is an enclosed area to enable the gentry to alight from their carriages in the dry). An impressive staircase, a grand Front Hall and a Gallery demonstrate the work of Nash. There is a Victorian library with a penchant for books on minerals and travel. There are 60 acres of woodland and garden and many of the plants and shrubs originate from trips made by John Charles Williams to China for this purpose around 1900. The gardens are particularly proud of their magnolias, camellias, oaks and rhododendrons.  The fifth generation of the Williams family still lives at the castle and there are a number of Trevanion family portraits.

The castle is only open for a limited period 16 February to 31 May.  Tours of the castle & gardens are available though the Caerhays website or by calling 01872 501310.

St. Anthony Lighthouse 
A coal beacon burned here for centuries until the present lighthouse was built in 1834. It guards the entrance to the Carrick Roads, warning passing ships of the infamous Manacles rocks. Although automated the light house is often open for visitors during the summer. The lighthouse was also the set for the television series 'Fraggle Rock'.

St. Anthony Battery 
The strategic importance of St. Anthony Head for the defence of Carrick Roads and Falmouth is testified by the remains of many fortifications. During WW I the area was used for Army training and in WW II gun batteries were stationed here. The Headland is owned by the National Trust - an interpretative panel is situated by the toilets and a leaflet giving further information is for sale during the summer.