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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas


Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas SEPTEMBER. 19, 2021

More a flying visit or a short stroll, we went to Launceston as part of our explore Cornwall in day trips plan.

Due to the great British Staycation or National Open Air Prison as I prefer to call it, all and sundry who would normally travel abroad have descended on us here in the South West over the past three months. Who can blame them.

Because it was difficult, if not impossible to find accommodation and all the coastal areas were the big attraction, we opted for day trips to Cornwall avoiding the coast. As that is all new territory for us we didn't really mind.

So we found ourselves briefly having a look around Launceston. The first thing I should tell you is that it is pronounced Lorne-Stun, as if you had taken an actor who starred in Bonanza and banged him over the head with a large book, picked up in an old phone box, repurposed into a book exchange.

Launceston is dominated by the remains of the castle,

Set on a large natural mound, Launceston Castle dominates the surrounding landscape. Begun soon after the Norman Conquest, its focus is an unusual keep consisting of a 13th-century round tower built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, inside an earlier circular shell-keep. Once the administrative headquarters for the Earl of Cornwall, it was a significant location where control could be kept over the various estates in the area.

The title of Earl of Cornwall was created several times in the Peerage of England before 1337, when it was superseded by the title Duke of Cornwall, which became attached to heirs-apparent to the throne.

The current Duke of Cornwall is also The Prince of Wales, better known as Prince Charles, or as his close friends address him, His Royal Highness Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Chester, Earl of Carrick, Earl of Merioneth, Baron of Renfrew, Baron Greenwich, Lord of the Isles, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, KG, KT, GCB, OM, AK, QSO, CC, PC, ADC. Etc.

I added the Etc. that isn't a title, although it would be useful catch all title when short of ink.

Confusingly he is now also, most recently, the Duke of Edinburgh, after the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, that title passing from father to son. It's interesting to note that all the heirs titles bar one are for British extremities. In fact if you stabbed the point of a pair of compasses into Greenwich which is the exception, on a map, and extended them so that the pencil point reached Chester and drew a circle, all the heirs titles would fall outside that circle. Is this because traditionally the heir was always the biggest threat to the monarch? I don't know, but it's plausible. Give the heir plenty to keep them busy and make it as far away from London as possible.

The Duchy of Cornwall has a brand of food products. They offer some of the most expensive biscuits ever made.

Duchy Originals is actually the name of a company the Prince of Wales set up in 1990 (named after the Duchy of Cornwall) to sell organic food products. The company's first and most well-known item is an oaten biscuit made from organically grown wheat and oats.

I have to tell you something very funny now. To find out how expensive they are I Googled "Duchy Original Oaten Biscuits" and "Waitrose", the sort of store that would stock them. The first thing that came up was a sign headed "Our Cookies". Followed by a tick box for "Allow All Cookies" or "Manage Cookies". They even have a Cookies Policy, this is insane. No wonder they are so expensive, they have a Cookie Management Department. I decided to Manage Cookies as I am on a diet and didn't want to Allow All Cookies. Then I was faced with 4 choices, Essential Cookies, Functional Cookies, Analytical Cookies or Advertising Cookies. I never even knew cookies could be essential.

Apparently cookies have moved to technological levels I had never dreamed of, "These cookies are used to help prevent you from seeing irrelevant advertising." All these years have gone by and I hadn't realised all I had to do was eat some oat biscuits and I would not see adverts again.

Eventually I found out they are £2.25 a box. That includes a donation to charitable Prince of Walesey type charities.

I have calculated that back when the castle was new, £2 would have bought 336lbs of oats or 152 Kg. That's inflation for you. By now you'd actually forgotten we were even talking about Launceston Castle, be honest.


The castle is a ruin. It was probably built by Robert the Count of Mortain after 1068, and initially comprised an earthwork and timber castle with a large motte in one corner.

It was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century and then substantially redeveloped by Richard of Cornwall after 1227, including a high tower to enable visitors to view his surrounding lands.

If it were redeveloped today it would make a nice multi-storey car park with 8 screen cinema and International Food Court and 24 hour, all you can eat buffet. However, they have since built the multi-storey car park so shelve that idea. There is a charming picture of it further down.

Below and looking out of the castle entrance you can see the Cornish Gothic Town Hall. (My description)

By 1337, the castle was increasingly ruinous and used primarily as a gaol and to host judicial assizes.

It was garrisoned by the Royalists during the English Civil War in the 17th century. Towards the end of the civil war it was stripped for its building materials and rendered largely uninhabitable. A small gaol was erected in the centre of the bailey, which was also used for executions. The castle eventually became the county gaol for Cornwall, but was heavily criticised for its poor facilities and treatment of inmates.

Back then it was considered a pre-requisite of a prison that it had poor facilities and treated the inmates harshly, that was considered, sort of the point of the whole exercise. In fact the common people who weren't in prison also had poor facilities and were harshly treated too. Put it this way, if television had been invented, I don't think they would have provided them in the prisons. Even leprosy was a luxury.

The north gatehouse began to be partially used as a prison, and in 1656 was used to hold various members of the Society of Friends, including George Fox, their founder, who described it as a "nasty stinking place".

Presumably, the authorities of the time said something like, "with "Friends" like these who needs enemies", so being pacifists they were seen as a major threat to all the wars they had planned, so best put them in a dungeon. After all, the contracts for musket balls and canons were already in and there was a no cancelation penalty clause.

George Fox was an English Dissenter, who was a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers or Friends. The son of a Leicestershire weaver, he lived in times of social upheaval and war. He rebelled against the religious and political authorities by proposing an unusual, uncompromising approach to the Christian faith. He was arrested and jailed numerous times for his beliefs.

If he had been on Twitter they would have banned him from that too.

Looking a little bit like a Victorian prison, below, this is Launceston Town Hall.

Launceston Guildhall and Town Hall is a municipal building in Launceston, Cornwall, England. The building, which was the meeting place of Launceston Town Council, is a Grade II listed building. The foundation stone for the new guildhall was laid on 30 September 1881. It was designed in the Gothic style and completed in late 1883.

The horror movie set below is the Town Hall Car Park. It is very definitely not Cornish Gothic, but more Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome, meets Swiss Mountain Chalet, where Heidi is not milking cute hairy goats but OD'd on methamphetamine. The architects obviously decided that adding the bit of castle ruin motif in the bottom corner would get it through the planning meetings next door in the Town Hall, which, if that is the case, obviously worked, because here it is in all it's splendour.

When I spotted it on turning the corner on my stroll, my first thought was that there had just been a devastating car bomb attack, that hadn't made the National News. National News now being what it is, this wouldn't surprise me at all. Unless a wheelie bin blows over killing a cat in a suburb of London, there is no National News. There is certainly no National News emanating from Cornwall.

"Batman" was away on the day the council decided to build it and "The Joker" had hijacked the Town Hall.

I'm not sure if the eye melting Pelargoniums were part of the original plan or a later distraction. Even on this grey overcast day they vibrate like Uranium Oxide glaze on an Art Deco Tea Service. The tree trunk battlements seem to be arranged defensively, to protect the civil servant's Kias and Daihatsus from popular uprisings every March when the local Council Taxes are raised. Somewhere on top there are probably large vats of oil waiting to be boiled as a last resort should the tree trunks be breached by the baying throng.

The story of how this got built is worthy of a feature film as it took about sixty years, with intervening wars, preserved trees, ancient rights of way, and public meetings, where the public were expressly forbidden from expressing an opinion. I mean who needs the opinion of the voters?

The plan came before the North Cornwall district council planning committee on Monday 14th March, 1992 and after much deliberation a move for refusal was defeated by just two votes. Instead a vote of 8-6 was held in favour of a full site meeting. English Heritage in a letter to the meeting said that they greeted the scheme with caution, adding that a building which relies on vegetation for disguise must arouse suspicion.

"a building which relies on vegetation for disguise must arouse suspicion" you couldn't make this stuff up. The full astonishing tale is here.

South Petherwin district member Graham Facks-Martin supported the plan, but agreed that a site meeting should be held to discuss it more fully.

Protesters chanting his name in anger only got one vowel wrong bless them.

Facks-Martin continued, “because the architect has gone to ‘novel lengths’ to landscape it, it is seen to be something to be desired, but I think it should be congratulated.”

Robert Harris, an architect with the Jonathon Ball practice of Bude which designed the building, told the meeting they hoped to introduce a certain amount of soft landscaping in the area. The development would enhance and improve the area considerably, he claimed. This was greeted with jeers from the members of the public.

None of whom liked Pelargoniums.

And so as I stated in an earlier post about planning permission and how to win your argument, the fact that the planners had permission to build something three times the size was used as a reason for agreeing to this instead. The vote of the council rejected it but it got built anyway on appeal.

Landscape architect Mark Gregory, who was commissioned by the Jonathan Ball Practice to come up with a suitable landscaping scheme for the building, told the inquiry that £5,000 would be set aside each year for maintenance of the foliage. He said that the landscaping had not been included to disguise the building, but to soften its appearance.

Just think about that for a moment. It had 95% public opposition but to allay any worries, those members of the public were reassured that £5000 of their money would be spent every year to "soften it's appearance". That's like a mugger buying painkillers for his victims using the change from their wallets.

I'll leave you to decide on the value for money £5000 per year brings. I make it about £55 per Pelargonium.


Now we move from Horror to Gothic, in the form of the last standing town gate, below.

The Southgate is left as the last remaining medieval gateway into Launceston. The gate faces what was Whyte Lane (Race Hill) and the direction of the most likely attack with the approaches of Tavistock, Plymouth, and Exeter. It was therefore essential that the defence should be strong and the Southgate was most certainly constructed with this in mind.

In 1446 the Town spent £3.8s.01/2d in cleaning and repairing the Arch which may have helped it remain in good repair compared to the Westgate. The early eighteen hundreds saw it as a house of detention – a gaol for petty offenders and a prison for debtors. The top storey was for debtors but this was rarely used because of the scandalous conditions; rather than confine them in such a dungeon many local tradesmen let their debtors go free.

The modern equivalent of this are the latest laws in California where it is now legal to rob stores as long as you are not greedy on any one particular day and keep your theft to below $950. The Governor was recently rewarded by the electorate in a recall election, presumably because they approve of this sort of charitable excess. It brings a whole new meaning to non-profits which are now booming all over the state. Those companies actually preferring to make a profit are leaving in droves.


Now I stroll around the town centre and catch some other sights at random.


The White Hart symbol: – origin:- The following account by Sir Halliday Wagstaffe, Keeper of the Woods & Forests in the reign of King Henry VII. The King fancied a day’s hunting and repaired to the New Forest for that purpose. A celebrated white hart (deer), called Albert, a noble-looking animal, was selected for the day’s sport. Albert showed them some fine running, and the chase continued till nearly close of day, when, after being hard pressed by the dogs, he crossed a river near Ringwood, and finally stood at bay in a meadow; his pursuers came up at just that time the dogs were about to make a sacrifice of their victim, when the ladies interceded for the noble animal. Their intercession was listened to and the dogs called off, and the animal secured. He was taken into Ringwood, and a gold collar was placed around his neck, and he was removed to Windsor; that day Halliday Wagstaffe was knighted in Ringwood.

And so was the vegan movement born. A movement that would have us put gold collars on all farm animals and remove them to retirement homes.

Meanwhile in this particular White Hart, in 1774 Mr Thomas Prockter of ‘The Swan’, Exeter, moved in. In January 1776 he declared “it is greatly improved” and described it as ‘having three dining rooms and three parlours, being able to make up sixty beds and stable sixty horses and with three neat post-chaises with twelve able horses.’ Widow of Thomas (above) Mrs Procter became landlady.

As you can see below, Westgate Street does confirm there was once a West Gate, now long gone.

The Eagle House Hotel, below, is a Grade II* listed building located in Castle Street, Launceston, Cornwall. Formerly a townhouse, it is now a hotel and is built in the Georgian style in red brick.

The building dates back to 1764, having been commissioned as a townhouse by Coryndon Carpenter, a former mayor of Launceston and the constable of Launceston Castle. Reputedly the house was partly financed by a £10,000 lottery win. In 1963 the building was converted into a hotel, also equipped with a restaurant area. By 2015 the building had fallen into disrepair and was considered for conversion back into a private house. It was eventually bought by the current owners, who renovated the property as a hotel with restaurant. It reopened in spring 2017. Wikipedia.

Grade 2 listed Hayman's Pianoforte Warehouse. Warehouse. c1870, inscribed "Hayman's Pianoforte Warehouse". Dressed granite and freestone to shop front, red brick and stucco above; Venetian Gothic.

I add this last photo simply as a warning to any future book exchange phone boxes. This is what George Fox would probably have called a "nasty stinking place". It does have the advantage of a lot of natural light though, if you were thinking of converting it into a prison, for example.

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