An old town with a big History.
Since early times Hayle estuary proved a safe harbour for all types of sea going craft. The small port which developed in the estuary was to become one of the busiest in Cornwall. From its wharves and quays, goods and machinery from Hayle’s foundries and the area’s mines were exported worldwide and along the same wharves and quays ships were launched and decommissioned.
Although there is a long history of settlement in the Hayle Estuary area dating from the Bronze Age, the modern town of Hayle was built predominantly during the 18th century industrial revolution.
A look at the early times
It is thought that Hayle, was an important centre for the neolithic tin industry, trading not only Irish and Breton people, but also the Phoenicians of the eastern Mediterranean. Evidence of this comes from finds of imported pottery including Romano/Grecian Amphorae – containers for wine and oil.
Although the Romans never conquered Cornwall there may have been a military presence in the Hayle Estuary, possibly a fort on the western side of the estuary.
In those times the estuary was much different. It appears that it was deeper and boats could go up the River Hayle as far as St Erth Bridge ; the tide used to flow in and out of what is now Foundry Square in the town.
A number of inscribed stones from mid 6th century have been found in the area. The most noteworthy is now set into a bank at The Plantation, a public park. The stone was discovered in December 1843 by workmen.
The first documentary evidence of any settlements around the Hayle Estuary is in 1130 when Phillack Church and surrounding dwellings were recorded as “Egloshayle”, meaning the church (eglos) on the estuary (heyl).
There have been a number of small mines on the towans, the most westerly was Wheal Lucy on the Black Cliff and now built over with chalets and caravans. A massive ″rock of tin weighing 7 cwt″ was said to have been raised. The mine was eventually closed 1874 having returned 14 tons of black tin for £1,202. Further along the towans was Boiling Well Mine. The mine continued until 1862 producing 3,906 tons of copper ore, 459 tons of lead ore, 54 tons of blende and 5,000 ounces of silver. The mine had a poor reputation with the saying ″on boiling mine payday″, meaning never. Locally the mine was later occupied by the Dynamite Works and part is now a caravan park.
Hayle was a coal importing and ore exporting port and the first major development at Hayle was the construction of the first modern quay by John “Merchant” Curnow, in the 1740s, to service the growing mining industry. In 1758 the Cornish Copper Company (CCCo) moved from Camborne and set up a copper smelter at Ventonleague (Copperhouse Creek) and this proved very successful, so much so that a canal was built to bring vessels right up to the works and additional land was purchased on both sides of the creek for industrial use and providing housing for the workers.
The smelting process generated large amounts of waste. The copper slag was cast into large heavy dark bricks or “Scoria Blocks” which were to prove a very useful building material which were used and re-used in the town and can be seen in many buildings. The blocks were sold at 9d (about 4p) for 20 and given free to employees of the Cornish Copper Co. to build their own houses.
In 1779 John Harvey, a blacksmith from Carnhell Green, established a small foundry and engineering works in the area, now known as Foundry, to supply the local mining industry. The business flourished and by 1800 employed more than 50 people. It went from strength to strength through both professional and family partnerships with a series of great engineers and entrepreneurs. Harvey & Co may be best remembered for producing beam engines, which not only served locally but were exported worldwide. The company also produced a range of products ranging from hand tools to oceangoing ships, including the SS Cornubia and the world’s first steam-powered rock boring machine.
The Trevithick Family along with the Harvey family of Hayle, were world renowned for their work in developing the high pressure boilers and pumping engines which were paramount in the development of industry across the world. John Harvey Trevithick who lived at the beautiful Tolroy manor house during the 1800s, came from a famous engineering family. His father Richard Trevithick, whose road locomotive climbed Camborne Hill on Christmas Eve 1801, has been described as “a pioneer of the Industrial Revolution and undoubtedly one of the greatest engineers to have ever lived
In 1852 a new railway was opened spanning the valley on the impressive Angarrack viaduct and passing through Hayle on a new wooden supports over Foundry Square which were later replaced with the current stone pillars.
Harvey’s acquired the Cornish Copper Company in Copperhouse, Hayle in 1875. However the engineering works and Foundry were closed in 1903, although the company continued to trade as general and builders merchant, eventually merging with UBM until 1969.
Explosives on the Towans.
You can still observe the remnants of the National Explosives Works, locally known as the Dynamite Works. Established in 1888, its primary purpose was to supply explosives to the nearby mines. These enclosures were specifically constructed to house individual buildings dedicated to the manufacturing of explosives. Notably, there was an incident where an explosion occurred in the nitroglycerine plant, causing windows to shatter in St Ives, and the sound of the blast was said to have been heard all the way on Dartmoor. During the First World War, the works employed approximately 1800 people and played a crucial role in supplying cordite to the Royal Navy. However, the company closed its operations in 1920, although the storage of explosives continued until the 1960s. Today, the site is an integral part of the Upton Towans Nature Reserve.
Throughout the early 1900s, the Towans has been a sought-after destination for families seeking a traditional beachside holiday. Its allure lies in the breathtaking views and the spectacular beach that captivates visitors.
Over the passing decades, Hayle Town has experienced substantial growth, with the emergence of shops, pubs, galleries, and restaurants. This vibrant town has always extended a warm welcome to visitors from both near and far, ensuring that it remains a cherished destination for all.