Launceston, Cornwall

Historical Description

Launceston, a municipal borough and head of a county court, a petty sessional, and a union workhouse district in Cornwall. The town stands on the Kensey near its junction with the Tamar, and has a station on the L. & S.W.R., and is the terminal station on the Launceston and South Devon section of the G.W.R., 223 miles from London. It was anciently called Dunheved or Dunneheved, signifying " the high hill," or " hill-head." It possibly was the site of a Roman station and the scene of many severe contests between the ancient Britons and the Saxons; it figures in Domesday book as a town before the Norman Conquest; it has extensive remains of a castle; and it was the scene in 1643-45 of important actions in the civil wars of Charles I. The castle occupies a scarped and terraced trap-rock knoll, rising about 100 feet above the river Kensey; is defended on two sides by a deep natural valley; comprises a circular tower on the summit, 18 feet in diameter and 32 high-a concentric surrounding wall, at the distance of about 10 feet, standing like a coronal on the cap of the knoll-a gate-tower, at the base, reached by stairs going down the steep-a considerable space there, which seems to have been originally occupied by basement works-and traces of walls outside that space, which appear to have encircled the whole castle. The pristine masonry has all disappeared, the oldest extant portions not presenting any feature which can be called even Early Norman; one gate is possibly of the Early Decorated period, but the stairs leading down from the summit to the gate-tower are entirely modern. Yet most of the existing structures are believed to have been preceded by more ancient ones on the same sites; they also, as a whole, present a venerable, ivy-clad appearance, and they have been repaired at much cost by the Dukes of Northumberland to arrest the progress of decay. The encircling walls are remarkable, and have been compared to those of Ecbatana and other ancient oriental towns. The precinct has been laid out in a tasteful manner as a public pleasure ground. The manor of Dunheved was given by William the Conqueror to the Earl of Mortaigne; it reverted from that Earl to the Crown; it passed into a ruinous condition so early as the time of Edward III., and was then annexed to the Duchy of Cornwall; it underwent repair in 1645, was then garrisoned for Charles L, and was captured in the following year by Fairfax; it was given at the Restoration to Sir Hugh Pyper as lessee, and it remained with that knight's representatives till 1754, and then passed in lease to the Dukes of Northumberland. Roman coins have been found, and some leather coins were found in 1540. The castle is part of the Duchy of Cornwall. The Prince of Wales takes from Launceston the title of Viscount. Lord Halsbury is Constable of the Castle by appointment— f His Royal Highness.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient County Cornwall
Ecclesiastical parish Launceston St. Mary Magdalene
Hundred East
Poor Law union Launceston

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Launceston from the following:


Online maps of Launceston are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Cornwall papers online:

Visitations Heraldic

We have a copy of The Visitations of Cornwall, by Lieut.-Col. J.L. Vivian online.

RegionSouth West
Postal districtPL15
Post TownLaunceston