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Padstow (St. Petrock)

PADSTOW (St. Petrock), a sea-port, market-town, and parish, in the union of St. Columb Major, hundred of Pyder, E. division of Cornwall, 14 miles (W. N. W.) from Bodmin, and 249 (W. S. W.) from London; containing 2145 inhabitants, of whom 1791 are in the town. This place is of great antiquity, and was known, under the name of Lodenek at Heglemith, in the earliest annals of Cornish history. According to Borlase and others a religious house, called Laffenack, was established here in 432 by St. Patrick; about a century afterwards he was succeeded by St. Petrock, and under the auspices of this popular saint a monastery was founded in 513, which, having progressively increased in extent and reputation, was visited by Athelstan, on the occasion of his triumphant excursion into Cornwall, in 932. This sovereign conferred important privileges on both the monastery and the town, the latter of which he named after himself, Adelstow, or Aldestow. In ancient records, Patrickstowe and Petrocstowe are equally common; from the former of these, Padestowe or Padstow is naturally derived, and perhaps the continued influx of Irish at the port from the earliest times may have had some influence on the change of name. In the year 981, when the monastery was in the plenitude of its prosperity, it was ravaged by Danish pirates, and burnt to the ground; upon this event it became necessary to find a site less exposed for the new foundation, which was fixed at Bodmin, and the sacred ashes of St. Petrock were transferred to its sanctuary. In 1346, the place was one of the few ports in Devonshire and Cornwall that furnished ships for the siege of Calais. In 1645, the Prince, afterwards Charles II., was a short time here; and in the same year, when the town was in the possession of a party of parliamentary dragoons, a packet-boat coming in from Ireland was boarded and taken by them, with the assistance of the inhabitants; the despatches were thrown overboard, but were partly recovered.

The town is beautifully situated on an estuary of the Bristol Channel, formed by the junction of the Camel and Alan rivers about seven miles above Padstow. It is embosomed in a richly-cultivated vale, and the eastern side opens on the harbour, the entrance of which is about two miles distant; the high land to the north and west is occupied by the grounds of Place, an ancient seat of the Prideaux family. On the southern eminences and along the vale are the fine plantations of Saunders Hill, which command a varied and luxuriant prospect. In the immediate vicinity, however, nature assumes a severity and boldness of aspect seldom equalled: the cliffs of black granite on the coast, frequently visited by the scientific traveller, present curious specimens of geological strata peculiar to this part of the kingdom. The streets are paved, though roughly, and the town is plentifully supplied with water; the houses are roofed with fine blue slate, raised in the neighbourhood. The cliffs contain good limestone. Previously to the sixteenth century, the harbour was deemed one of the finest on the western coast of England; but from the accumulation of sand, the driving of which was so violent as, in the course of one night, to cover several houses on the coast, it became of less importance. The business, however, was very considerable at the commencement of the present century, and Padstow now carries on a large trade in corn, malt, and other merchandise, which are sent to Liverpool, Bristol, London, Wales, and Ireland; it has also an increasing trade with America and the Baltic. The number of vessels of above 50 tons' burthen registered at the port is 32, the aggregate tonnage being 3533; and about 200 persons are employed in ship-building, and rope and sail making. In 1844 an act was passed for improving the port. The market is held on Saturday, by prescription, for meat and provisions; and fairs take place on April 18th and September 21st. In the 25th of Elizabeth the town was incorporated by charter; but about the middle of the seventeenth century, the municipal rights having been allowed to lapse by desuetude, the borough was placed under the jurisdiction of the county magistrates.

The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £11. 3. 4.; net income, £202; patron, Charles Prideaux Brune, Esq.; impropriators, the family of Hole. The tithes have been commuted for £245, and the glebe contains 18 acres. The church is a spacious structure in the decorated and later English styles, erected at different periods; its richly-sculptured font and curious pulpit attract much attention. Here are places of worship for Wesleyans and Baptists; also a national school, instituted in 1819. In 1640, some donations for the benefit of the poor were laid out in land which now produces £100 per annum. With slight exceptions, the remains of eight religious edifices, two in the town and six in other parts of the parish, have entirely disappeared. The old provincial festivities of Christmas and May-day are here attended with many singular customs, traditionally connected with the early history of the place. The learned Dr. Humphrey Prideaux, Dean of Norwich, was born at Padstow in 1648.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.