Brief History of the Town


Lostwithiel Bridge

Sailing up the Fowey River 100 years ago, a travel writer described the approach to Lostwithiel as 'the loveliest inland scenery in Cornwall'. He wrote 'in the richest pastures of this luxuriant valley stands the old town of Lostwithiel'. Whether one approaches by river, rail or road, this description is still true today.

Situated at the tidal reach of the river Fowey, in a beautiful wooded valley the town lies tucked away just off the A390, a haven of peace and tranquility.

Central in Cornwall, it is within easy reach of the coast and the moors, and well placed for exploring the whole of the county, an ideal centre for a holiday.

Lostwithiel was a 'new town' 800 years ago, founded by the Normans for the export of tin. Then the river was wide and deep, and sea going ships tied up along the quay, loading the tin destined for France and the Mediterranean ports. The town was officially known as 'The Port of Fawi', and soon became the second busiest port on the south coast of England.

The name 'Lostwithiel' comes from two old Cornish words meaning 'the place at the tail end of the woodland', and looking down the valley from Restormel Castle (the home of the Norman lords who built the town) one can see how it came by this name.

In the 13th century Lostwithiel was further developed by the Earls of Cornwall to become the County Capital. It was the centre for the administration of county affairs and the main trading centre for tin.

Earl Edmund called Lostwithiel 'Fairest of Small Cities' and 'Lily of the Valley' and the mediaeval church, bridge and part of the Great Hall (now known as the Duchy Palace) still stand as testimony to its original splendour.

Ironically, tin, the source of the town's wealth, gradually caused its decline. Rubble, carried down by tributaries of the Fowey River from the mines on the moors, silted up the river, preventing big ships from reaching the quay.

A further 600 years of history have left their mark. The town suffered during the Civil War, when it was occupied by Parliamentary soldiers and besieged by Royalists throughout August 1644. Eventually the Parliamentarians were routed, but the town was left shattered, and its people starving. Gradually they recovered, and there was much rebuilding in the late 17th century.

John Betjeman is reputed to have said 'there is history in every stone in Lostwithiel', and this is evident to the interested observer who walks the streets and lanes of the town.

Now it is a peaceful, friendly place; parking is free, and members of staff at the Tourist Information Centre, (in the Community Centre adjacent to the car park) are always ready to help visitors.

Set in this historic background are numerous antique shops specialising in high quality furniture, curios and collectibles, ceramics, Victoriana and glorious junk! Other shops specialise in contemporary arts and crafts, paintings, lace, patchwork. One has to explore the hidden lanes in the town to find some of these.


Text by Barbara Fraser