Lostwithiel ('Cornwall's Hidden Treasure') is now a small, but attractive town sitting at the head of the Fowey Estuary. Once though, Lostwithiel was the most important town in Cornwall.
Surrounded by beautiful wooded hills, and straddling the River Fowey and the A390, Lostwithiel is also not too far from the A30 and A38 trunk roads, making it a perfect base from which to explore not just South East Cornwall, but the entire duchy. This convenient and central location once made Lostwithiel the perfect place to be the capital of Cornwall (admittedly this was 700 years ago).
Lostwithiel Bridge and the River Fowey, image Matt Connelley
Sir John Betjeman said that Lostwithiel had "history in every stone". Originally a Norman town, founded not long after the Norman Conquest and closely associated with Restormel Castle. Just outside the town, the castle is notable for its circular design. The castle, Lostwithiel Bridge and Lostwithiel Great Hall were rebuilt in the late 13th century by Edmund of Almain, Second Earl of Cornwall. Edward the Black Prince also lived here between 1354 and 1365.
Restormel Castle, image Zaian
Lostwithiel's Great Hall (the oldest non-ecclesiastical building in Cornwall) was the most important administrative building in Cornwall, not just for Cornish affairs but for those pertaining directly to tin mining. After the Duchy of Cornwall was created in 1337, tin miners were exempt from all civil jurisdiction other than the Stannary Parliaments of Lostwithiel, Launceston, Truro and Helston. The last Stannary Parliament sat in Truro in 1752, but their current status is a matter for constitutional historians...
The Exchequer Hall, part of the Great Hall, image Chris Downer
Lostwithiel was the scene of an important battle in the English Civil War in 1644. The Earl of Essex had been misled into believing that there was substantial support for his Parliamentarian cause in Cornwall. However, Cornwall stayed loyal to the King. With King Charles's army fast approaching, Essex retreated to Lostwithiel with the intention of leaving Cornwall at the port of Fowey. The Royalist army prevented this manoeuvre and encircled Lostwithiel, taking Restormel Castle. The Parliamentarian cavalry were able to break through the Royalist lines to escape. Essex managed to get to Plymouth (rather ignominiously in a fishing boat) leaving his second-in-command and his 6,000 infantry to surrender to the King.
More recently, Lostwithiel had a fairly short-lived period in the 19th century as an iron ore mining boom town. Many people came to settle here then, and Brunel's Great Western Railway came too in 1859. Today, Lostwithiel sits on the main line from Penzance to London and to Bristol and beyond.
With all that history, it is perhaps no surprise to find so many antique shops in Lostwithiel. Today, that is probably what the town is most famous for. There are few better places in the whole southwest of England if you love browsing little antique and interior design shops. And for when you get hungry or thirsty, you'll find plenty of excellent independent pubs, cafes and restaurants.
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