St Ives was isolated for much of its existence except by sea. However, the town really began to open up to the outside world in 1877 when the Great Western Railway began running its Broad Gauge trains on the new branch line. Not only did this increase accessibility to the rest of Cornwall for the town’s residents but the railway quickly enabled St Ives to establish itself as a popular holiday destination by rail – a popularity which continues to this day. In 2007 St Ives was awarded the accolade of “Seaside Town of the Year” as voted for by Guardian readers.
Today St Ives is easy to reach and there’s a wealth of ancient culture to be explored in the landscape, the stones, the wells and ceremonies such as the Midsummer Eve Bonfire, Mayor Choosing, Hurling of the Silver Ball on Feast Monday and, every five years, the John Knill commemoration dating back to 1801.
St Ives enters recorded history with the arrival of St. Ia or Hya, the Irish princess who introduced Christianity to this area in the 5th Century.
The town of St Ives was granted its charter by King Edward I in 1295 and has gone from strength to strength ever since.
In 1549 during the Prayer Book Revolution the Provost Marshall came to St Ives and invited the Mayor, Mr John Payne, to lunch at the old George and Dragon. He asked the Mayor to have the gallows erected during lunch. After lunch the Mayor and the Provost Marshall walked down to the gallows, the Provost Marshall ordered the Mayor to get up on the gallows whereupon the Mayor was hanged for being a Roman Catholic.
The importance of the town grew with the development of the Harbour and many ships plied between St Ives and every part of the world. Arthur Guinness, the brewer, used to sell beer to a Captain Sampson who brought the beer back as deck cargo and sold draught Guinness to his regulars in his pub on Skidden Hill, now a hotel. In the early days of St Ives, boats were built on the harbour foreshore by local craftsmen.
St Ives had its own shipping company in the form of The Hain Line. The company was formed in 1878 and had its headquarters in St Ives. The Hain Line combined with the Norge Company and others to become part of the P&O family in 1917 but continued to operate under its own name and colours up until 1964.
The Tin Industry also created its fair share of shipping business which no doubt led to the harbour being listed in 1830 as ‘A Most Important Harbour’.
Many famous people have lived in st ives from time to time; Turner, Whistler, Henry Moore, Dame Barbara Hepworth, Bernard Leach and Virginia Woolf. Henry Irving lived in the nearby village of Halsetown. These are just a few of the famous people who found the magic that is St Ives.
This historic town and landscape is waiting to be discovered.