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Charlestown Shipwreck Museum

Updated on October 6, 2016
Charlestown Shipwreck Museum: Charlestown Harbour and Tallships.
Charlestown Shipwreck Museum: Charlestown Harbour and Tallships. | Source

Charlestown is a small coastal village just outside St Austell, Cornwall, England, which was built by a wealthy landowner and entrepreneur Charles Rashleigh in about 1800 to export local copper around the world and import coal, essential to local mining activity.

Originally called West Polmear, the village had a population of just 9 people in 1790. Within a few years of construction being finished, the population was closer to 3,000. The area became known as Charles Town as Charles Rashleigh was responsible for rebuilding the whole site into a harbour, complete with buildings for all the ancillary businesses that grew up around it.

Today, Charlestown is still small, but a few new build housing developments on the outskirts, which sprung up from about 2007 onwards, will have added to the number.

Poldark was Filmed at Charlestown

In March 2015 the new series of Poldark was shown on television. In 2016 the second series of Poldark aired, making Charlestown a place to visit for Poldark fans everywhere.

Poldark was filmed at Charlestown because it provides the perfect harbour and ships needed for such a a period drama production.

Charlestown Shipwreck Museum: Charlestown Harbour.
Charlestown Shipwreck Museum: Charlestown Harbour. | Source

The Shipwreck & Heritage Centre

At one end of the harbour, you'll find the Charlestown Shipwreck and Heritage Centre. Charlestown is a small village, with just the one main road leading straight down to the Harbour and the Shipwreck Centre is well sign-posted and clear from the roundabout at the harbour.

The collection is the largest private collection of this type on public display in Europe and has been gathered together over the past 50 years.

There are artefacts from over 150 shipwrecks, items from everyday village life in Charlestown since it was built, there's one of the largest underwater diving collections in the country,

There are animated scenes showing you what life looked like in various ages. Peep through a cottage window, see into a blacksmith's shop, the whole village is laid out in the museum.

There are indoor exhibits as well as some items to discover outdoors. Outdoors you'll find:

  • An ex-RNLI lifeboat, from Scarborough. Fully functional, you can go aboard and look around.
  • A 1920s/1930s German armoured diving suit.
  • A decommissioned diving bell from the North Sea

Walking through a tunnel brings you out onto the viewing platform, overlooking the whole harbour.

Gas Museum

The National Gas Museum donated many articles from everyday life and there's a small gas museum in the Heritage Centre. Here you'll see a collection of domestic appliances all powered by gas. Cookers, washing machines, meters, and even an old gas fridge from the 1930s/1940s.

RNLI and Rescue Exhibition

There is a full-scale exhibition of RNLI artifacts, memorabilia and rescue equipment.

Diving Collection

The Centre have many old diving suits and ancient diving equipment to see. Surprisingly, the underwater collection dates back as far as 1715!

Shipwrecks Collection

There are findings and salvage from over 150 shipwrecks around the Cornish coast and some around the world, the earliest items are from the shipwreck of the St Anthony at Gunwalloe, Cornwall. The most recent are from the Sesil Japan, which sunk in Hell Bay, North Cornwall, in 1989 .

There are even some artefacts from the Spanish Armada in 1588, gathered from Giants Causeway.

There's a lot more in the Shipwreck and Heritage Centre, including a whole heap of Pirates' Treasures gathered together.  Lots of muskets, dubloons, pieces of eight and even a skull!

Necklace as worn by Kate Winslet in the film Titanic.    Photo by: Ben Sutherland.
Necklace as worn by Kate Winslet in the film Titanic. Photo by: Ben Sutherland.

Heart of the Ocean Necklace: As Worn by Kate Winslet in the film Titanic

Most people by now have seen the film Titanic, or are at least aware of the story. In the film, Kate Winslet was wearing a valuable necklace on the night the Titanic sunk - and it was believed that the necklace was lost with the ship, but the character had kept it all these years, then when the Titanic was being raised in the film, she crept out in the middle of the night to the end of the boat she was on and let the necklace fall from her hands into the Ocean.

You can see The Heart of the Ocean necklace at the Museum, where they have sections on all high profile shipwrecks.

First Date Ideas:

If you're an incurable romantic, looking for a swashbuckling hero, then maybe this would make for a great unusual first date. Your beau could impress you with his (bad) pirate impressions and you could recall the romance of the Titanic film. Afterwards, I suggest you stop at one of the two local pubs for a quick refresher, before taking a stroll around the Harbour.

The Maria Assumpta

From time to time, the enchanting brig Maria Asumpta, built in Spain in 1858 and rebuilt in 1981, used to be seen berthed at Charlestown and open to visitors. Unfortunately, the Maria Assumpta ran aground in May 1995 on the Cornish coast and and broke up. Three of her crew of sixteen lost their lives and the Captain was charged with manslaughter.

She was being brought into safe harbour at Padstow when the Captain decided to take the pretty route close to the shore, a treacherous route not recommended by the Admiralty. The sinking was witnessed by a lot of residents and visitors at Padstow as they'd turned out in force to witness the arrival of this striking tallship, which was the oldest sailing ship in the world.

Charlestown Shipwreck Museum: Charlestown Harbour.
Charlestown Shipwreck Museum: Charlestown Harbour. | Source

TV Locations: Charlestown

Charlestown has been used in filming many TV series' over the years too, including:

  • The Onedin Line, 1972-1979.
  • Poldark, 1975-1977.
  • The Voyage of Charles Darwin/Voyage of the Beagle, 19781.
  • Frenchman's Creek, 1989.
  • Treasure Island, 1995. A Spoof.
  • A Respectable Trade, 1989.
  • Wives and Daughters, 1999.
  • Shaka Zulu: The Citadel, 2001.
  • Map Man, 2002.

1 The ship used was the Marques, bought for the series and sailed 20,000 miles in the making of the series, it later sank off the coast of Bermuda in 1984 with the loss of 19 lives.  The captain and owner of the Marques was to later be charged with manslaughter after he was held responsible in 1995 for the sinking of another ship he owned and was captaining; the Maria Assumpta sunk in 1995, with the loss of three lives, approaching Padstow Harbour.

Film Locations: Charlestown

As Charlestown was built around 1800 as a harbour, from scratch, without many of the buildings or surroundings changing since then, Charlestown and the Harbour have been used in many films and TV series, including:

  • Poldark, 2015 and 2016
  • Hornblower
  • Mansfield Park
  • The Man Who Haunted Himself, 1970. Starring Roger Moore and Hildegarde Neil
  • The Eagle Has Landed, 1976. Charlestown Harbour was used as Alderney Harbour.
  • The Three Muskateers, 1993.
  • Moll Flanders, 1996
  • Rebecca, 1997
  • Mansfield Park, 1999. Charlestown Harbour was used as Portsmouth Harbour.
  • Swept From the Sea, 1999.
  • Pandaemonium, 2000.
  • Two Men Went to War, 2002.
  • Half Term, 2005.
  • Man to Man, 2005.
  • The New World, 2005. The scenes of arriving in England were filmed at Charlestown.
  • Alice in Wonderland, 2010.

Directions to Charlestown

A markerShipwreck Centre -
Quay Rd, St Austell, Cornwall PL25 3, UK
get directions

Where, When and How Much?

There's a small car park across the road from the Shipwreck Centre.

Opening Hours: 1st March to 31st October. Open 7 days/week, 10am-5pm.

Admission Prices (2016):

  • Adults £5-95
  • Students & Disabled £4-95
  • Senior Citizens (over 60) £4-95
  • Child (over 10) £2-95.
  • Child under 10 FREE when accompanied by paying adult

Address: Quay Road, Charlestown, St Austell, Cornwall, United Kingdom, PL26 3NJ
Telephone:01726 69897


Charlestown Harbour For Sale

Charlestown, is one of the few British ports still in private hands and was put on the market for sale in July 2012, with a price tag of £4.4million.


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    • profile image

      Ralph 5 years ago

      Regarding the Maria Asumpta.

      "The sinking was witnessed by a lot of residents and visitors at Padstow as they'd turned out in force to witness the arrival of this striking tallship, which was the oldest sailing ship in the world."

      I saw the Maria Asumpta sink from where I was stood on the headland at Rumps Point looking out on Mouls rock. That's four miles from Padstow and on the other side of the headland, no one in Padstow saw it happen.

    • cornwall_UK profile image

      cornwall_UK 7 years ago from Cornwall, UK

      Sorry Martin! How appalling of me.

      Off to correct it right now!

    • profile image

      Martin Thomas 7 years ago

      You've attributed the tall ships shot to the wrong person. It's actually mine. I'd appreciate it if you could change that please.