The History of St Ives
The ancient fishing town of St Ives is positioned on the south western point of Cornwall, and, although Bronze Age Settlers farmed the area, its existence really began with the 5th Century, when an Irish Princess named St Ia arrived. Legend says on a leaf, although it was more likely a Coracle, and with her she brought Christianity. Its ideal location determined its future and it later became an important location for the fishing of pilchards which continued for many centuries.
The 13th century saw the granting of a charter by King Edward I in 1295, and later a church was built in the 15th Century which was dedicated to St Ia and has stood the test of time, its Cornish granite tower soaring 80', making it one of the tallest towers existing in Cornwall. The town was visited by Anthony Kingston in 1549, who was the Provost Marshall during the Prayer Book Rebellion. He had lunch with the Portreeve of St Ives John Payne, and during his lunch at a local Inn he asked to have a Gallows erected nearby. His request was duly carried out and the Gallows built, but it wasn't until after their meal that Kingston told John Payne to climb the Gallows which he did, and was hung by the neck, guilty of being a Roman Catholic. The steady growth of the town continued, and with the arrival of the 16th Century, fishermen's cottages lined the narrow winding roads which tumble down to the harbour.
The sharp increase in excise and duty on rum, tobacco and silk led to the secret trade of smuggling which was woven into the very fabric of the town in the 18th Century, its sheltered bay and gentle beaches proving popular. With all of the smuggling activity it became necessary for Customs Officers to be vigilant, however one custom's officer John Knill who became St Ives Collector Of Taxes in 1762 involved himself perhaps more than he should have, dabbling in the smuggling that he should have stopped, he became directly involved and benefited from the contraband. He died in 1811 however his legacy lives on, because he had built a monument looking out to sea that rises some 50' where he planned to be buried and this was also used as a marker for the smugglers to determine where they were. Unfortunately he died in London and was buried there, in his will, he left a bequest where celebrations were to be carried out every five years, this legacy still lives on and celebrations are held in the town on St James Day.
The arrival of the 19th Century saw the brilliant painter Turner capture the landscape perfectly, the great Western Railway bring visitors to St Ives securing its future as a holiday destination, and the Lifeboat fall under the control of the RNLI in 1861. By the end of the century an established art scene flourished with many influential artists and artisans locating here after a visit by Whistler, and Sickert who set up an Art Colony in St Ives, believing the extraordinary light and scenery to be perfect. The fishing of pilchards continued, reaching 400 fishing vessels, although with the success of the mining industry mines continued to extract tin and copper employing many people from St Ives.
With the onset of the 20th Century the town grew and expanded, although the mining industry declined, fishing boats continue to unload their catch at the ancient granite quay. Tourism flourished, artists and holiday makers increasing and arriving in great numbers, the art scene peaked with a branch of the Tate Gallery opening its doors in 1993 which has inspiring art work on display.
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