September 2023

Discover the fascinating history behind the man that transformed Charlestown, his importance to the china clay industry and the scandal that befell him at our new exhibition at Wheal Martyn Clay Works. 

Charles Rashleigh may have died bankrupt and a broken man, but he was also one of Cornwall’s most successful entrepreneurs who in the 18th century bought Porthmuer, then a small fishing village, and transformed it into one of the busiest ports on the county’s south coast.

2023 marks the bicentenary of the death of Charles Rashleigh. We'll be hosting a new and exciting exhibition to mark his remarkable life. Working in collaboration with Charlestown History Group, the exhibition will celebrate his legacy and the town he created. 

Visitors can discover how, working alongside civil engineer John Smeaton, he designed a new harbour and dock to initially ship copper ore. With this, Charles’ Town or Charlestown as it became to be known, quickly grew to become one of the largest china clay ports in Cornwall. This “white gold” was originally brought in by horse wagons through St Austell from the upland pits and it continued to export china clay through to the last shipment leaving the port in 1999.

Also find out about the two men who betrayed Charles Rashleigh, Joseph Dingle and Joseph Daniel, and how they left him with no money or property to his name.

Charles’ legacy of Charlestown still remains today as an unspoilt and unique example of a Georgian port. Consequently, it has become not only popular with tourists, but has also featured in over 50 film and TV productions, most recently being Poldark.

Also to bring history to life, children are welcome to try on their favourite Georgian character outfits and make their own tricorn hat in the dressing up area.

Sian Powell, Exhibition and Engagement Officer, said: “This exhibition is our way of celebrating an often overlooked historic figure who has had a major impact on the Duchy. Charles Rashleigh building Charlestown and helping to empower the burgeoning clay industry shouldn’t be forgotten. It has been 200 years since his death and yet his legacy of Charlestown remains.”

The exhibition will be on display from Friday 22 September until Saturday 23 December. Entry is included in the general admission fee. 

Portrait used with kind permission of Richard Larn OBE