White River Way

Car Free Day Out TC02

This 1.5 mile walk takes you on a historical journey through St Austell and the Trenance Valley. For details of its location click on the town map on the right of this page or visit .

1. Fore Street

Leave churchyard via main entrance and head for Fore Street. If you take time to look above the shop fronts’ modern fascias you will see a rich diversity of old buildings. The street has changed dramatically over the years and was largely rebuilt during the 19th Century.

Originally all the traffic passing through St. Austell would have to go through Fore Street. There were dressmakers, bakers, cobblers, ironmongers and general grocers all operating from here. Imagine the hustle and bustle of shoppers alongside the sights and sounds of the teams of horses & wagons pulling their dusty loads of china clay through this busy street.

Bread Riots March illustrated by Simon Riordan, SRStudio
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Bread Riots March illustrated by Simon Riordan, SRStudio

They marched into town, forcing their way into flour mills and bakers; including the bakeshop of Mrs. Hannah Rowe, threatening they would ‘scat her brains out’ if she didn’t give them ‘some crib’. Perhaps this was the Bakery shop on your right with a Victorian bow-fronted window?

This house dates from Tudor times and was once a Dower House for the Tremayne family of Heligan. (A Dower House was a house set apart for the use of a widow, often on her deceased husband’s estate).

 

Old Liberal Club, St Austell
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Old Liberal Club, St Austell

 

Near the end of the street on the left is an ornate stone and red brick building, the trademark style of local architect, Silvanus Trevail. This was the Liberal Club – commissioned by Francis Leyland Barratt, MP for St. Austell 1915-1918 – one of many collaborations between these two major figures. His initials can be seen on the front of the building.

2. Bodmin Road

Monks taking taxes from the poor, illustration by Simon Riordan, SRStudio
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Monks taking taxes from the poor, illustration by Simon Riordan, SRStudio

At the end of Fore Street turn right for Bodmin Road. The toyshop on your left was once the old General Wolfe Pub, dating from 1785. A little further on, Priory Road on your right is named after the Monks’ Priory that once existed here.
It is believed that they controlled and charged rent for water taken from the Vinnick (White) River for the various mills and tin-smelting operations in this valley. They also ran an industrial-style farm with a fulling mill for cloth making. Past Priory Road is St. John’s Methodist Church, another Silvanus Trevail design (façade only). The portico came from a manor house in Padstow – the owner, Padstow’s Town Mayor and Harbourmaster, unfortunately went bankrupt and his manor house was taken apart stone by stone. This church with its beautiful interior is well worth a look inside.

The Mill House, Bodmin Road, illustrated by Simon Riordan, SRStudio
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The Mill House, Bodmin Road, illustrated by Simon Riordan, SRStudio

 

3. Trenance Road

Cross the busy Bodmin Road with care and continue left down Trenance Road.This narrow, quiet road is a welcome relief from the traffic on Bodmin Road. Ahead of you is the large ‘St. Austell Viaduct’, locally called Trenance Viaduct, and to the left glimpses can be seen across the valley of the ‘Gover Viaduct’. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) was one of the great British engineers of the 19th Century, who was responsible for creating the Great Western Railway, including of course the Tamar Bridge and the original ‘spider viaducts’ constructed from timber and stone, the pillars of which still remain.

The Trenance valley has a rich industrial heritage and there are many clues to the past. Trenance Mill can be seen on your right as you descend the hill. Behind you can just see the chimney stack, built to enable the conversion from water power to steam – a rare example of such a conversion. Originally this site was used for tin-smelting and had a lower mill and a higher mill. You can see the remains of the old stabling and blacksmith’s workshop. Water once came from the Monks’ Priory just above this building, carried on leats from the Vinnick (White) River.
Further along Trenance Road you will see an iron water wheel high up to your right, fixed to a building that was Bodmin Road Mill. This was a stereotypical cloth mill, with lots of windows to allow in light to help the weavers working over their looms. The mill was run by Henry Veale, one of the first pioneers in Cornwall to have a machine producing Worsted cloth. St. Austell was once an important centre for the textile trade in the South West. Below the mill are Saffron Meadow and Leat Meadow. Saffron was grown here and used as an orange dye for the cloth making industry, as well as for Cornish Saffron cakes and buns!

4.The Viaduct/Grove Road

Viaduct, St Austell
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Viaduct, St Austell

The road now forks and you can take an extra loop by continuing right to Bodmin Road and on to Menacuddle Well. (See Menacuddle walk) or turn left and continue with Walk Two. The viaduct can be seen clearly from here. The pillars for the original Spider Viaduct remain standing in front of it and were used to facilitate the construction of the new viaduct. This was built in 1899 and is 35 metres high. Made entirely from stone it is still in use today. Just beneath the viaduct on the high road to the right you can see an unusual timber clad building. This was an old sawmill, perhaps used to prepare timber for the original Spider viaduct. As you reach Grove Road turn left and walk till you reach the crossroads. Here is Clarence Road which was originally called Rope Walk. This road was used for rope making for the shipping and mining industries. A long straight road was ideal for this, where the strands of yarn could be laid out their full length before being twisted together.

5. Blowing House Road and Lane

At these crossroads turn left into Blowing House Road. Further along on the left is a large building now used by a printing company.

Blowing House Mill St Austell
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Blowing House Mill St Austell

This was originally Hitchens’ Corn Mill and to its left is a larger mill, which was Middle Blowing House, used for smelting tin. Blowing Houses were used up until the 19th Century and got their name from the huge bellows used to raise the temperature of charcoal up to 1000 degrees to enable the extraction of ores and metals. The bellows were originally driven by water wheels and later by steam. The tower at the end of this building is built from Parbrick, made locally by Par Brickworks with mud and clay taken from Par harbour.
Turn right opposite these mills into the narrow Blowing House Lane. Carry on to the end where the lane becomes a small footpath, which follows the original route of the leat. At the end of this path you come out onto Gover Road at its junction with Truro Road.

6. River Walk / West Bridge / St. Austell & Pentewan Railway

Captain Phillips would give plane rides over St Austell
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Captain Phillips would give plane rides over St Austell

Turn right onto Truro Road and cross the New Bridge built in the 19th Century to replace the original Westbridge. These cross the White (Vinnick) River, so called because of the clay residues that used to enter this watercourse from the china clay industry. Below the bridge on your right is a building which in the 1920’s was Hill & Phillips Garage. Capt. Percy Phillips was a World War One hero and recipient of the DFC. He was famous locally for being the first person in Cornwall to own an aeroplane. He would give pleasure rides at 5 shillings per person from Rocky Parc, on the western outskirts of the town. The planes would have their wings removed in order to travel up and down the Truro Road between the park and the garage!
Next door is Trevarrick Mill, now a tyre centre.
Cross over Truro Road at this point and turn immediately left into River Walk. This is a pretty footpath that follows the White River and links the New Bridge with the ancient Westbridge. This lovely old bridge is at least as old as 1533 and would have carried all the traffic from the west into the town. You can imagine the congestion there would have been at this point when you compare the width of the two bridges!
Turn left up West Hill and you will soon reach a supermarket car park, which was once the terminus for a mineral railway. This was opened in 1829 and was worked by horse-power until 1874 when steam locomotives were brought in. In its early days about a third of the china clay produced was carried on this rail to the port of Pentewan, four miles away. In 1883 Pentewan Railway began to offer free Sunday-school excursions, which provided much excitement for local children. A.L. Rowse recalls this journey ‘which so delighted me as a child going down the Pentewan Valley by that toy railway, I might have been in darkest Africa.’ Perhaps his imagination was aroused as they passed Trewhiddle, where the fabulous Trewhiddle Hoard of Medieval Treasure was discovered in 1774. This included a Silver Chalice, scourge, pin box, jewellery and coins. The coins dated the find to around 875AD and the entire Hoard was presented to the British Museum in 1880, where you can still see it to this day.
The railway closed in 1918 when Pentewan Harbour silted up and Charlestown and Par became the main harbours for the export of China Clay.

7. West Hill / Truro Road / Trinity Street

The devil and his hounds - illustration by Simon Riordan of SRStudio
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The devil and his hounds – illustration by Simon Riordan of SRStudio

Our trail continues up West Hill which was once called Old Hill. There is a legend that the Devil and his Hounds patrolled the town by way of South Street, Workhouse Lane (Moorland Road) and this Old Hill. Turn left into Park Road and take a diversion through the top of the park on your left. This park was donated to the town by Sir Charles Graves-Sawle in 1914/15. Exiting the park turn right up Truro Road. Again there are clues to the past along this road. There are several grand houses once owned by the China Clay industrialists.
The printing company on the corner, with its wide entrance, was the site of the old Savoy Theatre. Further along on the right is an ornate building with the inscription ‘SCULPTURE’ which once belonged to a Monumental mason. Look out for the plinth half way up the building, where the mason probably displayed an example of his trade.
Across the road is a building with a large opening, which was once an old Coach House. Further along on the left is a large Sports Shop, which was once the old Public Assembly Rooms, designed in 1846 by Silvanus Trevail. Turn right into Trinity Street. On the end gable of the corner house is a large mural depicting famous sons and daughters of St. Austell, both past and present. Across the small road that intersects this junction is St. Austell Baptist Chapel, with its front built of pink Tremore Porphyry, an ornamental stone much favoured by the Victorians.

Head along Trinity Street towards the St Austells’s new shopping centre on your left; White River Place which comprises of two squares, giving views over the surrounding countryside and back to the old town with its church tower peeking over the roof tops.