Oldest towns in Cornwall which people still live in

That Cornwall is a county “steeped” in history is likely not a revelation to anybody, and is bordering on a tiresome cliche.

Whether it is the ancient cave sites dotted around as far as Land’s End or the thousand-year-old church remains which can be found in and around existing villages – Cornwall’s ancient and medieval human history is better preserved than nearly anywhere in the country.

Nowhere is that better shown than the incredibly old towns in the county.

But many of the oldest areas of human habitation in the county are now empty, just ruins, having played host to original nomadic, scattered people of Cornwall who did not form large urban centres like the Romans.

Here are some of the oldest places in Cornwall which people still live in.

Bodmin, Camelford, Launceston, Lostwithiel, Marazion – first ‘real’ towns in Cornwall

Did you know only one modern Cornish town “officially” existed in the 11th century?

According to the Domesday Book, Norman King William the Conqueror’s, Bodmin was the only large settlement in the area.

It gained coinage town charter in the 1200s, but Bodmin as a place of permanent residence existed far before its official birth.

St Petroc, one of the many Christian preachers tasked with converting Northern Europe from paganism to Roman Catholicism, founded a monastery in Bodmin hundreds of years prior before his death in around 564, which covered much of eastern Cornwall.

According to Cornwall Heritage Trust, Bodmin also had a Roman fort nearby – one of the only pieces of Roman civilisation which made it this far South West of Britain.

Alongside Bodmin, present-day Camelford and Launceston evolved beyond just being manor houses and castles in the county in the 11th and 12th centuries – gaining town status shortly afterwards.

(Image: English Heritage)

Lostwithiel, according to the town’s own heritage website, was founded after the Norman conquest of 1066.

Starting off, as many towns did at the time, at the construction of Restormel Castle in the 13th century – the town became an important medieval sea port. Now, it stands as the county’s capital for antique trade.

Unlike the other settlements listed here, Marazion never became a major town. Evidence was fairly recently uncovered of a smelter in modern-day Marazion, meaning it could have had permanent residents for more than 1,000 years.

However, historians of the Domesday Book HC Darby and GR Versey did not find any ‘official’ record of the town as of the 11th century.

Restormel Castle is close to Lostwithiel
(Image: Richard Croft)

Truro – Cornwall’s oldest (and only) chartered city

Despite being Cornwall’s modern-day capital, Truro is one of the newer (relatively speaking) major settlements in the county.

After a Normal castle was built in the area by Richard de Luci in the 12th century, Truro grew rapidly.

It gained charter status in 1170, and became Cornwall’s first and only city in 1876 due to the then-flourishing mining trade.

St Piran’s Oratory – oldest known Christian place of worship in Cornwall

St Piran’s Oratory site

St Piran’s, near Perranporth, was likely built in the 6th or 7th centuries – before the collapse of the Roman Empire – and is one of the oldest standing Christian churches in Western Europe.

The site is listed as a scheduled monument, meaning it is protected for its historic and cultural value.

On St Piran’s Oratory’s listing, via Historic England, says of the reason for its importance: “Despite some 19th and early 20th century restoration, St Piran’s Oratory survives as an early Christian chapel with all of its four walls standing beneath its protective covering of sand.

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“It represents the supposed site where St Piran, an Irish saint, came ashore and established a Christian centre of worship in the sixth or seventh centuries AD.

“It is particularly important therefore in the study of the introduction and development of Christianity in western Britain.”

Cornwall Live