This ancient Cornish town is explored by myCornwall
There is an ancient, traditional feel when you walk around Liskeard, with its historic buildings and medieval streets. If you arrive before the hustle and bustle of the day begins you could be forgiven for thinking that you have been transported back in time. Liskeard or Lyskerrys (Cornish) is one of Cornwall’s oldest towns. It is referenced in the Doomsday book in 1086 when it was little more than a small village. In the 13th century Liskeard became a town gaining the first of its eighteen charters in 1240 by Richard, Earl of Cornwall.
Liskeard has a rich and vibrant past and up until the late 17th century, the town made its political mark in Cornwall with its own parliamentary borough and two elected MP’s representing the town in the House of Commons from 1295 – 1885.
The parliamentary borough was one of the smallest in the UK and was finally abolished by the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885 when the borough became part of the South East division of Cornwall. It was also a stannary town, a town in which mined tin was stamped and taxed.
Situated at the head of Looe Valley, Liskeard has long been an important market centre and is one of the five original mining towns in Cornwall, the other four being Lostwithiel, Truro, Bodmin and Helston.
Copper was discovered locally in 1836 that resulted in a growth in mining in the area and a rapid growth in the population. The Cornish mining industry played an important part in the growth of the town and this continued thanks to the use of the Liskeard and Looe Union Canal which had been opened in 1827, which enabled ore and stone to be transported down to the coast for shipping.
However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the miners and the other towns-folk.
Back in 1842 a group of 200 miners took part in a riot outside a pub in the centre of town. All this took place because the miners were refused a drink. Following the arrest of several miners a crowd gathered at the town police station. Following a stand off the crowd attacked it and removed their comrades from the cells.
In addition to the transport links provided by the canal, the Liskeard and Looe Railway Line opened in December 1860 and this allowed cargo to be transported with ease from the nearest station to the quayside in Looe.
Visitors to the town are easy to spot, their heads tilted to take in the sights of the classic buildings and architecture that dominates the town. Few towns the size of Liskeard, with a current population of only 9,000, can boast that they have two sets of public buildings.
The Guildhall with its clock tower was built in 1859 and replaced the former town hall. Until very recently the building was used as a Magistrate’s Court. The Public Hall, built in 1890, hosts many community activities and is the home to The Town Council offices, Foresters Hall houses and the Town Museum and Information Centre.
One must-see location to visit is Stuart House, in Barras Road. King Charles I stayed at Stuart House during a military campaign against the parliamentarian forces in 1644. Stuart House, which was built between 1480 and 1520, now hosts a heritage centre where it stages art and heritage events. The venue also hosts regular talks on one of Liskeard’s most famous residents; Victorian, architect Henry Rice.
Another place of interest designed by Henry Rice is the Liskeard Museum in Pike Street. Rice designed this piece of architectural history, which at the time housed the East Cornwall Savings Bank and The Liskeard Literary and Scientific Institution, back in 1835 and then went on to do the redesign in 1861.
Modern day Liskeard is the only town in Cornwall to still hold a weekly livestock market, which is held every Thursday and draws hundreds of local people to the centre of town. In addition to the weekly cattle market, the town also has an annual agricultural show, which takes place just outside the town in early July.
Castle Park and the Bull Stone
One of Liskeard’s larger features is Castle Park, which is situated to the north east of the town centre. Within the park is the town’s Bull Stone, a stone with a ring embedded on top.
The bull stone was, as the name implies, used for teathering bulls to. It was originally installed in the Parade back in 1792.
Following the bull stone falling out of use it was moved to outside the White Horse Inn. It was then moved along the street where it was used for horses.
In 1802 a rowdy crowd of locals moved the stone back to its original position in the Parade in protest at not being allowed to vote.
The Liskeard authorities removed the stone and chained it to the Market House.
When voting system was overhauled by the Reform Act of 1834 the stone was dragged around Liskeard. It was placed in its current Castle Grounds location.
From its humble beginnings in the 12th Century to the bustling and busy agricultural town it is today, Liskeard has always remained delightful and independent town. Many of its original Victorian buildings and traditional values are still in place, which makes this popular town well worth a visit and a true Cornish treasure enriched with history and heritage.
Henry Rice (1808 – 1876)
Henry Rice was a Victorian architect who is responsible for much of the structure of Liskeard. He was born in 1808 in Kenwyn, near Truro and was the son of a farmer. Henry Rice came to Liskeard in 1826 to work for Robert Coad, who was a distinguished land surveyor. During this time he excelled in his work and became a skilled surveyor, who also studied architecture.
In 1837 Henry Rice left Robert Coad to set up his own architect business. Through this business he was responsible for many of the buildings in Liskeard today, including; Looe Mills Toll House, the Methodist Church, Barclays Bank, the Guildhall Clock Tower, the Museum, Lloyds Bank, The old stag hotel, Rosedean surgery, No 6 West Street and the Foundation Monument. He was also the designer of three unique and distinguished terraces, Dean, Varley and Manley.
Henry Rice married in 1839 to a local farmer’s daughter, Jane Vian. They went on to have four daughters and one son also called Henry. For a brief period following his father’s semi – retirement, Henry junior carried on his father’s practice, however he was succeeded by two of Henry Rice’s former pupils firstly Richard Coad and then John Sampson.
Henry Rice died on 8th July 1876 and is buried in Lanchard cemetery, which is another building planned by him. Today you can follow the Henry Rice Trail, a guided walk around Liskeard, which gives people the opportunity to see the 100 surviving buildings that he designed during his career.
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‘Liskeard: An Ancient Cornish Town’ is taken from our Aug/Sept 2011 Vol 2 Issue 7. Subscribe to myCornwall magazine here for more stories like this one.