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Saltash, Cornwall

By Paul Michael
18th October, 2008

Saltash is the gateway to Cornwall on the A38 via the Tamar Bridge and by train via Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge.

  Its location on a narrow stretch of the river Tamar makes for a natural crossing and it is likely that early settlers in the surrounding area would have taken advantage. There is some evidence to support this, such as flint, which is not natural to the area.

  Trematon provides the earliest evidence of Celtic settlement in the 7th century. This was followed by the Saxons, who took Trematon Manor in the 9th century up until the Norman Conquest of 1066.

  William the Conqueror, crowned king of England on Christmas Day 1066, ordered Trematon Castle to be built in the grounds of the manor and entrusted it to his half-brother, Robert. It was he who created a market. St Stephens’s church was built at about 1076. Trematon or "Trematone" was listed in the Doomsday book of 1086.

  In the late 1100s, the people of Trematon realised a better trading position on the shores of the Tamar where fishermen and ferrymen were already established. The village of Esse, or Essa, as the borough is known today, was built.

  It is thought that the word, Esse, probably through local pronunciation, and possibly from the ‘Ash’ tree, became the word 'Ayshe' or 'Asshe'. The word, Salt, likely to come from the local salt mill at nearby Salt Mill Creek, formed the name Salt Asshe, which started to be used in the mid 1300s at roughly the time it was granted a royal charter.

  Saltash continued to develop and prosper. In Plymouth's charter of 1439, Saltash was recognised as a significant borough, along with its trade and the use in particular of the river Tamar. By this time large ships would tie up on the Saltash waterfront, which enjoyed both deep and relatively safe waters. Furthermore, Saltash had jurisdiction of the waters out as far as Plymouth Sound and Cattewater.

  The 1500s were a very unsettling time for everyone due mainly to the Dissolution of the Monasteries of Henry VIII's reign. It was a time of great violence and unnecessary imprisonment. After this time, Saltash struck an association with Sir Francis Drake, where his ship, the Golden Hynde, was unloaded of its spoils from Drake's voyages to Spain. He is said to have married a local lady, Mary Newman, who’s cottage still exists in Culver Street.

  The 1600s were yet another turbulent time for Saltash with the loss of more lives due to staunch Cornish Royalists defending their position from the neighbouring Parliamentarians. A long running battle ensued until 1641, when they were finally defeated. As peace prevailed, Saltash became thwarted by Plymouth's growing might.

  During the 1700s the Royal Dockyards were built on the riverbank shores of Devonport, which was a suburb of Plymouth at that time. Saltash prospered from this with its ferry crossing and its ship-building expertise to provide both homes and work for local people. The town suffered a little from the opening of the Torpoint Ferry, which was a more direct route to the Dockyards further down the river. However, Saltash soon recovered.

  The 1800s was a century of significant technological change for Saltash, as it was all over Great Britain. The coming of the steam engine gave rise to the first steam ferry service to operate at Saltash, but there appeared to be teething problems, which even today seems to be quite normal where technology is concerned. Then, in 1848, Saltash was chosen as the crossing for a new railway. The bridge was to be designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and was opened by Price Albert in 1859 and aptly named, The Royal Albert Bridge.

  As with many towns served by the railway, Saltash continued to prosper. The railway served as a means to transport produce and, importantly, people, who worked at the local Dockyard. This was the start of the trend for the people living in Saltash to work in Devon and further afield.

  There were many changes in the 1900s, largely necessary because of two world wars, the second being the most devastating to the town. The Royal Albert Bridge was a significant target for the Germans to sever the main transport link from Cornwall and Devon. Unfortunately, a few bombs went adrift and landed in Saltash, with the loss of lives and devastating many of its buildings.

  After the war, much of the town was rebuilt, especially on the waterfront, which still had, although very run down, 16th century cottages. In the late 1950s work started on the Tamar road bridge, which was completed in 1961. Its opening marked the end of the official 400-year era for the ferry service, which had been running unofficially for centuries prior to Elizabethan times. On the brighter side, it has bought much prosperity to Saltash, and the town grew exponentially for many years. Housing estates popped up all over the place, along with the local services to support the bulging population.

  Today, Saltash comprises the areas of Essa, St Stephens, Pill and Burraton, and has a population of some 15,000 and in the order of 5,400 homes. It is the largest town in the Caradon district area of SE Cornwall. It is a thriving town that still enjoys its place as a gateway to Cornwall. Fore street has a fine range of shops and professional services with two public car parks. On the outskirts of town there are two main industrial estates providing work opportunities for people in the area. Many people work in the Dockyard, now under the management of Babcock Marine Ltd, which is a major employer in this region. The railway and good road links continue to enable many residents to commute further away.

  Saltash is a great place to visit or a base to stay, as many of the main attractions of both Cornwall and Devon are within easy reach of Saltash. There is an abundance of inns and guest houses both in and around the town and you don't need to travel far to take in some breathtaking scenery.

  Come and stay in Saltash. If you live nearby, pop into town for a bit of shopping therapy and take in some refreshments along the waterside. Take a train ride for a great day out. The kids will love it!  

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