Built between 1539 and 1545 this coastal artillery fortress is amongst some of the best preserved of Henry VIII’s fortifications in the country. It has served as a defence of the realm for more than 400 years and was still in use during the Second World War. Shaped like a clover leaf with octagonal outer defence structures, it was designed to support heavy guns capable of sinking ships attempting to enter the harbour. The fortress was a protection against any invasion from the Catholic Franco – Spanish and protected the anchorage of ‘Carrick Roads’ on the Fal Estuary on the south coast of Cornwall, near to Falmouth. The estuary is one of the largest in the country and would have been a major artery for ships coming up the river. At one time the Falmouth could have become a major port because of the fine estuary but suffered through its relative isolation. It was used for sailing events in the 2012 Olympic Games.
Building work on the fortress was overseen by local landowner, Sir Thomas Treffry, who volunteered to make sure everything went to plan and was appointed deputy governor. All approaches to the estuary were covered on all sides by gun ports. However, the fortress wasn’t as strongly protected from land attack.
During the English Civil War, the fortress was occupied by Royalists but was attacked and overrun by Parliamentary forces in 1646 and surrendered into their hands.
Towards the end of the 18th century during the Napoleonic Wars a gun battery was built beneath St Mawes, housing twelve guns and built with three flanks. By 1870, this had changed to four 64 pounder guns and by 1898 further changes were made housing two six pounder quick firing guns and one heavy machine gun. These were served by an underground tunnel and magazine built beneath the battery.
During World War II the battery played an integral part in a system of defences that were set up on the headland.
Today St Mawes Castle is owned by English Heritage and is used for events and wedding ceremonies. This one time fortress built as a defence against Britain’s enemies now brings people together to celebrate.
It is open to visitors as a museum but out of season the castle may be closed so checking the website in advance is important for times and pricing. Access to parts of the castle for some visitors might be difficult due to its location and the layout of the building. Large groups are catered for but booking is usually required in advance by contacting English Heritage through their website.
Private photography is welcomed and visitors are free to share their experience over social media.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Old Tretheake Mill (Rd), Tretheake, Veryan, Truro
Cornwall, England, TR2 5PP
+44 (0)1872 501 658
- Address: Upper Castle Road, St Mawes, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom, TR2 5DE
- GPS: 50.15554167,-5.023586111
- Phone: 0044 (0)1326 270 526
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: TR2 5DE
- Entrance Fees: Yes
- Disabled Access: Wheelchair access is very limited, although is possible to access the shop and courtyard.
- Visibility from Road: Excellent
- Image Credits: Header Image: Helen Hotson