Launceston is a beautiful and historic town, whose ancient centre is filled with some of the most important architecture in the county. This is perhaps unsurprising when one learns that this small, unspoilt town was once capital of the Duchy of Cornwall.
The Normans started work on a castle here soon after the Conquest. Its famously round keep was built in the 13th century by Earl Richard, brother of Henry III and one of the most powerful men in Europe.
Nearby Castle Street, just downhill through one of its two surviving gateways, has what Sir John Betjeman called “the most perfect collection of 18th century town houses in Cornwall.” One is now the Eagle House Hotel, whose twin eagle statues star in a spooky but good-humoured Causley poem. Close by, Lawrence House is the town’s museum (run by volunteers and open on particular days only). It houses a number of fascinating and attractive displays, including some dedicated to Causley’s life, work and achievements, as the town’s best-known resident.
Launceston’s Town Square is surrounded by listed buildings, dating back to Tudor times and earlier. The White Hart Inn has a doorway plundered from the 12th century Launceston Priory (some ruins of which still exist, near St. Thomas Church and the River Kensey), and a plaque showing how Launceston figured in the stories of the Battle of Trafalgar and Admiral Nelson. There is also a large and touching War Memorial in the Square.
Explore the several narrow lanes and alleys of the town, leaving the Town Square. They hold a variety of architectural sights from the past. For example, St Mary Magdalene Church is one of the finest parish churches in Cornwall. Founded by Edward, the Black Prince, the church is noted for its unique exterior carvings — with one statue high on the east wall and its local legend (involving landing a pebble on the reclining Mary Magdalene’s back, and thus winning a new suit of clothes) being the subject of a delightful Causley poem.