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About St. Ives

Early history

St Ives (Cornish: Porth Ia) is a seaside town, civil parish and port in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. The town lies north of Penzance and west of Camborne on the coast of the Celtic Sea. In former times it was commercially dependent on fishing. The decline in fishing, however, caused a shift in commercial emphasis and the town is now primarily a holiday resort. St Ives was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1639. St Ives has become renowned for its number of artists. It was named best seaside town of 2007 by the Guardian newspaper.

The origin of St Ives is attributed in legend to the arrival of the Irish Saint Ia of Cornwall, in the 5th century. The parish church in St Ives still bears the name of this saint, and the name St Ives itself derives from it.[2]

The town was the site of a particularly notable atrocity during the Prayer Book rebellion of 1549. The English Provost Marshal(Anthony Kingston) came to St Ives and invited the portreeve, John Payne, to lunch at an inn. He asked the portreeve to have the gallows erected during the course of the lunch. Afterwards the portreeve and the Provost Marshal walked down to the gallows; the Provost Marshal then ordered the portreeve to mount the gallows. The portreeve was then hanged for being a “busy rebel”.

Later history

From medieval times fishing was important at St Ives; it was the most important fishing port on the north coast. In the decade 1747-1756 the total number of pilchards dispatched from the four principal Cornish ports of Falmouth, Fowey, Penzance and St Ives averaged 30,000 hogsheads annually (making a total of 900 million fish). Much greater catches were achieved in 1790 and 1796. In 1847 the exports of pilchards from Cornwall amounted to 40,883 hogsheads or 122 million fish while the greatest number ever taken in one seine was 5,600 hogsheads at St Ives in 1868.

Kenneth Hamilton Jenkin describes how the St Ives fisherman strictly observed Sunday as a day of rest. St Ives was a very busy fishing port and seining the usual method of fishing there. Seining was carried on by a set of three boats of different sizes, the largest two carrying seine nets of different sizes. The total number of crew was 17 or 18. However this came to an end in 1924. The bulk of the catch was exported to Italy: for example in 1830 6,400 hogsheads were sent to Mediterranean ports. From 1829-38 the yearly average for this trade was 9,000 hogsheads.

Modern St Ives came with the railway in 1877, the St Ives Bay branch line from St Erth, part of the Great Western Railway. With it came a new generation of Victorian seaside holidaymakers. Much of the town was built during the latter part of the 19th century. The railway, which winds along the cliffs and bays, survived the Beeching axe and has become a tourist attraction itself.

Politics and administration

Prior to 1974, the St Ives Borough Council was the principal local authority for what now forms the civil parish of St Ives. Since the reform of English local government in 1974, St Ives has elected a town council, St Ives Town Council. The principal local authority functions for St Ives were undertaken by Penwith District Council and the Cornwall County Council. From 1 April 2009 Penwith and the other five Cornish district councils were replaced by a unified council, Cornwall Council.


In 1928, the Cornish artist Alfred Wallis and his friends Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood met at St Ives and laid the foundation for the artists’ colony of today. In 1939, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo settled in St Ives, attracted by its quiet beauty. In 1993, a branch of the Tate Gallery, the Tate St Ives, opened here. The Tate also looks after the Barbara Hepworth Museum and her sculpture garden. It was the wish of the late sculptor to leave her work on public display in perpetuity. The town also attracted artists from overseas, such as Piet Mondrian, who let the landscape influence their work, and Maurice Sumray, who became a successful and respected contributor to the St Ives art scene when he moved to the town from London in 1968.[6]

Prior to the 1940s the majority of artists in St Ives and elsewhere in West Cornwall belonged to the St Ives Society of Artists; however events in the late 1940s led to a growing dispute between the abstract and figurative artists within the group. In 1948 the abstract faction broke away from the St Ives Society, forming the Penwith Society of Artists led by Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson.

The studio pottery Troika was set up in St Ives in 1963.


Traditional festivals

St Ives is home to three celebrations of interest. John Knill, a former Mayor of St Ives, constructed the Knill Steeple, a granite monument overlooking the town. In 1797, Knill laid down instructions for the celebration of the Knill Ceremony, which was to take place every five years on 25 July (St James’s Day). The ceremony itself involves the Mayor of St Ives, a customs officer, and a vicar; they should be accompanied by two widows and 10 girls who should be the “daughters of fishermen, tinners, or seamen”.

A second celebration, of perhaps greater antiquity, is St Ives Feast, a celebration of the founding of St Ives by St Ia, which takes place on the Sunday and Monday nearest to 3 February each year. It includes a civic procession to Venton Ia, the well of St Ia, and other associated activities. It is most notable as one of the two surviving examples of Cornish Hurling (in a gentler format than its other manifestation at St Columb Major).

A third festival is the St Ives May Day, which is a modern revival of May Day customs that were at one time common throughout the west of Cornwall.

The St Ives September Festival

There is also the now famous St Ives September Festival. In 2008 this Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary on 6–20 September. The St Ives September Festival is one of the longest running and widest ranging Festivals of the Arts in the UK. It lasts 15 days and includes a range of arts from Music (including Folk, Jazz, Rock, Classical & World) to Poetry, Film, Talks and Books. It was founded in 1978 as a joint venture by a group of local entrepeneurs and the nearby International Musicians Seminar. The first Festival featured Folk and Jazz music Poetry, Film, Talks and Chamber Music. Many of the local artists in the town open up their private studios to allow visitors to see exactly how their art is produced. There is free music in many pubs in the town almost every night, as well as well-attended concerts. The Festival attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world.

St Ives has a 500 seat theatre which hosts some of the September Festival events.

In literature and popular culture

St Ives is well known from the nursery rhyme and riddleAs I was going to St Ives“, although it is not clear whether the rhyme refers to the Cornish town or one ofseveral other places called St Ives around the country.

St Ives also figures in Virginia Woolf’s reflections contained in “Sketch of the Past”, from Moments of Being:[9]

…I could fill pages remembering one thing after another. All together made the summer at St. Ives the best beginning to life imaginable.

The Cornish language poet Mick Paynter is resident in St Ives.

The Discovery Travel and Living programme Beach Café is filmed in St Ives, featuring Australian chef Michael Smith.


St Ives railway station is linked to the Paddington to Penzance main rail route via the St Ives branch line which runs frequent services from St Erth station. The line was opened in 1877 by the St Ives branch railway, but became part of the Great Western Railway in 1878. A Park-and-Ride facility for visitors to St Ives runs fromLelant Saltings railway station, which was opened on 27 May 1978 specifically for this purpose. The line also links the town to nearby Carbis Bay and Lelant.


The town also has regular services by National Express Coach from London VictoriaHeathrow and other places in Britain. Buses also connect St Ives to nearby towns and villages, such as ZennorPenzance and St Just.


The nearest airports to St Ives are Newquay and Plymouth. Private jets, charters and helicopters are served by Perranporth airfield.

(Taken from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Ives,_Cornwall)