1700s Descriptions

From London to Land's End, by Daniel Defoe (1724)

From Plymouth we pass the Tamar over a ferry to Saltash – a little, poor, shattered town, the first we set foot on in the county of Cornwall. The Tamar here is very wide, and the ferry-boats bad; so that I thought myself well escaped when I got safe on shore in Cornwall.

Saltash seems to be the ruins of a larger place; and we saw many houses, as it were, falling down, and I doubt not but the mice and rats have abandoned many more, as they say they will when they are likely to fall. Yet this town is governed by a mayor and aldermen, has many privileges, sends members to Parliament, takes toll of all vessels that pass the river, and have the sole oyster-fishing in the whole river, which is considerable.

This town has a kind of jurisdiction upon the River Tamar down to the mouth of the port, so that they claim anchorage of all small ships that enter the river; their coroner sits upon all dead bodies that are found drowned in the river and the like, but they make not much profit of them. There is a good market here, and that is the best thing to be said of the town; it is also very much increased since the number of the inhabitants are increased at the new town, as I mentioned as near the dock at the mouth of Hamoaze, for those people choose rather to go to Saltash to market by water than to walk to Plymouth by land for their provisions. Because, first, as they go in the town boat, the same boat brings home what they buy, so that it is much less trouble; second, because provisions are bought much cheaper at Saltash than at Plymouth. This, I say, is like to be a very great advantage to the town of Saltash, and may in time put a new face of wealth upon the place.

They talk of some merchants beginning to trade here, and they have some ships that use the Newfoundland fishery; but I could not hear of anything considerable they do in it.

extract from a letter written by Mrs Russell of Bedfordshire in 1760

We journeyed to Saltash mounted on horses with cloak bags, bandbox, dog, etc. in our laps, in order to ferry over. When we arrived there we stayed near three hours for the boat: but by the time it came there, the market people came so fast upon us that we were quite jockeyed, for it holds but nine horses, and sixteen wanted to get in. We stayed a little while, but both men and women were so brutish and dexterous at it that, though they each had panniers, they leapt in like dogs, on their horses; sometimes their panniers went over the other side, and their horses down. It became quite a battle which would get in first, either by fair means or foul. This deterred Mr. Russell from venturing ourselves among such west country brutes, and luckily a man-of-war's boat with eight oars happened to come ashore with the Lieutenant, when Mr. Russell begged the favour of him to let it carry us over, which he readily agreed to. So we left our horses for the two men (ferry crew) to get over as they could the next turn, which they did with the same difficulty as before, which obliged us to dine at Saltash.

The Complete English Traveller: Or, A New Survey and Description of England and Wales, by J Cooke (1771)

Ten miles south of Kellington, we visited the ancient borough of Saltash situated on the mouth of the Tamar, being only distant from Plymouth, above five miles by land, and not above four by sea. It is a large populous trading town, and was first made a borough by Reginald de Valetort, to whom the manor belonged, in the beginning of the reign of Henry IV. It is governed by a mayor, six aldermen and twenty burgesses who chuse their members, the mayor being the returning officer. The town stands in the parish of St. Stephen, having a fine chapel of ease dedicated to St. Nicholas, being a large building with a tower fifty-seven feet high. Near the chapel is a large market place, a town hall, and a free grammar school supported at the expence of the crown. The Haven of Saltash is very large, capable of receiving the largest ships of war, altho' none but merchantmen come into the harbour, where a considerable commerce is carried on in exporting malt, and trading to Newfoundland. The corporation have a jurisdiction of admiralty by prescription over all vessels, whether English or foreign coming into the harbour, which brings in a considerable sum annually. The market is so well supplied with all sorts of provision, and the prices so low that the artists come by water from Plymouth Dock on Saturday, to purchase the different articles which are carried home in the town boat at the expence of the corporation. Near the town is the ancient castle of Trematon, which although built either before or about the time of the Norman conquest, is still the most perfect and entire of any in Cornwall. This castle is built on an eminence surrounded by a wall and a ditch, but the whole is now so much neglected that some of the courts are used as kitchen gardens. The royalty of the castle is let by lease to the corporation, who pay an annual sum for that privilege to the lord warden of the stanneries. Saltash has a weekly market on Saturday, and two annual fairs on the second of February and fifth of August, and is distant from London, two hundred and twenty miles.

Observations on the Western Counties of England, by William George Maton (1797)

Saltash is situated on the declivity of a very steep hill, which (through the principal street) it is not easy to ascend on horseback. The quay commands a fine view of the river down to Plymouth-dock, and of Maker-heights; on the left may be seen the mouth of the Tavy, and the bleak heaths of Robor'ou'gh. Though a borough, Saltash is but a poor town, and yet the corporation are enriched by the anchorage and soilage of foreign Vessels, the privilege of dragging for oysters, the ferry, &c. which, we were informed, produce considerable profits. The situation is not inviting, nor is there anything picturesque in the appearance of the surrounding lands, which produce corn and pasturage, separated by uniform strait hedges.

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