As far back as the Bronze Age (2000-1500 BC), well before the town of Heyl (today known as Hayle) came into being, the river was used by Irish and Breton shipping while trading for tin. As this metal was used for the making of bronze tools and weapons, this activity continued into the Iron Age.
After the 1st century AD, during the Roman occupation, shipping was able to use the river almost to St Erth, from where overland carriage to St Michael's Mount, another tin trading post, was possible.
When the Romans left in the early 5th century, they were followed by Christian missionaries from Brittany and Ireland who built many of the early churches. The Irish appear to have been more successful at this as the names St. Ia, St. Uny and others suggest, but there is evidence that Breton missionaries were here in the 4th century.
By the time of the Norman conquest the main settlement in the area was around Gwithian.
In his 1988 book titled "A Popular Dictionary Of Cornish Place Names", Oliver J Padel, then Place-Names Research Fellow at the Institute of Cornish Studies (University of Exeter) at Redruth, described Phillack and Hayle in these terms:
Phillack - 'Church of Sancta Felicitas' 1259 and normally to the 15th century, Felok 1388, Seynt Felleck c.1530, Phillacke 1613. From the dedication of the church to a saint Felek, of whom nothing at all is known. The Latin forms are due to an attempt to equate this saint with one of the several saints called Felicity; but the patron saint of this parish is earlier found as Felec and he or she remained so named locally, as shown in the later forms. Note too that the Ph of the modern spelling is a 17th century innovation, and that the names was formally always spelt with F. Circa 1170 the churchtown was also called Egglosheil'.
Hayle - 'The Port of Hayle' 1816, Hayle 1824. A 19th century industrial development named from the river and estuary on which it stands. In 1813 a single house called Heyl occurs in St Erth; it was an independent settlement also taking its name from the estuary'.
River Hayle - 'River called Heyl-penword' 1260. Heyl 1265. Estuary heyl, the name of the river-mouth being transferred to the whole river. The first form has suffixed a corrupt spelling of Penwith, 'Hayle in Penwith'.
The port of Hayle is situated on the north coast of Cornwall, protected by the wide sandy estuary of the River Hayle. There were not many sheltered estuaries on the north coast of Cornwall, and as such it has been a port since the Bronze Age. But the harbour entrance has always need regular dredging to remove the silt deposited by the river. The boom time for the harbour was naturally in the first half of the nineteenth century when the foundries of Copperhouse and Harvey's were at their zenith.
These foundries were here in support of the then significant mining industry. In its heyday Harvey's employed 1000 men. The restored Levant Mine at Pendeen has a fine example of one of Harvey's engines.
Copperhouse is one half of the town; the other half of the town was Foundry and there was always a deal of rivalry between the two. Copperhouse was so called because it was the site of the copper smelters for the mines in the area. The Cornish Copper Company established this site in 1758, but it declined about 50 years later due to the massive pollution and ill-effects on health. The copper ore from Cornwall then was then shipped across the sea to South Wales, whilst return trips brought coal for tin smelting. So for time, Hayle was an important exporter of copper ore but its future now is linked to the tourist industry.
Richard Trevithick built his steam powered road carriage here in 1801. And one of the first railways in the world ran from Hayle to Redruth.
Hayle - Industrial History and Significance - Hayle developed in the 18th and 19th centuries as an important mining town, industrial centre and port. From the early 19th century it was home to two of the three largest mine engine foundries in the world. This link takes you to the results of the Historical Assessment conducted by Cornwall County Council's Historic Environment Service.
Hayle - Cornish Mining World Heritage Site Bid - A World Heritage Site bid, 'The Cornwall & West Devon Mining Landscape' has been prepared for submission to UNESCO. The bid includes the full range of 18th - 20th century mining landscape components, including settlements that were created or rapidly expanded as a result of mining and its associated industries. The Port of Hayle is one of the sites included in the bid.
In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and
Wales described Phillack in these terms:
"PHILLACK, a parish and a sub-district in Redruth district, Cornwall. The parish lies on St. Ives bay, the river Hayle, and the West Cornwall railway, around Hayle railway station, and 4 miles S E by E of St. Ives. It contains the hamlets of Angarrack, Guilford, Logans, and Venton-League; it contains also part of the sea-port village of Hayle, which has a head post-office; and it has fairs on 20 June and 4 Aug. Acres: 3,237; of which 330 are water. Real property: £24,283; of which £21,055 are in mines, £160 in iron-works, and £400 in railways. Pop. in 1851: 4,800; in 1861: 5,381. Houses: 1,022. The property is subdivided. Penpol, Bodriggy, and Riviere are chief residences. Drifting sand has largely encroached on the land from the shore, and forms menacing towns. The living is a rectory, united with the rectory of Gwithian, in the diocese of Exeter. Value, £540. Patron, the Rev. F. Hockin. The church, excepting the tower, was rebuilt in 1856. There are a Wesleyan chapel and a national school. Gwithian church, except the tower, was rebuilt in 1866. The sub-district contains also Gwithian and Gwinear parishes. Acres: 10,481. Pop.: 9,035. Houses: 1,741."
The following articles by John Higgans about Phillack and Hayle are reproduced with his kind permission. These articles will be of interest for all who have ancestors from Phillack and/or Hayle:
Other articles of historical interest include:
Cornish Copper Company - The article includes the names of many who were partners in, employees of, or otherwise associated with, the company.
A more recently history Hayle was published by the Harvey Foundry Trust. To view this article, click here.
Hayle Power Station - In 1910 the Cornwall Electric Power Company signed an agreement with Harvey and Company for the erection of works etc. on the south west side of the Hayle Towans alongside the River Hayle for this power station. Generation of electricity commenced later in 1910. In 1973, with a number of large modern power stations now taking the base load, the power station closed and all plant removed. In June 1981 the two stacks were felled and in the following December the Turbine House and Boiler House demolished. The grounds were then cleared in accordance with the original agreement for it's construction.
Hayle Today -
Hayle lies on the southern side of the magnificent sweep of St Ives Bay and
with its clean sandy beaches, is a magnet for surfers, sailors and other
water sports. It is situated just off the A30, the main road through
Cornwall. There is a railway station in the town which affords good links to
other parts of the country, as well as a station at St Erth which provides
the branch-line service to St Ives.
Hayle rose to prominence during the Industrial Revolution, its engineers developing the Cornish Beam Engine which powered mines and municipal water-works worldwide. Those glory days are long gone and Hayle has endured tough economic times with high unemployment: however, it is now looking to the future. The impending harbour regeneration, the restoration of key Foundry buildings, new industrial and retail parks, together with Hayle's World Heritage Status, are playing a major role in bringing new community-led development, including about 1,000 new houses.
The town has a local Health Centre, St Michael's Hospital, and St Julia's Hospice. There are three primary schools, and a secondary school that has been designated as a language college. It has a good range of shops, two Post Offices, Hairdressers, Estate Agents and many excellent restaurants, offering a variety of cuisines, as well as an adequate supply of pubs.