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Tide is turning at Cornish coastal town

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 27, 2013

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Hayle is on the north coast of Cornwall, just across the bay from St Ives. Its name comes from the Cornish heyl, meaning estuary. Sadly, though, there have been times in its fairly recent past when inhabitants of other, prettier, places nearby have dismissed poor Hayle with the unkind nickname of "Hell".

Such mockery could perhaps have been justified. Hayle's rich industrial past includes copper smelting, engine manufacture, a port and coal-fired power station. All of which contributed to the area's prosperity but not to its beauty-appeal. Hayle reached the 21st century in a fairly derelict state of post-industrial gloom.

Hayle, however, has a buzz to it these days. There are plans afoot to reclaim the harbour area with a supermarket, housing, cafes and much more. Locals are confident that, once the harbour development is under way, Hayle could become the new Falmouth, another Cornish port town that has boomed in recent years thanks to regeneration.

Hayle's trading history dates back to Roman times and even earlier, with traces of Roman and Phoenician pottery found here. But it really came into its own in the 1700s, when John Harvey, a blacksmith from nearby Carnhell Green, established a small foundry and engineering works here to supply the local mining industry. The business went from strength to strength working with a series of great engineers and entrepreneurs, including Richard Trevithick, pioneer of the first steam engine.

The firm of Harvey and Co is probably best remembered for producing beam engines for Cornish mining, considered as some of the finest ever built, which were exported worldwide.

Less admirably, Harvey's operated a "Company Store" policy, forcing workers to buy their provisions from Harvey's Emporium. When this policy finally ended a number of "garden shops" were built in the front gardens of existing houses and are still evident in modern Hayle. Many of the older houses here are the original terraced worker's cottages and are still very affordable today.

Harvey's of Hayle reached its peak in the mid-19th century, followed by a long, slow decline. Other light industry then came to the town, including aviation fuel manufacture, none of which helped Hayle's charm too much.

In the 1980s, businessman Peter de Savary fronted an attempt to develop the harbour area but failed to attract financial support to bring his plans to fruition. In 2004, ING Real Estate, an international property development company, took over and it seems that the plans finally look set to become a reality before too long. Outside of the harbour area, the Harvey's Foundry project has already transformed the run-down buildings into business and residential units.

Hayle has many natural glories, including a three-mile-long beach, the vast sand dunes wilderness of Gwithian Towans and excellent surf towards the eastern end of the beach near Gwithian. It might well be time to buy here now and make the most of a coastal town that is on the up.

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