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Originally, (in 1790) the settlement was known as West Polmear and had a population of 9, which increased to 3,184 by 1911. The area is now named after Charles Rashleigh who had the harbour built in conjunction with John Smeaton in 1792, it served the booming clay and copper industries in the local region at the time. Rashleigh owned several copper mines and was an extremely wealthy man. The harbour was so busy that it had two additional phases of expansion, one in 1799. 
In the later years it received imports of coal from Wales as well as other operations, and it still operated on a very small scale in the export of clay.
Now a days there is a lot of the beautiful architecture still to see at the well-preserved harbour. It is a popular filming location with large and small budget film makers alike. There is a maritime museum (Charlestown Shipwreck, Rescue and Heritage Centre) and of course the Rashleigh Arms.
The company Square Sail operate tall ship sailing from the harbour and there are often tall ships moored in the harbour to see.