My Britain: St Ives

Anna Walker 6 August 2021

Two St Ives residents share why the Cornish town is a must-visit

They say the light is different in St Ives. Perhaps that's what has attracted so many artists to this Cornish seaside town. JMW Turner, Barbara Hepworth, Maurice Sumray, Naum Gabo and Piet Mondrian have all lived for some time in this quaint town, inspired by the stunning nature and that fabled St Ives light.

In the 2010 BBC documentary, The Art of Cornwall, presenter James Fox explained that, "For a few dazzling years this place [St Ives] was as famous as Paris, as exciting as New York and infinitely more progressive than London." Today's visitors can learn more about the rich history of St Ives' artist colonies at the town's excellent Tate or Hepworth museums. 

And a dazzling art scene isn't all St Ives has to offer visitors. Each September the St Ives September Festival brings music, poetry, films, talks and books to the town. During the popular festival, several pubs around St Ives open their doors for free gigs, local artists open their studios to the public and the 500-seat St Ives Theatre plays host to events. 

"And a dazzling art scene isn't all St Ives has to offer visitors"

Tony Mason

Tony Mason

Born in St Ives in the 1960s, Tony Mason documents his love for his home town on his YouTube channel (CornishPastyMan) and has spent time as a trustee for the St Ives Archive, giving local history tours. 

I have lived in St Ives for most of my life and was born here in 1960. I went away for a few years after college but always intended to come home for good before I was 40, which I did, and have remained to this day. St Ives is so much more than a holiday resort. For a small seaside town, there is always something to see and do, with lots of history to explore and research.

I think most St Ives residents are proud to live in an internationally-known artists' resort, with its vast array of galleries, including the trinity of the Tate, the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Museum and Garden and The Leach Pottery. The St Ives community is alive and well, with over 20 thriving local groups and social organisations offering residents the chance to participate in and foster that spirit for future generations, and the list is growing. You will hear some say the town is not what it was, in terms of everybody knowing everybody else, but that is true of most places in the modern world. 

I think we have successfully moved with the times. However, Cornwall has areas of great poverty, with many neighbourhoods among the poorest ten per cent in England, and a great dependence on food banks and food share schemes. There's also a lack of affordable local housing. 

"Cornwall has areas of great poverty, with many neighbourhoods among the poorest ten per cent in England, and a great dependence on food banks and food share schemes"

In the late 1990s two-thirds of all visitor accommodation were hotels and B&Bs. Today it’s less than ten per cent, with holiday homes making up the vast majority of the town’s bed spaces. With worthwhile investment opportunities so hard to find, the second homes market has boomed nowhere more than in Cornwall. The result is that it's impossible for the youth of today to live in the town, other than by inheriting property. With such dependency on tourism and its low wages, it is hard to see how this will change.

Being interested in local history, in 2012 I decided to create bespoke videos of every bit of St Ives’ visible history and record all aspects of life in town, which I post to YouTube. In the course of my research I was regularly calling on the St Ives Archive and four years ago was asked to become a Trustee.

The Archive has a vast array of information, which greatly broadened the scope of what I thought I had to record while teaching me so much. I now give guided tours of St Ives in aid of the Archive so our history can continue to be recorded and preserved for future generations. There's always a new tale to tell, most recently how we hosted the G7 Summit, which we somehow got away with in June!

St Ives Harbour

Laura Evans

Laura Evans

Better known as the St Ives Mermaid, Laura Evans, 34, has lived in St Ives since childhood. Learn more about her work by following her on Instagram.

I was born in St Ives but I moved away from home at a time when I thought the grass was greener. I soon learned that I already had what I had been looking for all along and fell in love with my hometown when I moved back from London. 

I love the character of St Ives—the character of the people and of the streets. I love the light and the stillness in the early morning when I go for a swim. I love that I can access the wild outdoors just beyond my doorstep. For me, being a St Ives resident means the opportunity to be creative and celebrate the diverse art scene we have here. There is an interesting duality in St Ives—conservative and liberal people rubbing shoulders in almost equal numbers, which pretty much sums up the spirit of St Ives.

Credit: Andy Falconbridge

Sadly I do believe St Ives has become a victim of its own success, much to the detriment of those (especially younger people) wanting to settle here. House prices are at an all time high and the vast majority of jobs are minimum wage. Many independent shops are being priced out of leases only to be swiftly replaced by bigger brands.

"It truly is the most incredible playground for those who find their joy in getting outdoors. Walking, hiking, cycling, coasteering, sailing, swimming—we have it all"

Nature lovers are always drawn to St Ives thanks to the beautiful sea, the wild coast and the wildlife. It truly is the most incredible playground for those who find their joy in getting outdoors. Walking, hiking, cycling, coasteering, sailing, swimming—we have it all. I created the St Ives Mermaid idea as a way of giving back to my hometown—the town that has helped and healed me throughout my life. It gives me the opportunity to entertain locals and visitors while also raising money for charity. 

To plan a future visit to St Ives, head here.

Read more: My Britain: Glasgow

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