St Ives has been home to many famous faces over the years. Well-known residents and visitors include Virginia Woolf, Dame Barbara Hepworth, Turner, and Henry Moore. Less well known, but very important nonetheless, is former St Ives resident Percy Lane Oliver whose pioneering work formed the basis of the National Blood Authority. This created the blood donor service as we know it today.
The town acted as a "nursery" to one of the world's most famous shipping companies; P&O. The Hain Shipping Company had its headquarters in St Ives before combining with other companies to become P&O.
In addition to fishing, which was a mainstay industry in St Ives as elsewhere in Cornwall, St Ives benefited from the tin industry boom, increasing in importance as the industry grew. Indeed, Wheal Trenwith itself, along with the neighbouring Old Count House is part of that period in the town's history, both buildings having formerly belonged to the Trenwith Mining Company.
As with other parts of Cornwall, St Ives saw many changes during the war with the arrival of the Commando Mountain Training Centre. This had been moved from Scotland reflecting changes in the training regimen required for the D-day landings. As well as contributing commandos on D-Day, the new centre in St Ives supplied the manpower for the St Nazaire commando raid.
In more recent times, St Ives has flourished as a centre for the arts, particularly sculpture and painting. This has been firmly consolidated with the opening of the Tate St Ives which celebrates the artistic heritage and modern culture within the town.
Alongside the modern art, the town also remembers its past. The Leach Pottery preserves the workshops and examples of the work of potter Bernard Leach, whilst the Barbara Hepworth Museum preserves the workshop of this renowned sculptress.
The history of St Ives is very much reflected in the town's character today. Many parts of the town retain the same atmosphere and architecture from its early formation as a fishing harbour. Narrow streets wind between granite cottages in a layout which evolved over time, rather than by design. A key aspect of the identity of the town and its "soul" is the waterfront, beach and harbour. Throughout the town's history, St Ives has existed in symbiosis with the sea, whether as a result of fishing, trade or tourism. The two are interconnected now as in the past, with the harbour performing both as a fishing port and starting point for tourist trips.
Part of St Ives' link with the sea is the long-standing tradition of rendering assistance to those in distress. St Ives has both an all weather and inshore lifeboat available for deployment from the RNLI station at the town. The lifeboat station can be visited between April and October where visitors can learn more about the history of lifesaving – and the occasional tragic cost – in St Ives.