The town was the site of a particularly grotesque atrocity during the Prayer Book rebellion of 1549. The English Provost Marshall came to St Ives and invited the mayor, John Payne, to lunch at an inn. He asked the mayor to have the gallows erected during the course of the lunch. Afterwards the mayor and the Provost Marshall walked down to the gallows; the Provost Marshall then ordered the mayor to mount the gallows. The mayor was then hanged for being a Roman Catholic.
Modern St Ives came with the railway in 1877, a branch line from St Erth. With it came the new generation of Victorian seaside holidaymakers. Much of the town was built during the latter part of the 19th century.
In 1928, the artists Alfred Wallis, Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood met at St Ives and laid the foundation for the artists' colony of today. In 1939, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo settled in St Ives. In 1993, a branch of the Tate Gallery, the Tate St Ives, opened here. The Tate also looks after the Barbara Hepworth Museum and her Sculpture Garden. It was the wish of the late sculptor to leave her work on public display in perpetuity.