Walk back in time through the eyes of our local Blue Badge tour guides, Di Smith and Dawn Surl.
Start your walk from High Cross in the centre of Truro, by the Cathedral.
The old Celtic Cross overlooked all the weekly markets and annual fairs. This is where scavengers brought down a bull from Castle Fields which was tethered to a ring on the cross.
With the Cathedral behind you, turn left into King Street and walk to the junction at the end of the road.
We are now in Truro’s main street, Boscawen Street. After the demolition of Middle Row which separated Fore Street and Market Street in the 1790s, the wide street we see today emerged. It is named after Admiral Edward Boscawen. He was highly regarded for his many victories as commander of HMS Dreadnought.
Turn left into Boscawen Street, heading for the end of the street and the Coinage Hall.
Stand in front of the building which dates from the 1840s. Truro became a Coinage Town in 1301 and the original building on this site was built as the Coinage Hall in 1351. Here the tin would be laid out in front of the building prior to being assayed for quality – a corner would be cut off and the Duchy Crest applied. The word coinage comes from the French for ‘corner’.
As you face the Coinage Hall, cross over the road to your left and almost immediately squeeze into a narrow alleyway: ‘Squeezeguts Alley’ which leads to the Old Grammar School.
The original Grammar School was built in 1549 for boys who came as boarders or day pupils. There is a long list of illustrious Cornishmen who attended this school including Sir Humphry Davy, Henry Martyn, Goldsworthy Gurney and Samuel Foote. George Conan the headmaster from 1728 to 1771 wanted to make the school the Eton of the west. He was followed by Cornelius Cardew who was appointed in his role aged 23. He was also vicar in three parishes as well as Mayor of Truro in 1781 and 1797.
Turn left in St Mary’s Street to reach the south side of the Cathedral, stopping halfway along at the South Porch.
The Cathedral was built between 1880 and 1910 and was the first to be built on a new site since Salisbury Cathedral in 1220. Truro Cathedral is one of only three in Britain with three spires. The statue of the architect John Loughborough Pearson is seen holding the plans for the building.
Retrace your steps alongside the Cathedral.
This follows St Mary’s Aisle, part of the original church which stood on this site. This aisle was built in the time of Henry VII (note the King’s crest). The pelican on the corner of St Mary’s aisle is dedicated to James Bubb, the first clerk of works in the building of the Cathedral.
At the corner of the Cathedral, turn left into Old Bridge Street.
This was the original eastern route into Truro from Grampound and Lostwithiel.
Just after the entrance to the Cathedral car park, leave Old Bridge Street by turning left into Wilkes Walk.
Glance through the railings on your right to see the old bridge built in the late 1300s.
Continue along the river, then turn right over the bridge to reach the Millpool to your left.
At the Millpool, the river Allen flows into Truro. It was originally named the Magna Aqua de Treveru Bighan - ‘the great water of little Truro’. Ships of 100 tons came into this area to trade until the Old Bridge was built.
When the circus came to town, the elephants were brought up to the pool for a wash!
It was said that if you lived into this area you had webbed feet as the river flooded on a regular basis.
Retrace your steps over the river and turn right keeping the Cathedral on your left. Make your way through the Cathedral Green.
Look out for the old St Mary’s Church spire in the corner garden. This stone ‘monument’ is actually the old spire of St Mary’s church which was removed when the Cathedral was built. It was originally re-sited in the garden of the Diocesan House. When the premises were sold in 2015, the spire was brought back to Cathedral Green.
It is said that it once contained two bells, but these were only to be rang in the event of fire. The bells for church services were rung by handbells.
When the spire was removed, it was discovered that the steeple had been built on very poor foundations and was therefore liable to have collapsed before too long.
Continue along the side of the Cathedral to return to High Cross and face the west front of the Cathedral.
Although the foundation stones had been laid in 1880, the Cathedral was not completed in one go. The original went as far as the crossing and included the baptistry before the money ran out. The nave and the west front were completed in 1910 and covered the original graveyard of St Mary’s church.
The stone is mostly hardwearing Cornish granite but as this is not easy to carve, the decorations and statues are of Bath stone. See the damage the Cornish weather has wreaked on this softer stone.
The statues above the door are of monarchs and churchmen admired at the time of the building and include Bishop Benson, Truro Cathedral’s first bishop, Queen Victoria who was queen when the foundation stone was laid, and Edward VII who was king when the building was finally finished. See if you can spot King Arthur!
Turn around and with the Cathedral behind you, look on your right at the Assembly Rooms.
Sadly, we are looking at all that is left of the magnificent Georgian building – the façade now Grade II listed. Built in the 1780s this building was the centre of late 18th century and early 19th century entertainment, being used for dances, plays and recitals. A certain Captain Poldark visited here on several occasions! It was unusual in that it had a dance floor which could be removed to enable the hall to be made into an auditorium for plays.
The two Wedgewood plaques depict Shakespeare on the left and Garrick on the right and at the top, in the roundel, Thalia the Greek muse of comedy and poetry. Some may remember the building’s later use as Cathedral Garage.
Leave the Cathedral behind you, turn right and take a short walk into Pydar Street. Stop at the junction with Union Place to view the Library and Technical School building on the corner.
The Free Library was funded by John Passmore Edwards from Blackwater. He was a philanthropist and responsible for more than 70 institutions such as libraries, cottage hospitals, art galleries and schools. He laid the foundation stone in 1896. The architect was another well-known Cornishman, Silvanus Trevail, who was responsible for designing lots of buildings around Cornwall. He was also twice Mayor of Truro. The adjoining building is the Technical School, built in 1899 for teaching useful trades to students. If you look carefully you may be able to make out the carvings which depict some of these trades. In later years, the library and the technical school were combined to serve as the Truro Community Library.
Turn left into Coombes Lane (almost opposite Union Place) which was home to Mr Pascoe’s school where the great local explorer, Richard Lander, was educated. Lander discovered the source of the River Niger in Africa.
At the end of the lane, turn left and almost immediately right into Tippet’s Backlet, named after shoemaker Joseph Tippett. In this area there was once a cockpit until Rev Samuel Walker of St Mary’s Church eventually managed to stop this ‘sport’. The cockpit became a church and those who worshipped there were known as ‘cockpitarians’.
Tippet’s Backlet leads to River Street where you turn right to reach the Royal Cornwall Museum.
As you face the Royal Cornwall Museum, the building on the left was originally the Savings Bank and the one on the right was the Baptist church, both built in 1845. The architect was Philip Sambell, a deaf-mute man who signed instructions to his mother, who in turn passed this information to the builders.
The bank became Henderson’s Mining School before eventually being taken over by the Royal Institution of Cornwall. The two buildings were joined to make the wonderful Royal Cornwall Museum we see today.
Retrace your steps along River Street to reach Victoria Square.
This was the site of the Old West Bridge accessible to small ships navigating up the river Kenwyn. There was a middle row of wooden buildings in the square which was destroyed by fire in the 1850s. It was said that the fire engine came ‘at a snail’s gallop’.
Truro Turnpike Trust was set up in 1754 by a private Act of Parliament because of the ruinous state of the roads. Here the road led to Chacewater and Redruth and had toll gates from the shop area to Middle Row.
The land in this area, down along Kenwyn Street and stretching as far as the Waterfall Gardens is believed to be the site of a Dominican Friary consecrated in 1259.
Leave the noise and bustle of Victoria Square by crossing over into Walsingham Place – an oasis of tranquillity.
This area, once known as Caribee or Cribby Island, was the highest point ships could moor on the river Kenwyn. The street was built for Edmund Turner, Director of the Western Banking Company of Devon and Cornwall. It is thought to have been named after his brother. The houses were built as residential but today are all business premises. Edmund became Member of Parliament for Truro in 1837 and his good friend John Ferris organised a celebratory meal at the Assembly Rooms which cost £1,000. John Ferris was responsible for the building of Ferris Town where many of the houses were designed by Philip Sambell, who is also thought to have designed Walsingham Place.
At the end of Walsingham Place, turn left and head into Lemon Street Market.
Lemon Street Market was once the stables used by the residents of Lemon Street. It was a street where most houses were occupied by professional people. Their horses and carriages would have been housed in this area and a turntable was used to turn the carriages around ready for the next trip.
As we emerge into Lemon Street, look up to the top of the hill where the wonderful monument to Richard and John Lander stands proudly above the trees. It was eventually finished in March 1837. The Doric column was designed by Philip Sambell and Richard Lander’s statue was by Neville Northey Burnard. The head of Richard combines the features of his daughter with a portrait from the Royal Geographic Society.
Also, on the left at the top of the street is St John’s Church – another Sambell building in his Greek style.
Walk down Lemon street to the bottom and have a look back up Lemon Street.
This is said to be the finest Georgian Street outside Bath. The street was built to allow easier access for the Quicksilver Mail Coach into Truro. The bridge was built in 1798 and Lemon Street was started the following year, to be completed some 30 years later. Access into Boscawen Street was required, so the King’s Head building had to be demolished to make way for Lower Lemon Street. The new hotel, built on the site of the old King’s Head stables, became the second coaching inn for the mail coach. Here the horses could be changed and refreshment taken for the long journey to London. When Lemon Bridge was built, it stopped ships going up to the West Bridge. This area of the river Kenwyn became a very busy port area. There would have been quays, warehouses, a lime kiln, a pottery and a rope walk. The first quay to be built was Merchant’s Quay at the bottom of Lemon Street, which later became Lemon Quay. The original name for the river was the Dower Ithy which means ‘fragrant river’. I am not sure it would have been very fragrant as all the town’s rubbish ended up here. The river was covered over in two stages – the top half in the later 1920s and the lower half about ten years later.
Walk down to the opposite end of Lemon Quay where you will find the bus station.
This area was once The Green – an open area used for gatherings, fairs, exhibitions etc. This was also home to Truro’s second cock pit. To the left of the bus station, you can see the back of Bishop Philpotts Library with its beautiful oriel window. Green Street now runs through the site of an inn which was originally called The Fighting Cocks and later The Dolphin. There is a plaque on the side wall of Bishop Philpott’s Library which commemorates the fact that Richard Lander was born in The Fighting Cocks Inn on 8th February 1804. Lander was the foremost explorer of the early 19th century. He discovered the source of the River Niger.
With the bus station on your right, walk to the end of Green Street.
Across the road, you can see the oldest of Truro’s ‘grand’ town houses which survives known as Old Mansion House. The property was built between 1706 and 1713 for Samuel Enys (of Carclew) who gives his name to the quay behind the house. This house was in an enviable position for Mr Enys to keep an eye on his business interests – with cargoes being loaded and unloaded at both Enys Quay behind and Back Quay in front.
There is a story that from the ocular (round) window in the triangular pediment at the top of the house, he had a very good view into the cock pit opposite. It was said that he would sit at this window watching the men placing their bets on the fights, and if anyone who owed him any money won anything, he would be straight down the stairs and across the road to claim repayment!
The building to your left is what remains of a house known at The Great House which was partially destroyed by fire in the 1920s. This was built in the early 18th century for a member of the Gregor family and was once lived in by the Cornish poet Henry Sewell Stokes who went to school with Charles Dickens and was a friend of Alfred Lord Tennyson. It is reputed that Tennyson wrote ‘In Memoriam’ whilst staying at The Great House.
Some may remember Blackfords the printers being based in the building.
At the junction turn left into Quay Street. It soon becomes Princes Street with Princes House on your left.
It was built in about 1740 for ‘The Great Mr Lemon’ by London architect Thomas Edwards with later additions (porch, steps and boundary wall) by the Cornish architect (and two times Mayor of Truro) Silvanus Trevail. William Lemon was a mining magnate and was also twice a Mayor of Truro. It was his grandson Sir William Lemon who built Lemon Street and was MP for Truro. When it was built, it was described as the finest house in Truro and still retains many of its original features including beautiful plasterwork and an elegant, imposing mahogany staircase.
Opposite Princes House, you will see an unusual hexagonal post box. This is a Penfold box and there are few examples now left. Does anyone know the connection with Dangermouse?!
A few steps away on Princes Street, we now arrive at the Mansion built for Thomas Daniell.
After William Lemon’s death, his clerk, Thomas Daniell, bought up his mining/merchant interests and became an exceedingly wealthy man. His nickname was ‘Guinea a minute Daniell’ due to the amount of money he amassed.
In 1754, Thomas married Elizabeth Elliot who was the niece and heir of Ralph Allen, the Cornishman who revolutionised the Post Office and who had settled in Bath. Allen owned Coombe Down Quarry and his wedding present to the couple was stone from the quarry to build themselves a home. This may not have been quite as altruistic as you think – the house served as a wonderful advert for Mr Allen’s quarry!! Completed around 1760, it took seven years to build this elegant property and cost £8,500 (approximately £1.5 million today!) and some say that French slaves were coerced to work on the construction.
To end this tour, return to Lemon Quay by going down the alleyway to the right of Mansion House and look at the back of the house to appreciate what a fine family home it would have been.