Thursday, 26 March 2015


Truro City Hall

We have made a lot of visits to Cornwall while walking the South West Coast Path, but never seen the county town, Truro (Truro became the seat of the new diocese of Cornwall in 1876 and was granted city status in 1877). It was time to end that omission. Internet research revealed a town trail "Footsteps around Truro" available from the tourist office so we decided to follow that. The tourist office is located in the City Hall an Italian Renaissance style building of 1846-7.

Turning right along Boscawen St immediately brings you to face the former Coinage Hall.

This had nothing to do with money but everything to do with tin - tin mining. Truro was one of the five Stannary Towns in Cornwall - towns where until 1838 tin was assayed for purity and taxed before it could be sold or exported. (The others were Bodmin, Helston, Lostwithiel and Liskeard.) Coinage was the process of cutting a corner ("coin" in French) from the tin ingot.

I learn from Pevsner that the original Coinage Hall was demolished in 1840 - the current building dates from about 1850. It retains the name, but never carried out the function.

Bearing right of the Coinage Hall brings you into Princes St where the Mansion House, now rather appropriately an estate agents, is on the right. Pevsner regards this, and its near neighbour Princes House, as "the best town houses in Cornwall".

We found both a bit too severe, but further along the street we enjoyed this jolly pub, seemingly once a shop, with its fine windows and terracotta decoration.

Now along Quay St and into Duke St to then turn right down a narrow passage called Squeeze Cuts Alley. Truro has a number of these narrow passages which go by the name "opes". You emerge in St Mary's St opposite a small building which once housed the grammar school founded in 1549.

Towards the end of the street you are greeted by a dramatic view of the Cathedral. The extraordinary thing about this view is that an aisle of the former St Mary's church which previously occupied the site remains tucked in the south east corner (the rest of the church was demolished). This was at the insistence of the architect John Loughborough Pearson against the wishes of the first bishop of Truro, Edward White Benson. It is an unusual and charming feature.

We walked round to the magnificent west front to see head the towers which had only previously glimpsed from the main road on the edge of the city. Apart from its vertical emphasis, the other striking feature is the combination of grey Cornish granite and creamy bath stone.

Inside the principal impression is of calm, unity and harmony. The Cathedral took 30 years to build (started 1880, completed 1910). You can see that the choir is at a slight angle from the nave and this is the result of aligning it with the St Mary's aisle. It is just slightly disturbing.

St Mary's aisle is a delightfully airy space with a series of attractive bosses on the roof. They are a recent but very effective addition.

Outside to the right is the stately facade former Assembly Rooms of 1780, another reminder of Truro's Georgian heyday.

We walked along Pydar street past the substantial Victorian Library in search of some almshouses which I had read were there. The entry in Brian Howson's invaluable book, Almshouses, describes them as having inscriptions but being "otherwise unrecognisable as almshouses". This bank building with its low roofline and central pediment seemed the best fit with his 1631 date. I couldn't find any inscriptions though.

Pydar Mews brought us to Castle St where the modern Court buildings are to be found on a site that once home to a Norman castle. They date from 1986-8 and are the work of Evans and Shalev. Pevsner describes the work as of "the highest calibre in concept, architectural composition and immaculately controlled detail". We were ready to be impressed, but overall our feeling was that the building was too low-rise and suggestive more of a holiday hotel.

River St now brought is to Victoria Square at the opposite end of Boscawen St to where we started. Opposite, but even then not immediately visible, was a hidden gem, Walsingham Place. A curving terrace built in 1837 by Edmund Turner and John Ferris. The left hand side is more dramatic and the imposing entrances feature wonderful carvings of lions' heads.

At the end we went through the pleasant Lemon St Market into the Georgian Lemon Street, with a fine collection of late Georgian houses (it was built in 1801).

At the bottom is Lemon Quay where the Hall for Cornwall backs onto the City Hall. We quite liked the pub next door.

Conditions: a beautiful sunny day.

Distance: about 2 miles.

Rating: four stars. A delightful city.

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