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The Truro Food Riots

Throughout the 18th century, Truro suffered food riots because of crop shortages.

Reports of the Truro food riots even reached the London newspapers. The London Chronicle wrote:

“There has been a great riot near Truro, amongst the tinners, from their want of work and great scarcity of corn. A party of the 38th regiment was ordered out on Wednesday last; and after some expostulation with the tinners on account of their demands, the Justices ordered the officers to fire, which (highly to their honour), they refused; and the consequence was they immediately dispersed without attempting any mischief.”

One of the biggest riots happened when the famous Methodist, John Wesley was visiting the city. He wrote in his journal on 18th August 1789 that he couldn’t reach the chapel to preach because of the street being,

“blocked up with soldiers to the east, and numberless tinners to the west, a huge multitude of whom being nearly starved, were come to beg, or demand an increase of their wages, without which they could not live.” As a result of the rioting Wesley had to give his sermon under the coinage hall, to “twice as many people as the preaching-house would have contained. How wise are all the ways of God!”

Stannary Law, governing the mining industry, was set up in 1201 with Lostwithiel as the administrative headquarters. Later in the 13th century Truro often held Stannary courts to deal with problems within the mining industry . The Stannary Laws continued until 1838. In 1305 Truro became a Coinage Town and in 1327 was granted the right to sell tin. A Coinage Hall was built in 1351 which was also used for other Court activities.

Truro Borough Court

In 1153, Truro’s first Charter granted to the people of Truro the right to have their own Borough Court, to hold annual fairs and weekly markets, and ‘Infangenethef’ (the right to hang thieves!). Poor errant souls would be left hanging on the gallows in Comprigney Hill to deter others.

Elizabeth I granted a new Charter in 1589 which declared that “Truro shall be a Free Borough and that the said inhabitants ... from henceforth for ever may and shall be one Corporate and Body Politc.”

From this time wrongdoers could be apprehended by the old method of ‘Hue and Cry’ whereby the townsfolk would make such a commotion that miscreants could be chased, caught, and brought to justice.

The image to the right depicts a noose.

Prison and Punishment

In the 1600s a small prison with a dungeon on the ground floor was situated at the end of Middle Row, in Boscawen Street facing the Coinage Hall. Stocks were placed outside the building.

In 1843 John May and Henry Polkinhorne were put in the stocks for being drunk and disorderly; and in 1844 two women were put into the stocks; one did her knitting and the other wept.

Those sentenced to be flogged were tied to the tail of a cart which was driven around Middle Row. Richard Trudgion was flogged in public for stealing goods worth sixpence from Thomas Daniel.

Some received a sentence of “to be stripped naked from the middle upwards and whipt until their bodies are bloody” – this was the fate of Samuel Allen, his wife Mary, and Elizabeth Couch, who stole a hundred gallons of flour in 1772.

Punishments were often harsh, even for children - on June 30th 1846 three young lads were charged on suspicion of stealing a quantity of gooseberries and other fruits. One was lucky enough to get away with costs of 4s 6d but the other two were convicted and sentenced to two months’ hard labour.
Thirteen year old John Trebell of Pydar Street stole some potatoes and was sentenced to the House of Correction for seven days, and privately whipped.

Transportation to Australia was a common punishment and in 1851 James Coombs was transported for 14 years for stealing a shirt. John Flinn was transported for seven years for stealing a silk handkerchief and James Lampshire was transported for ten years for stealing a black mare.

The County Crime Book of 1923 records the habitual thefts of fountain pens perhaps indicating the ease of the act of stealing and concealing them, and their value on re-sale. Gordon Salmon and Walter Penfold both aged 11, Stanley Lashbrooke aged 15, and Henry Penhaligon aged 14, Stanley Walkey and Stanley Penhaligan, both aged 15, and Afred Venton aged 13, all appeared at the juvenile court between December 15th 1923 and January 17th 1924 and were all bound over for £10 for twelve months under the Probation of Offenders Act 1907.

The image to the right shows small boys imprisoned in the stocks.
Boys in Stocks

Policing in Truro

Truro was the first borough to set up a ‘Watch Committee’ in 1835. In 1838 the Watch Committee called the townspeople together to see if they could sort out “frequent occurrence of night broils in the street”.

The new borough police force came into being in 1839 with a team of five uniformed officers and an Inspector. Their headquarters was in the Municipal Buildings together with the Magistrates Court, and a common threat to wrongdoers was “I’ll have you under the clock” meaning they would be hauled up before the magistrates under the town clock.

Today Truro Magistrates Court is at Mitchell Hill, and the Crown Court is at the top of Castle Hill on the site of the Medieval Castle.

The Police force was moved in 1857 to a cottage at the bottom of St Clements Hill. In 1878 the force was doubled to qualify for a grant and in 1882 they had new uniforms.

The force was described as:

“one of the best conducted and most efficient for its size in the West of England”

In 1893 the Police Station was rebuilt .

In 1911 a bicycle was provided for the “better patrolling of the outskirts of the City” At the end of the First World War a Police constable in Truro received £2 a week.

In 1921 the Truro City Police merged with the County Constabulary and in 1967 the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary was formed. The current Police Station, still at the bottom of St Clements Hill was opened by Princess Anne in 1974.

The image to the right depicts the first Police force of Truro and the Police station before it was demolished, overshadowed by today’s modern station.Police station before it was demolished, overshadowed by today’s modern station.
First Police Force
Station pre Demolition