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Truro's Middle Row - a place long gone.

Middle Row was the main street of Truro in the past, but is now long gone.
The row of buildings ran down the middle of Boscawen Street, beginning at Market House at King Street and continuing to the Town Prison in front of the Coinage Hall. Truro Borough owned most of the properties, which housed such traders as a Saddler, a Barker (for leather tanning), a Shoemaker and a Cooper.

It would have been a smelly, dirty and noisy place. Pupils involved the the Combined Truro Schools Arts Events group made a recording of how it might have sounded - and a fantastic model of how it might have looked.

Click below to listen to how Middle Row might have sounded.

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The Assemble Rooms

In Georgian times the centre of the social life in Truro was the beautiful Assembly Rooms built in 1780 in the High Cross, that held splendid balls once a month. At the height of its grandeur, the Assembly Rooms would be the back drop for young men and women to dance and socialise together in their fine fashions until a late hour.

Today, only the facade of the building is now standing with its dignified frontage ornamented with handsome Wedgewood plaques representing the Muse, Thalia, William Shakespeare and David Garrick arranged around a decorative relief.

The area surrounding the Assembly Rooms, High Cross, would have been a much larger space in its day that saw many elaborate coaches carrying the gentry to their evening of dance. Coaches were a necessity for it would not have been appropriate to go on foot to the Assembly Rooms because of the refuse coating the streets. There was a heraldic coach painter situated in Truro whose work was to be greatly admired during this period.

What made the Truro Assembly Rooms unique was the way the ballroom could be turned into and used as a theatre. When a play was being put on part of the floor would be taken up and the ballroom would give the appearance of a theatre. During the years 1810 and 1811 the Assembly Rooms were occupied by a theatrical company who would perform 70-80 different plays, however, it is most well known for its great balls.

It was not only the balls and plays that were put on at the Assembly Rooms, but it was also the location for popular events, such as the summer exhibition of flowers, fruit and vegetables of the Royal Horticultural Society of Cornwall in 1844. On one special occasion it was even the location for the performance and entertainments of by the Prince of Wales’ Harpist, Mr Ellia Roberts, who came to Cornwall, also in 1844.

Today, the building that was the Assembly Rooms and was the site for magnificent and beautiful events is now Warren’s bakery and the High Cross area has been much reduced in size since 1880 when the Cathedral was built. However, we are still very lucky to be able to admire the exterior that still stands. A section of the artistic border that will have surrounded the main hall in the Assembly Rooms can be seen in the Royal Cornwall Museum.

The image to the right depicts a Georgian coin and The Assembly Rooms in Truro.
Georgian Coin
Assembly Room

The Red Lion Hotel

Before it was demolished in 1967 the Red Lion hotel was a prominent feature on Boscawen Street and was one of the most prestigious buildings standing in Truro. The Red Lion originally stood further along Boscawen Street before it was moved. What is considered the ‘proper’ Red Lion hotel today was situated opposite the entrance to Lemon Street, which was built by John Foote who acquired the land in 1682 and turned it into his family home.

In 1769 it was sold to Thomas Gatty who reopened the property as ‘The Red Lion Hotel’. Mr Gatty was reported to have stated; “The house is by far the best in Cornwall... fitted in a very genteel manner”. The building housed a famous oak staircase that was last reported to have been taken to Godolphin House but is now believed to have been moved. Mr Gatty advertised the opening of his Red Lion Hotel in the Sherborne Mercury; “I shall take care to have exceedingly good beds and stabling and to lay in the best provisions and wines... I already have by me an excellent assortment of wines”. Mr Gatty’s words rang true and the Red Lion was viewed as one of the best inns for accommodation in Truro. It had three very handsome parlours and other convenient rooms, a billiard room, a dining room that was 73ft long, a cedar room, many vast lodging rooms and stabling for more than thirty horses. The Inn was used for a number of functions, such as public business, dinners and meetings and many societies, like the Cornish Freemasons, met there. The Old Boys’ from the Truro Grammar School would also meet there for their annual reunions. However, it was not all positive business for the staff at the Red Lion, in 1771 the Inn was ordered to remove a heap of dung that was in the way of the back gate.

Truro's Red Lion Hotel was one the most prestigious in the town...

In 1889 there were complaints about hotel accommodation in Truro and this can be seen as the starting point for the extensions that were to occur to the Red Lion. Silvanus Trevail was hired to add another storey to the Red Lion in the front and to the dining hall at the rear. Further scandal occurred in 1911 when the manageress of the Red Lion was fined for selling adulterated spirits. Sadly, the stories originating from the Red Lion were to cease in 1967 when a runaway lorry whose brakes failed careered down Lemon Street and crashed into the Red Lion hotel, leaving it irreparable and the magnificent building had to be demolished. It is still believed to be a miracle that nobody was hurt. As Mr H.W.J. Heck, the County Planning Officer commented at the time, “There seems little doubt as to the practicability of reinstating the front elevation of the building”. Whether they could have truly saved the building is still under hot debate to this day.

The picture to the right depicts the Red Lion Hotel in Truro.
Red Lion Hotel

St Mary's Parish Church

There are no existing records of a church being situated in Truro before 1259, which was when the St. Mary’s Church of Truro was consecrated and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This is not to say that the Church was not already built, this may have occurred between 1135 and 1170. John De-Belsal was collated as the first Rector of Truro on 28th February 1264-5 as shown by the records.

The building would have shown off a gothic appearance built of moor stone and white granite. The interior of the establishment would have been home to an elegant alter and a powerful and fine toned organ, while divine services were conducted with much coral effect. In the winter evenings the church was lit by lamps and candles which would have given off a grand and imposing sight. It has been said that the church was pulled down in the early years of the 16th Century and a new one erected in its stead. Apparently parts were uncovered when it was totally destroyed in the year 1880 and numerous fragments were found. In 1861 to 1865 Edmund George Harvey, Rector at the time, noted the poor condition of the exterior of the church, which was insecure and had a dangerous roof. It was decided that the church should be demolished and J.L. Pearson was appointed the architect and built the Cathedral that now stands were the Church once was. Today, only the south wall remains of St. Mary’s Church, which Pearson fought hard to save. However, within the Cathedral there is still St. Mary’s aisle that is home to many of the original artefacts.

In 1795 a Mr Gullard undertook a long and fascinating journey down to Cornwall and stopped at Truro for the night and wrote a journal as he went. He states that he found St Mary’s: “A very capital church, the outside richly ornamented and the spire is very handsome. The inside is excellently preserved and richly ornamented, it has a capital and neat pulpit and the mayor’s seat is stately and all the pews are very good. The church is remarkably light, worth the attention of visitors”.

The last service held in St. Mary’s Church was on the 11th October 1880 followed shortly by a wedding. A replacement wooden church (costing £430) was erected to act as the Church while the building took place, and it was in this church that the ‘Festival of Nine Lesson’s’ originated, also known as the ‘Service of Nine Carols’.

The images to the right depict the front of St Mary's Church, with two visitors and a horse and cart in the foreground and the interior of St Mary's Church showing the nave window.
St Mary's Church
Interior of St Mary's Church

Lemon Street

The majority of the houses standing in Lemon Street were built in the first decade of the 19th Century and still stand today, credit to the solid construction of those times. For more than 100 years it has been the principal residential area of Truro and is one of the finest provincial streets in Britain. It was ‘The Great Mr William Lemon’ that envisaged such a street but it was his grandson, also named William who was created a Baronet in 1774, who put the plans for the creation of the Street in place and completely revolutionised the lay-out of Truro. It can be suggested that this was the first instance of “town-planning” in Cornwall and the population levels in Truro increased due to this prosperity. In order to build this outstanding street, Lemon was forced to tear down the popular and stately Kings Head Inn which would have stood at the entrance to Boscawen Street from Lemon Street. He erected another hotel called the Royal and built the bridge over the Kenwyn River so that people saw the magnificence of his creation as they travelled from the East into Truro.

In the Accounts of the Truro Improvement Commissioners for 1851-1853 the cost of the granite pavement for Lemon Street is shown as £153 8s. It is a considerable sum that proves how committed Lemon was to this project. It was suggested, perhaps by Lemon himself, that an avenue of trees should be planted along Lemon Street. However, the suggestion was never put into effect though plans were made on more than one occasion. Lemon’s marvellous work has been commented on several occasions by visitors coming to Truro; “The women in and about the town are very fair and in general genteel and it is a new paved town, which makes it very pleasant to walk over with wide and regular streets. There are a number of very capital houses and smaller houses built of stone, which are all neat and good”.

During the period it must have been a glorious sight to see stately carriages pulled by groomed horses dashing down the hill into the centre of Truro. Lemon Street has witnessed many spectacular sights; in 1805 on the 4th November the messenger carrying news of tragedy and victory raced down the hill in a chaise, post-haste for London with the news of the death of Nelson and the battle of Trafalgar.

In 1828 the child Queen of Portugal, Donna Maris II landed at Falmouth and was on her way to London with her party of thirty and stayed in Truro at the Royal, passing Lemon Street on her way. In 1880 on the 20th May the foundation stones for the Cathedral were laid down by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall and it will have been a commemorative sight as the town celebrated in Lemon Street cast in warm sunlight. However, it was not always ceremonial in Lemon Street, for many were summoned and fined for leaving their vehicles unattended and this was a common problem, much as it is today.

Truro’s finest and wealthiest families resided in this street, but the chief family to live there during the late 19th Century were the Carlyon’s. Dr Clement Carlyon, five times Mayor of Truro, lived in No.18, Miss Harriet Carlyon lived in No. 80, the Misses Mary, Louise and Charlotte Carlyon resided in No. 17 and there were also Misses Carlyon at No. 72.

Miss Harriet Carlyon was a great benefactress to the poor and she presented a clock and chimes to St. Mary’s Church (worth £250), which has now been transferred to the clock tower of the Cathedral. Miss Charlotte Carlyon gave the East window in St. Mary’s aisle in memory of her father, the Reverend Thomas Carlyon (Rector from 1803 to 1826). The Doctor Clement Carlyon is largely responsible for Truro being only slightly affected by the two great epidemics of cholera because of his advocate efforts towards sanitary reforms in the town. He also undertook valuable research into the miners’ occupational disease. Today, the beautiful 19th Century houses are mostly used as surgeries and offices due to their large size.

Known residents of Lemon Street included:
No. 12 – John Ennis Vivian (Represented Truro in Parliament for 22 years)
No. 13 – Mrs Isabelle Budd (Widow of Edward Budd, first editor of the West Briton)
No. 17 – Misses Mary, Louise and Charlotte Carlyon
No. 18 – Dr Clement Carlyon
No. 20 – William Vice (Merchant and made fortune in Penstruthal Mine)
No. 27 – William Traer Chappel (Mayor of Truro five times)
No. 39 – Slyman and Anne Michell (He was a Surgeon to the Royal Cornwall Infirmary and founder of Truro dispensary she was Mrs Silence Michell’s daughter).
No. 41 – Misses Traer (They kept a school)
No. 44 – Mrs Silence Michell
No. 45 – James Michell (Inspector of Taxes)
No. 49 – Mrs Mary Hogg (Widow of Thomas Hogg, master of Truro Grammar School 1805-1829)
No. 66 – Phillip Prothero Smith (He built Tremorvah in 1845 and Mayor of Truro four times, including the year 1880)
No. 68 – John Paddon (Made money in mining matters in Tresavean, said to have made nearly half a million during the early 19th Century, and East Wheal Rose)
No. 72 – Misses Carlyon
No. 80 – Miss Harriet Carlyon (Known as Miss ‘Eighty’ because she lived at No. 80 and sister to Col. Carlyon of Tregethan)

The image to the right depicts Lemon Street.
Lemon Street

The Old Grammar School

The Truro Grammar School is possibly Truro’s oldest private school. Defining the origin of the Truro grammar school is difficult. Secondary research has found that the school has been linked with the 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion, a struggle against the introduction of Cranmer’s new English Prayer Book, representative of the new religious order in England. However, there are no records of the school before the beginning of the Truro Parish Registers in 1597. The subjects taught in the grammar school were mainly related to the study of classics. Latin was seen as the ‘appropriate’ language for conversation – some of the school’s notices were written in Latin. Subjects such as history, geography and modern languages were not in the focus of the curriculum.

A particularly well-known headmaster was George Conon, who worked at the school between 1728 and 1771. He was 42 years old when he took over the school with the aim to transform into ‘the Eton of Cornwall’. George Conon was very strict and supposedly believed in flogging his students. But others described him as a ‘good Christian’, who exercised a positive influence on his environment. Truro Grammar School flourished under his influence. George Conon even tutored William Lemon, who feared was not able to enjoy the classical education and therefore had asked Conon to help him. Another famous student of George Conon was Samuel Foote, who later became an actor and playwright. Humphrey Davy, the inventor of the Davy lamp (a lamp which allowed miners to work even if flammable gases were present in the coal mines) also attended the Truro Grammar School, which was, at this time, led by Rev. Dr. Cardew, who had taken over from George Conon.

In 1906, Truro Grammar School was renamed Truro Cathedral Grammar School due to adjustments in the educational system which resulted in religious authorities taking charge of the school. According to secondary research, the records of the school disappeared around the same time. Two possibilities have been suggested: the first assumes that a fire has destroyed all records; the second considers that Mr A.J. Tate, who led the Truro Grammar School from April 1901 to December 1905, took the records with him when the school was put under the control of the ecclesiastical authorities and he was not asked to return as headmaster of the cathedral school.

The Truro Cathedral Grammar School continued teaching students until 1983.

The image to the right depicts the Old Grammar School as it is today; now a restaurant.
The Old Grammar School

The Passmore Edwards Library

In 1898, the premises, on which the library was built later, were sold by the Enys family to the council. The library was given to Truro by John Passmore Edwards (1823-1911).

John Passmore Edwards, after having made his fortune, dedicated his life and wealth to charity. Between 1889 and 1903 he donated over 250,000 pounds to various deserving causes and established over seventy institutions all over the country, including libraries, cottage hospitals, convalescent homes, schools and art galleries. He thought he could best help the working classes by helping them to help themselves. John Passmore Edwards was offered knighthood twice – by Queen Victoria and by King Edwards VII – but, on both occasions, declined the honour.
At the time of the opening of the Passmore Edwards library in Truro, fifteen institutions had been built or were in the process of being built. In the end, John Passmore Edwards financed twenty institutions in Cornwall.

The Passmore Edwards library in Truro was built by Clemens and Battershill of Truro and a design by Silvanus Trevail of Plymouth limestone with Bath stone dressings on a granite base was used. The foundation stone was laid on May 24th, 1895, and was opened with a great ceremony on April 30th, 1896. The opening was a big affair: ‘thousands of people thronged the gaily decorated streets’. The mayors of Bodmin, Liskeard, Penryn and Falmouth attended the opening of the library, which was described as ‘a gift of Mr Passmore Edwards to the citizens of Truro without distinction as to creed or financial status’. John Passmore Edwards dedicated the building to Henry Sewell Stokes, who had been an employer to him in the past. In a speech given by Passmore Edwards to the audience, he stated that he was planning to open nineteen institutions in Cornwall, as there were nineteen letters in his name.

All the Passmore Edwards Institutions in Cornwall:
Newlyn Art Gallery; Helston Technical Institute; St Ives Free Library; Perranporth Convalescent Home; Passmore Edwards Institute; Hayle Falmouth Hospital and Dispensary; Camborne Free Library; Falmouth Free Library; Redruth Free Library; Mithian Institute; St Days Schools and Meeting Room; Bodmin Free Library; Passmore Edwards Institute in Blackwater; Liskeard Free Library; Miners Institute in St Agnes; Liskeard Cottage Hospital; Chacewater Literary Institute; Lanceston Free Library Institute; Truro Art Gallery and Institute, and Truro Free Library.

The image to the right depicts a drawing of the Truro Passmore Edwards Library from the plans, showing how it was intended to look. A drawing of the Truro Passmore Edwards Library from the plans, showing how it was intended to look.
Drawing of the Truro Passmore Edwards Library

The Mansion House

Standing on Prince’s Street, this house was built and designed by Thomas Edwards in 1751. Edwards was the architect of Princes House and William Lemon’s country mansion in Carclew. The house was built by Thomas Daniell, who was an assistant to the Cornish mining magnate William Lemon and was to take over some of his business as a merchant. Thomas Daniell married Elizabeth Elliot in 1754. As a wedding gift, they received Bath stone for their house from Elizabeth’s uncle Ralph Allen, known as ‘The Man of Bath’.

Ralph Allen had been born in Cornwall but, at this time, lived and worked in Bath. Allen wished to make Bath stone more popular as a material in the building industry as it was cheaper than the local Newham stone. The Mansion House took seven years to build – from 1755 to 1762 – and the cost of the house is estimated at about 8,500 pounds. A popular story seems to be related to the decoration of the drawing room and the staircase: the rococo style decorations are rumoured to have been the work of French prisoners, who were captured in the Seven Years War. The south windows of the house would have looked over the river Kenwyn and the Fairmantle meadows beyond that, along with a magnificent garden that accompanied the house.

The house is still a noteworthy building and its interior, fitted with tremendous staircases, ceilings, fireplaces and a gorgeous mahogany floor, which threatened whoever walked over it with a fall, made it one of the most beautiful in Cornwall.
The Mansion House

The Great House

This house was occupied by the significant landowning Robarte’s family and would have been the largest building on Boscawen Street built in the late 17th Century. In 1834 Mr Richard Polwhele was living in the Great House and wrote a short history stating that he believed the house was built by Merchant Gregor and then inhabited by the Hussey family. Mr Richard Hussey was born in Truro (related to the Gregor’s) and was a member of Parliament for 16 years.

Another influential family to inhabit the Great House were the Rosewarne’s and it was Henry Rosewarne who built additional rooms fitted with mahogany and marble which would have been breathtaking. Polwhele mentions the view from the Great House overlooking the masts of ships gliding in between the buildings and obstructing his view, he states it was ‘a very grotesque appearance’. The majority of influential and prosperous families of Truro all lived on the South side of the town by the river, which was the key source of communication at the time. This great building would have extended back a long way, almost close to the church (Great House is now Littlewoods).

Other important places included...

Princes House
Built in 1740 for William Lemon and designed by Thomas Edwards. This house saw fine entertaining and Lemon hired Edwards to build his country estate, Carclew. (c.1737?)

Old Mansion House
Built around the 1700’s for the Elys family who made their money out of smelting.

The Almshouse of 1631
TC/299 (1852-1937)
TC/298 (1853)


Primary Sources:
Kelly, Directory of Cornwall, 1873
Harrod, Directory of Cornwall, 1878
Kelly, Directory of Cornwall, 1883
Council Order Book, 23 July 1771
Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser (Exeter, England), Thursday, Jan 18, 1844, Issue 4078: found on 19th Century British Newspapers online.
Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser (Exeter, England), Thursday, July 18, 1844; Issue 4106: found on 19th Century British Newspapers online.
Mr. Gullard, ‘Journal Tour into Cornwall’ 1795, pp. 50-55
Theatre collection of advertisements and minutes: compiled by Mr. Clark of Tregoll’s Road, Truro
Royal Cornwall Gazette, 23 May 1895, p. 4
Royal Cornwall Gazette, 30 May 1895, p. 7
Royal Cornwall Gazette, 21 December 1911
West Briton, 15 April 1889
West Briton, 20 July 1967
Architectural plans, designs, sketches and extensions: courtesy of the Cornwall Record Office
Deeds: courtesy of the Cornwall Record Office
Photographs: courtesy of the Cornwall Record Office

Secondary Sources:
Acton, B., A History of Truro, Volume 2: Cathedral City and County Town (Truro 2002)
Acton, B., History of Truro, Volume 3: Exploring the City – and Around (Truro, 2003)
Acton, V., A History of Truro, Vol. 1, (Truro, 1997)
Bird,S., Bygone Truro, (Surrey, 1986)
Bullock, F.W.B., A History of the Parish Church of St. Mary, Truro, Cornwall, (Truro, 1948)
Davidson, R.E., M.A., The History of Truro Grammar and Cathedral School (Cornwall, 1970)
Clifford, H.D. & Colon, H., ‘A Georgian Architect in Cornwall’, Country Life, October 18, 1962
Douch, H.L., ‘Notes on a History of Truro’,
Douch, H.L, The Book of Truro (Chesham, 1977)
Douch, H.L., Old Cornish Inns, (Truro, 1966)
Oats, C.T., Boscawen Street Area, Truro, (Truro, 1981)
Palmer, J., Truro in the Eighteenth Century, (Truro)
Palmer, J., Truro in the Seventeenth Century: A Pattern of Place and People (1989)
Palmer, J., Edwardian Truro (Exeter, 1994)
Parnell, C., History and Guide Truro (Gloucestershire, 2002)
Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England: Cornwall (London, 1951)
Rowe, A., ‘Some chapters in the history of Truro’, (1950)
Rowe, A.,‘Some chapters in the history of Truro’, (1 December, 1952)
Taylor, Patrick, Nineteen Stones Across Cornwall: A History Thesis by Patrick Taylor, Architectural Association, 4th year, September 1976
Truro Buildings Research Group, Princes Streets and The Quay Area (1976)
Truro Buildings Research Group in association with University of Exeter, Pydar Street & The High Cross Area (Exeter, 1981)
Truro Buildings Research Group in association with University of Exeter, River Street and its Neighbourhood (1985)