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The History of Truro

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Truro’s origins are at least Celtic, with settlers no doubt attracted to the natural inland port on the banks of the River Fal. It was the Normans who really stamped the mark of human habitation on the site, they built a castle there and stimulated the growth of commerce at Truro. Richard de Luci built the castle in the 12th century on top of what is now Castle Street. He laid the town out in the shadow of the castle, which was there as much as propaganda, boasting Norman military might, as it was for its strategic importance. The castle fell into ruin relatively soon after it was built, probably because it served little strategic use, and was eventually the site of a cattle market. Today the Courts of Justice, the County Courts for Cornwall can be found where Richard de Luci’s castle once stood. Under the Normans Truro quickly grew to become an important inland port. Mining and the trade of semiprecious metals helped drive the local economy. Truro became one of Cornwall’s five ‘stannery’ towns, allowing it to stamp and assay locally produced tin and copper. Fish also brought wealth to Truro, which also benefited from its relatively secure inland location. Fishermen enjoyed access to both inland waters and the sea and a very sheltered harbour to shelter from the worst ravages of the weather.

The Black Death hit the people of Truro very hard when it swept across the land in the late 14th century. The disease tore through Truro showing absolutely no mercy for rank or wealth. Most of those residents who didn’t die fled in terror and Truro fell rapidly into neglect. An act of parliament was raised that excused the tenants of payment of any rents in order to attract life back to Truro. The act worked and eventually economy recovered. By the Tudor times Truro was buoyant enough to be be granted a charter by Queen Elizabeth I . The charter, passed in the 16th century, allowed a degree of self-government to Truro that included the privilege of choosing a mayor. The charter also gave it valuable control over the nearby port of Falmouth . This was something of a snub and definitely a bone of contention with the citizens of the rival port.

During the Civil War Truro supported the Royalist cause, and a mint was set up there to strike coins for the King’s cause. Truro had allied itself to the wrong side and was to suffer for its choice afterwards. The mint, a sign of status as well as wealth, was moved to Exeter after the Parliamentarian’s victory of 1646. Truro also lost the lucrative rights of control over Falmouth. It wasn’t until 1709 that a long running dispute raging between the two ports over control of the River Fal was finally settled, with the river effectively being split in half between the two.

Improvement to mining techniques coincided with a greatly increased demand for tin as the Industrial Revolution marched on. Truro grew very wealthy and became something of a society town for England’s south western peninsula, resulting in the construction of some Georgian and Victorian buildings. Industry as well as commerce had grown up around the mining, with smelting works, potteries and tanneries all doing a roaring trade. Truro also lays claim to being the place where Humphry Davy was educated, he went on to be the inventor of the miner’s safety lamp. Truro’s links to the rest of the country got a boost with the opening of the great Western Railway connecting the town to London in the 1860s.

The direct line to London’s Paddington helped raise the town’s status to such an extent that Truro was granted a Bishopric in 1876. Queen Victoria then confirmed city status upon Truro in 1877. Work on the city’s cathedral was begun in 1880, the first cathedral to be built on newly consecrated ground since Salisbury Cathedral was started back in 1220. Architect John Loughborough Pearson was put in charge of the project but died in 1897, leaving his son Frank to finish the work. The cathedral was completed in 1910 when the two western towers were opened. It has been undergoing extensive renovation since 2002. The cathedral’s appearance belies its relative youth when compared to the majority of Britain’s essentially Norman and medieval cathedrals, and is a credit to the skills of the designers and craftsmen who worked on
the great project. Despite the city’s cathedral status it also retains its status as the parish of the 16th century church of St Mary the Virgin which once stood on the cathedral’s site.

Ironically the pomp and celebration marking Truro’s city status and new cathedral coincided with the decline in the mining industry. Truro was thrown into the doldrums and faced many challenges as it entered the 20th century. It has survived largely because of its central position in the administration of Cornwall, but also thanks to the
growing tourist trade in England’s south west. Truro is also a popular location for people seeking a quiet and cultured place for their retirement.

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On this day:
The Second Battle of Lincoln - 1217, Shakespeare’s Sonnets Published - 1609, Battle of Wakefield - 1643, The Great Bexhill Waterspout and Tornado - 1729, The Last English Duel - 1845
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