The History of Truro

Truro (Truru – Three Rivers) is located at the highest fording point of the Fal Estuary. The Kenwyn (Dowr Ithy), Allen and Glasteinan (Tinney) merge into Truro River to subsequently become the River Fal below Malpas.

In legend Tristan and Iseult hid from jealous King Mark in Moresk Forest and took the Malpas Ferry to escape from him. Two of Truro’s greatest sons were Richard Lander, an explorer, and Henry Martyn, a missionary; both seafarers. Three great Cornish roads converged at High Cross (by the Cathedral) – Pydar Street, Helston Road and the North road from Grampound. There is much evidence that reflects very early settlement and industry in Truro. 

Truro’s Charter was granted by Reginald, Earl of Cornwall, in about 1175. It is the oldest known document held by a Cornish borough and addresses ‘all men, Cornish and English’.

The City arms came from the badge of the Gild of St Nicholas; the patron of seamen and seafaring merchants – hence a ship and three fish. Echoes of the Gild survive in St Nicholas Street. The medieval Priory was a centre of learning which helped record the Cornish language.

Between 1135 and 1154 an ‘adulterine’ castle was erected during the civil war between King Stephen and Queen Matilda. It later became the Livestock Market and is a key element of Truro’s economic life to this day. It is now the site of the Crown Court (Evans & Shalev 1990s).

In the 12th century Truro became a market town and in the 13th century Truro became a Stannary Town administering Cornish law and exacting ducal levies from mined metal. By the early 14th century Truro was, as it is today, a trading, manufacturing and administrative centre.

Henry le Bailly and Robert Maynard were selected by Edward 1st to represent Truro at the ‘Model Parliament’ of 1295. Truro retained two MPs until the Reform Act of 1867.

Despite plagues, 19th century migration, great wealth (Mansion House) living side by side with great poverty (Corn Riots), the collapse of Cornish banking and the subsequent temporary cessation of mining, Truro quietly prospered. It formed an early Turnpike Trust so that some of its most famous characters, Dr John Wolcot, Samuel Foote, Davies Gilbert and Sir Hussey Vyvyan, developed reputations in London. Very early civic engineering projects addressed cholera by sealing dirty wells and building a Waterworks; pioneering public health. The railway first appeared in 1834.

At the end of the 19th century Truro was selected to host the new cathedral and became the heart of the new Cornish Diocese. It joined the elegant civic centre of Truro City Hall, the newly formed Royal Institution of Cornwall (Royal Cornwall Museum), Lemon Street mansion houses and the architectural flourish of Sylvanus Trevail and Philip Sambell, to be followed in the 1960s by a post-war brutalist flourish of buildings and civil engineering making Truro one of Cornwall’s most prosperous, elegant and influential towns. In the 1800s Truro secured the title ‘City’ and in 1996 the Crown Court moved from Bodmin to join the new Treliske Hospital as the focus of NHS in Cornwall.