Three River City – Cornwall’s Truro

Truro is set on the southern fringes of Cornwall’s AONB. It boasts a magnificent neo-gothic Victorian cathedral which overlooks medieval terraced streets and elegant Georgian townhouses. As well as being an important administrative centre, Truro is also a popular touring and holiday location.

Norman Origins

Truro’s name derives from the Cornish word for ‘Three Rivers’, which relates to its position near the confluence of the Truro and Fal Rivers. Local archaeological excavations of 10th and 11th century ‘grass-marked’ pottery suggest that human occupation began during the Norman period.

Confusingly, the Domesday Book only makes mention of the nearby settlement of Trehaverne. Nevertheless, records do indicate that a 12th century castle was built where Truro Crown Court now stands by Richard de Luci, Chief Justice of England. De Luci had been granted land in Cornwall in return for his services to the court of Henry II.

Early Development

Truro gradually grew around the castle with the keep’s garrison providing an early market for locally-sourced goods. But the town’s early development owes much to its strategic position which marks the highest navigable point for ships and the lowest crossing point for land-based transport.

The convergence of land routes with the tidal Truro River also provided the perfect location for the establishing of a local market centre and river-head port. The granting of a charter in the mid 12th century also had a major impact on Truro’s fortunes.

Inland Port Status

By the beginning of the 14th century Truro had become a thriving port. In addition to fishing the town benefited from the export of hides and tin, as well as the import of salt and wine. Hence, the bustling Lemon Quay became Truro’s focal point.

Stannary Town Status

Because of its proximity to the Tywarnhaile Stannary (tin mining administrative area), Truro was eventually designated as a ‘coinage town’. This meant that all tin mined in the area was taken there for assay and taxation before being transported along the river.

Largely because of this, the town eventually evolved into one of Cornwall’s most prominent urban locations and was one of five Cornish boroughs to send representatives to parliament in 1295.

Plague, War and Recovery

But progress ground to a halt in the 14th century due to plague, war and a decline in tin production. Despite these setbacks, Truro gradually recovered. Its church, St Mary’s, was rebuilt in 1504. This was followed by the founding of Truro Grammar School in 1547.

A New Charter

Then in 1589 a new charter was granted by Elizabeth I which provided the town with an elected mayor as well as full control of the rival port of Falmouth. This was later reversed when Falmouth was granted its own charter with control of the River Fal eventually divided between the two port towns.

Civil War Mint

During the English Civil War, Truro supported the Royalist cause. To this end, a large force was mustered and a mint set up to support the King. However, after defeat by Parliamentary troops, the mint was moved to Exeter.

The Changing Face of Truro

The Industrial revolution along with a rise in tin prices contributed handsomely to Truro’s economy in the early-to-mid 18th century. As a result, local tin dressing and smelting became increasingly important.

This, coupled with improved mining methods began attracting wealthy mining magnates who set about building stately homes for themselves throughout Truro. Many of these still stand today.

Arrival of the Railways

The mid-to-late 19th century was a time of significant and positive change for Truro. The 1860s saw the Great Western Railway opened which, for the first time, provided a direct link to London. Then the Bishopric of Truro Bill of 1876 was passed, enabling the town to appoint a bishop.

That same year, Queen Victoria granted Truro city status. Four years later, the Duke of Cornwall laid the foundation stone for Truro Cathedral.

Truro Cathedral Interior

Construction of Truro Cathedral

This magnificent Victorian structure was built on the site of the Parish Church of St Mary and took around forty years to complete. Its construction reflected the town’s burgeoning reputation as a significant social and economic centre.

The turn of the century brought with it a decline in mining. But Truro remained prosperous, gradually evolving into an administrative, educational and commercial centre. Tourism and leisure also began to have an impact on the local economy.

Present Day Truro

Today, tourism has become an established industry. The town’s proximity to local beaches as well as the Truro and Fal Rivers, makes it an ideal destination for boating enthusiasts and short break holiday-makers. Truro’s fascinating heritage is another major attraction too. This is wonderfully exhibited by the imposing cathedral and Georgian townhouses.

Truro’s town centre provides further examples of the town’s Georgian, Regency and Victorian heyday. As mentioned, many of the homes built by wealthy mining owners still stand. Notable examples include the Old Mansion House at Quay Street, as well as Princes House and Mansion House on Princes Street.

The medieval alleyways, which also hark back to times past, have become something of a retail centre and include an assortment of independent shops and boutique outlets. The same can be said of the historic Lemon Street Market, with its indoor retail centre, cafes and coffee shops. 

Lemon Street and Walsingham Place

Lemon Street‘s handsome Georgian town-houses were cut from Bath stone and exude the kind of elegance that’s hard to find outside Somerset’s famous spa city. Behind Lemon Street is the distinctive curved street of Walsingham Place, with its pretty little terraced properties.

Lander Memorial

Lemon Street leads up to the Lander Memorial, a monument constructed in 1835. Designed by Philip Sambel, it celebrates the discoveries of Richard and John Lander who are among other things, discovered the source of the River Niger in 1827.

Truro Cathedral

In comparison to other cathedrals in the UK, Truro’s proud place of worship is relatively new having only been completed in 1910. It is one of only three cathedrals in the UK with three spires which tower over the town.

This iconic structure was built in the Gothic Revival style by famed religious architect John Loughborough Pearson. Attracting more than 200,000 visitors a year, highlights include a 14th century carved Pieta, ornately-decorated stained circular windows and an intricately carved high alter.

The pipe organ, installed in 1887, is also a major attraction. Visitor facilities include a highly-rated restaurant and a gift shop. Admission to the cathedral is free.

Royal Cornwall Museum

The Royal Cornwall Museum is located in the centre of Truro. It houses an intriguing permanent gallery called Hireth – a Cornish Landscape, which displays colourful works depicting local land and seascapes.

The museum also exhibits an extensive array of artefacts including geological specimens, dinosaur remains and fossils. Those looking to learn more about Truro’s rich mining legacy should visit the website. On it you’ll find an online exhibition called ‘Mining Memories’ that tells the story of an industry that was at one time so important to Truro’s survival.

The Courtney Library is another historical highlight, with its massive archive of historical documents, some of which date from the 12th century. The vast collection includes more than 40,000 books, pamphlets, transcripts and manuscripts relating to Cornwall. They offer a treasure-trove of information on a variety of topics including engineering, archaeology and meteorology.

Trewithen Garden and House

The Trewithen Estate is another top visitor attraction that comprises an 18th century manor house with over 30 acres of woodland gardens. About a twenty minute drive from Truro, the house boasts an opulently decorated interior designed by famous London architects, Thomas Edwards and Sir Robert Taylor.

The gardens are an absolute delight, especially in the spring and summer months, thanks to an assortment of rare trees, camellia shrubs and wildflowers. Sycamore Avenue is a major highlight, planted with 300 Cornish daffodils.

As testament to their beauty, the gardens were designated an International Camellia Garden of Excellence in 2012 – one of only five in the UK to receive such an accolade.

Gravelled paths allow visitors to explore the extensive grounds which also include the longest lawn in Cornwall. The estate is open from March to June each year and includes a plant centre, gift shop and tea shed.

Trelissick Garden

Trelissick Garden is yet another sublime green space near Truro. Under the ownership of the National Trust, it includes a 40-acre garden that features an array of beautiful plant species such as rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas.

There are also more than 370 acres of parkland and woodland to explore. This is considered to be the best walking country on the south coast with a series of paths and trails wending their way through canopies of beech, oak and conifer trees. We should also note that the riverside views from this idyllic setting are absolutely fantastic.

Trelissick House, built in 1755, is also open to the public and affords some equally inspiring views of the local countryside. Visitors have access to a library, solarium and gallery displaying local artwork.

Victoria Gardens

Truro is known for its own green spaces as well – one of its most impressive is Victorian Gardens in the middle of town. They were created in the 19th century to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and are populated with a rich variety of exotic trees and flowers. Facilities include a children’s play area and band stand which hosts concerts throughout the spring and summer months.

Healey’s Cornish Cider Farm

Those looking to sample the delights of Cornwall’s most delicious export will want to pay a visit to Healey’s Cornish Cider Farm. Located in Penhallow, about a 15 minute drive from Truro, this family run manufacturer produces award-winning ciders, spirits, wines and juices.

Guided tours are operated on a daily basis taking visitors around the production facilities, distillery and orchards. The tours also include a tractor ride and a full sampling session of the farm’s entire produce.

Further insights into the cider-making process, as well as Cornwall’s long history of cider production, are provided by an on-site museum. There’s also a restaurant, tea rooms and a well-stocked gift shop.

Callestick Farm

Animal lovers, not to mention ice-cream enthusiasts, will enjoy Callestick Farm. Nestled in a tranquil, peaceful valley a few miles from Truro, its home to a 300-strong herd of grass fed cows which provide the milk for a wide variety of tasty ice creams.

These can be sampled at an on-site tea room together with a selection of pastries, waffles and freshly-baked cakes. The farm has been in operation since the 1950s and uses sustainable, traditional farming methods that help provide high quality milk while also being kind to the local environment. Youngsters also have access to a playground.

Beaches near Truro

There are plenty of excellent beaches near Truro which is unsurprising given Cornwall’s magnificent 300-mile coastline. Although we’re not exactly in season, they’re worth keeping in mind should you be looking to book a holiday for next summer. They’re also ideal for winter time coastal walks. Here’s a quick run-down.

Perranporth Beach – 22 minute drive

This is one of Cornwall’s most famous beaches due to its broad expanse of sand dunes which offer plenty of opportunities to escape the masses. Popular with families and sun worshippers, the large surf also attracts water-sport enthusiasts.

Chapel Porth Beach – 30 minute drive

Also owned by the National Trust, Chapel Porth beach is situated on Cornwall’s north coast and is renowned for the wide expanse of golden sand. Low tide reveals a network of rock pools and caves which are ideal for exploring.

Portreath Beach – 30 minute drive

Another favourite among surfers thanks to its pronounced break. The fine, soft sands also make it the ideal destination for family groups. There are numerous facilities in and around the beach including an amusement arcade, restaurant and takeaway.

Porthtowan Beach – 31 minute drive

Backed by sand dunes and dramatic cliffs, this Blue Flag award-winning beach is one of Cornwall’s main surfing destinations. The play park at the top of the beach is also an attraction for families. At low tide, it’s possible to access the neighbouring Chapel Porth. The nearby coastal path which winds along the cliffs towards St Agnes offers some outstanding coastal vistas.

Carne Beach – 35 minute drive

Set on the picturesque Roseland peninsula, the National Trust owned Carne Beach is dog-friendly and well-suited to sunbathing and swimming.

Gyllyngvase Beach – 38 minute drive

As well as being a Blue Flag award winner, Gyllyngvase Beach is the most popular and largest beach in Falmouth. Thanks to its fine crescent of sand and top amenities, it is a particular favourite with families although water-sports enthusiasts flock here as well.

Maenporth Beach – 50 minute drive

With its gently sloping shelf and shallow waters, Meanporth Beach is a major pull for families with youngsters. There are also some beautiful views of the nearby Pendennis Castle and St Anthony Head. The low cliffs that fringe the beach provide some shelter from the coastal winds.

Gunwalloe Church Cove – 1 hour drive

Although slightly further afield, Gunwallow beach is a south-facing cove with a tiny church called St Wynwallow that overlooks the sand. This charming setting was used to film scenes for the hit TV series Poldark.

River Cruises

River cruises are perhaps the best way to explore the local area with Enterprise Boats the most well-established operator. Daily trips are run from Truro to the maritime port of Falmouth as well as Trelissick Gardens.

This is of course an AONB-designated region which means that you’ll be able to enjoy some truly stunning riverside settings as well as the charms of Truro’s quaint rival town. Tickets can be purchased from the company shop on Boscawen Street.

Visit the official Truro tourist board website for further information.

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Dale Shelabarger

Dale is the owner and founder of Cottages to Rent which he launched back in 2005. As well as promoting holiday cottages, Dale blogs regularly about top UK holiday destinations, visitor attractions and places of historical interest.