Boscawen Street Still Thriving

I was once asked to visit a widow who was anxious about a letter from the Dept. of Revs & Bens (DRAB!) about her Council Tax. She was determined to take possession of her life after the death of her husband. She said to me over our best-china-cup-of-tea: “I want to understand what it says, what it requires of me. I don’t want to end up ‘down the front street, under the town clock’”!

The magistrate’s court used to convene as the clock above it struck four quarters and ten. Today we use it for yoga and the making of Mayors! The ‘front street’ assumed the title ‘Boscawen Street’ after the demolition of Middle Row. The name acknowledges the bond, expressed in so many ways, from gerrymandered nineteenth century elections to the gifts of land for council houses, between the town and the Boscawens of Tregothnan.

The street itself, a grand and broad, cobbled assembly of the architectures of three centuries, from the C18th discreet elegance of town houses surrendered (in function) to Santander, to the C19th flourishes of the banks, the civic order of Truro City Hall, the gothic flourish of Coinage Hall and the intimacy of Stret Idden (Cathedral Lane) and Roberts’ Ope, to the brutalism of Wilko and Thompson’s Travel, the Edwardian ‘Poundland’ (originally Gills, then Woolworths) and Roberts’ (now Waterstones) – this is a street of beauty and bustle.

Presided over by the doleful flourish of a returning soldier victorious but haunted by the terrors of war, the long lists of names held in families and remembered each November when the Front Street becomes what it was intended for – a Parade Ground for the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry – the weathered memorial is the only still figure in a street daily busy, performing its role as the ‘front street’.

Buses come and go, taxis wait and turn all ways, people cross and re-cross, cars seek out the by-pass or the car park, Land Rovers with laden trailers bring lambs to the market, lorries bring pallets to Poundland, Securicor hurries cases of change to keep the tills ringing. Many shopkeepers argue strongly that it has been Truro’s successful battle to retain traffic in the centre of town, albeit much thinned down by the excellent by-pass, distributor roads and car-parks of the 1960s, which transformed the town into what we declare to day to be ‘a great little city’ – the mix of vehicles and people lends an urgency, a sense of bustle, to the town, a habit of being alert and managing risks – and all this is due to the way in which Boscawen Street works – a way which is graphically illustrated by this short film, shot on the phone by a lucky tea drinker in Charlotte’s Tea Room.

The geometry and order of the criss-crossing flows of people and wheels makes Truro work. It has its perils and minor excitements, like any other street, but it remains, for all the piazzas and cathedrals, what it has been since the port moved from West Bridge to Lemon’s Quay in the C17th – the front street. The magistrate no longer presides over his custom-built court, but the Council still meets below the portraits and busts, the Town Clerk’s ledgers are sheets spread on a screen, the Mayor at his round table chairs Boards and Trustees, and discusses in depth old Trurra’s deepest anxieties.

Who would have thought, but Jordan and Netherton, that the anchor store of the front street would, in this age of computers, be Waterstones, the cathedral of the book? Or, that Wilko would shelter the FirstBus Kernow queue while creatures of habit and older loyalties persist in going to Malletts to buy mousetrap and screw? And, as the Front Street has witnessed centuries of change, so change is coming again – What will we do? What must we do?

As long as vehicles and people move north-south-east-west and all points between to get about the town, one thing is certain – the Front Street will continue to be the true crossroads, the centre of our town. Truru bys vykken!

Bert Biscoe


Film by Lucy Isaacson of Climatevision

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1 Response

  1. Guy Crabb says:

    I’ve found your website really interesting and useful in my studies for Historic Building Conservation Masters Degree, thank you.

    The photo of Boscawen Street at the top of ‘Boscawen Street Still Thriving, POSTED BY ADMIN ON AUGUST 4, 2017’ has a hand written annotation.

    I’ve seen this hand writing on many b/w images – do you know the source and the photogrpaher(s)? Is it an album available online anywhere?

    Grateful for any lead.

    Many thanks


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