Idea for a Flourishing Foyer

In about 1982 I enquired about hiring Truro City Hall to put on a couple of rock bands. I was told that, although I only wanted it for three hours, I would have to hire it for 24 hours – there was nothing to stop me putting on a flea market! We only wanted to play a few tunes, not organise Woolworths! No deal!

It was this official rigidity which first propelled me into the campaign to Save Truro City Hall – handing out stencilled leaflets to passers-by, enduring harangues from councillors who thought that flogging it off would be the ‘best thing’. We argued that, in the world which was just round the corner, a refurbished City Hall would be a catalyst for sustaining the town –

Today the Hall for Cornwall is what it says on the can – it is our national theatre, attracting people from all over Cornwall to experience a very wide range of shows and events, sustaining galleries, restaurants, hotels and producers, inspiring artists, contributing to the economy and still – hosting the weekly flea market – if you’re in town when the brass bands hold their annual competition, the place is full of uniforms and cornets – fantastico!

During the great campaign and project to save the City Hall and to refurbish it and then run it, perhaps its most glorious component, its crowning architectural feature, has remained in the dark, barely used and contributing little – except to accommodate the flea market. The daftest part of the HfC project was to put the front door round the back and treat the front door as a Fire Exit! It is a building of two sides, two entrances, but its front door is definitely on the Front Street.

The lack of use of the Boscawen Street foyer has affected the fortunes of Truro’s Front Street, named for Ned Boscawen, with Prince’s Street and Duke Street running towards the river to remind Cornish people of their sovereign, and being entered by St Nicholas Street, reminding us of the Dominican Priory which one stood at the head of the River in what is now Victoria Square, of the trade guilds which built up the mercantile and trading culture of Truro, and of the town’s long association with the Cornish language and Cornish drama – it was the trade guilds which mounted the annual Miracle Play on wagons through the streets which was such a focal point of medieval Truro life (and which is the root of the carnival that we try to keep going today – Oh! If only it understood its roots and emulated them, perhaps it would be more memorable and enthusiastically supported).

WP_20160201_13_41_23_Raw__highresJulien Boast, the Director of Hall for Cornwall, has conceived a major refurbishment project – after over a decade and a half of sustained activity, the theatre is showing signs of ‘stress’ – which includes bringing the Boscawen Street foyer into active and productive use. He wants to install imaginative lighting to highlight the statuesque granite architecture, ‘invisible’ glass doors so that it can be secure and enclosed without affecting the sense of open air which is one of its characteristics, and to use it for events, exhibitions and ticket sales.

Having spent half a lifetime campaigning for, defending, celebrating and worrying about Truro City Hall I think that Julien’s ideas are exceptional and very timely. Towns like Truro are having to face the challenges of out-of-town shopping and the resultant trade loss, and finding new ways to attract people and money into them – as Harold Macmillan said: ‘Events dear boy, events!’

Opening a new era in the life of Boscawen Street with this major development will be to bring a new lease of life to the town centre – to the Front Street – the wonderful wide cobbled vista of Boscawen Street. Julien will be asking for support for this project when the funding applications are being processed and I hope that Truro will jump at the chance to express its thanks to all who worked so hard to make the Hall for Cornwall a real and lively centre – from Ben Luxon to the late John Ashby, who was City Hall manager for many years and whose love of the place was one of the factors which quietly contributed to defeating the attempts to flog it off – a brave and stalwart friend of Truro; and will support the new project because it will bring an exceptional part of the Hall’s architecture back into daily and creative use.

It is to be fervently hoped that, when it is complete, the foyer continues to host the flea market, which is a curious feature of Truro life, reaching back, a bit like the carnival, to the days of fairs and markets and the Charter of Earl Reginald – and that the new life of the foyer inspires marketeers to also develop their approach – it all makes the world go round!




A short addendum: How energising it is to see the first floor of the Coop – which used to be the Red Lion Hotel – with lights on and trade underway – it’s been dark and dingy ever since it was built – the deep white paint and intelligent lighting is a welcome contribution to the life of the Front Street – just think how things could be if the HFC foyer is bright, interesting and drawing people towards it!

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