Truro: cathedral and clay pipes

Truro’s location had given it a key advantage. The small medieval port was squashed between the two rivers of the Allen and Kenwyn but this was the point where east-west roads could cross the upper reaches of the Fal estuary. Ships could sail as far as the town: in consequence trade grew around its quays. In the eighteenth century the growth of Falmouth was affecting that coastal trade but Truro was lucky in that the copper mines to its west were booming.

The view from Lemon Bridge when Lemon Quay was an actual quay

Truro began to look away from its maritime past as it became a centre of banking, servicing the mining industry. It also became the resort of choice for Cornwall’s pretentious new moneyed class and older enriched landowners alike. Impressive buildings appeared in Lemon Street and Strangways Terrace with grand houses built in Prince’s Street. The town got its reward in 1877 when the decision was taken to plant a cathedral there. It could now proudly claim the status of a city, although many in other Cornish towns took the more jaundiced view that it was only an overgrown town.

Truro’s premier hotel – the Red Lion – in 1915. The building was demolished in 1967 when a lorry crashed into it after its brakes failed

Most of Truro’s inhabitants were not grand. Large numbers of craftsmen and shopworkers as well as Cornwall’s highest concentration of domestic servants struggled to make the lives of the professional and middle classes comfortable.

Truro in 1879. Goodwives Lane can be found in the centre of the map

William Cock lived with his family in the distinctly down-market street of Goodwives’ Lane, off Pydar Street and now long gone as successive waves of re-development obliterate the area’s past. William was a clay pipe maker. Clay pipes had been introduced in the 1500s when tobacco was first imported from the Americas. They were in great demand in the early nineteenth century although the market began to decline after the 1850s with the introduction of wooden pipes and a change of fashion from pipe-smoking to cigarettes after the Crimean War.

Often, clay pipes were manufactured by families in their houses, using moulds to shape the clay and small kilns to fire the pipes.  This appears to have been the case for William Cock and his family. His son Alfred inherited the clay pipe business from him, moving from Goodwives Lane to Walsingham Place in the town in the process. Things did not always go smoothly for Alfred. In 1882, around the time his father died, he was charged with being drunk and disorderly and fined two shillings and sixpence plus costs of four and six. He and his family then spent some time around 1900 in Plymouth where he was employed as a commercial traveller. Nonetheless, they were back in Truro by 1911. In that year Alfred could be found in the workhouse, although still described as a pipe maker. Maybe his business had suffered badly from the growing competition posed by the cigarette manufacturers.

Life for those such as Alfred had been hard but like him many of Truro’s children ended their days still in the town. The proportion of them who were still found in middle age in the town of their birth was markedly higher than the norm. More than half of the Truro born children of 1850 in our database were still living there in 1891 and no-one from the town has been identified as an emigrant. It was obviously just too good to leave. 

One thought on “Truro: cathedral and clay pipes

  1. The Red Lion’s frontage had a preservation order on it. This stopped development and the lorry plowed into it destroying the frontage. The Red Lion was off set to where a lorry coming down Lemon Street and losing breaks would naturally have trajectory. It was a handy event for the owners of the Red Lion and the commercial developers. Turning a building that couldn’t be developed into what they wanted.


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