History Theatre

Painting the curtain

Painting the curtain

During the summer, the safety curtain which protects our stage had a makeover. The new design was hand-painted over several days by scenic artist Phil, pictured here; it reflects the generous support of our headline sponsor and also now includes titling in both Cornish and English. Behind every design is a craftsperson with a story. Phil’s story (and how he came to be on our stage) is intriguing, and we think his work is top notch.

Phil, who runs Vintage Sign Writing, worked at many regional theatres up and down the country, eventually becoming head scenic artist at Theatre Royal Plymouth where he worked on several West End productions prior to their transfer to London. One of Phil’s most notable jobs was painting the original production of Buddy.

Phil then retrained to work in secondary education, spending over 30 years as a secondary school teacher. Today you’ll find him teaching Art & Design at Bodmin Community College. To find an art teacher in a secondary school with a background in theatre is quite rare and it’s fair to say school productions have never been the same since.  In fact they’ve become something of an epic compared to what staff, students and parents might have expected.


It was after a chance meeting that he had with Hall for Cornwall Chief Executive and Creative Director Julien Boast, when Phil was painting a mural on the outside of Penngelly Garden Centre at Hewaswater, that the painting of the Safety Curtain came about. Julien was quick to spot the theatrical craftsmanship and asked Phil whether he’d do some work in the new Cornwall Playhouse.

Like so many people in the area, Phil’s Hall for Cornwall story goes back a long way: he has performed (on our old stage) in several amateur productions with Restormel Theatre Company including South Pacific, Hello Dolly and Barnum.

Look out for Phil’s fine work on our safety curtain next time you come into the Cornwall Playhouse – the safety curtain is often in place while the Ope Way is open, most days 11am-4pm, and usually appears before each show, during the interval and after each performance.

Architecture Creative Heritage History Theatre Truro


Ah, the ‘in-the-know’ pleasure of an ope – the tiny opening between tightly-packed buildings often found in Cornish fishing and mining communities. And earlier this month we cut the ribbon on the Cornwall Playhouse’s own spin on this tradition: The Ope Way is our name for the area at the back of the stalls (ground floor) in our new theatre, which connects the Playhouse Bar (and our Boscawen Street entrance) with the Quay and the Green Room Café. Is it a shortcut between two Truro shopping streets? Or a cut-through to the box office? Or simply an excuse to have a nose at what’s happening in Cornwall Playhouse on any given day? Try it yourself and tell us!


The pioneering idea of the Ope Way was a key part of our vision for the ‘new’ building, it forms part of our new Heritage Trail, and we’re thrilled to share it with you. Of course The Ope Way won’t always be open – some theatre secrets are best kept until showtime!

Heritage Lottery Fund History

1922: A New ‘Public Hall’ for a Changing Truro

1922: A New ‘Public Hall’ for a Changing Truro

Written by James Westfield, University of Exeter

After a great fire gutted most of the central section of City Hall (or Market Place as it was then called), much of the interior was rebuilt and the market hall recreated with a cinema. By the early 1920s, however, industry in Truro had declined and it no longer needed such a large market area.

The first mention officially of the need for a new ‘Public Hall’ for the city was in a council meeting on 12thJuly 1922, where it was announced (in the minutes of the council meeting) ‘the Public Works Committee have prepared a plan of alterations to the Market House, making a hall, which, with a gallery, would provide seating accommodation for about 1,250 persons.’

By the meeting of 11th October 1922, the city surveyor had created a scheme for 700 seats at an estimated cost of no more than £5,000. Despite this though, by the time Truro City Council came to approve the scheme on 9th May 1923, costs had already risen to an estimate of £6,000. Nevertheless, it passed with fifteen votes to seven.

By this time, it was widely reported in the papers that there were £6,000 proposals for Market House, along with images of the plans for a 982-seat scheme, so how many seats there would actually be was seemingly unknown! There was, though, much support for the scheme from the public, as was reported by the West Briton, who felt Truro was much in need of a new ‘Public Hall’.

With the invitation for designs being sent out by June 1923 and a competition for this set up by Sir Brumwell Thomas in London, on behalf of the Royal Institute of British Architects, as well as a fall-back prize of 100 guineas for the winner if the winning scheme was abandoned, the plans for a new ‘Public Hall’ had truly begun!

Architecture City Hall Heritage Lottery Fund Heritage Stories Historic Building History Town Hall Truro

1926: Spiralling Costs and a Controversial Reopening

1926: Spiralling Costs and a Controversial Reopening

Written by James Westfield, University of Exeter
Work on the remodelling of the Hall commenced in June 1925 after the tender was given to ‘Messrs. Colenso, Ltd., of Cambourne, of £8,737’, considerably above the £5,000 initially estimated in 1922. Subsequent to this, Truro City Council applied for a loan of an additional £4,000, thus allowing £10,000 for the project overall. The City Hall (as it was then renamed to) reopened with a ball in October 1926, although it was widely criticised at the time for ending at midnight, as the council would not permit longer opening hours for the new Hall.
The actual end cost announced to the council meeting on 14th April 1926 was £12,000, which caused an outcry from the public (represented in this poem from the West Briton newspaper in May 1923 just from the initial costing of £5,000 for the hall, let alone the £12,000 final cost!) and there were also complaints that renting costs for the hall were too high at £33 10s per week and also that no arrangements had yet been made for films or performances. Eventually, in June 1926, the council agreed to temporarily let the hall for use as a cinema in order to pay back ‘at least the interest’ on the loan, only to then cancel these plans in August 1926 as the councillors couldn’t come to an agreement over the letting costs!
The first ball, to celebrate the reopening of City Hall was held in October 1926, although not without controversy. The Police Super-Intendent Osbourne called it ‘an absolute disgrace’ that it ended at midnight and that the council would not extend the licence of the Hall until 2 am. There were also complaints in early 1927 that it seemed impossible to book the hall, although the council down-played this by announcing that the Woman’s Institute had successfully booked it and that they did not understand what the public were complaining about.
And so, the City Hall and it’s first theatre were created, and this paved the way for the modern theatre we know today as the Hall for Cornwall. It also helped Truro enter a new, post-industrial era and prepared it for the societal changes that would occur in the latter-half of the twentieth-century. Furthermore, it cemented the Hall’s place as a significant monument for the Truronian population, that would lead to them campaigning to save it from destructions in the 1990s.
History Redevelopment Project

Hall For Cornwall Redevelopment – a month on since closure

Clearing the venue, yard sales & the loan of our grand piano

by Julien Boast, HFC CEO & Creative Director

It is hard to believe it is just over a month since The People’s String Foundation Orchestra staged their spectacular closing performance which had the audience up on their feet and dancing in the aisles. It was an amazing evening and I would like to thank everyone who joined us to mark the next chapter of our incredible journey to transform our theatre and build a new home.

I would also like to thank our staff who maintained their professionalism, passion and commitment for Hall For Cornwall right up to closure. It has been a challenging time for teams and I am pleased that so many took advantage of our training and support programme in the lead up to closure. We wish everyone lots of luck and look forward to staying in touch during the redevelopment.

As we prepare to formally hand over the keys to the building team next month, we have been packing up furnishings and technical equipment ready to go into storage. We have donated some equipment to local theatre companies and a local sheltered housing project. Our Steinway piano has been loaned to St Marys Church in Penzance and our upright piano to St Ives parish Church. Over the last month, we have held daily ‘Yard’ sales of other items. These have included kitchen equipment, tables and chairs, cups and saucers, wardrobe and props, desks and filing cabinets through to pairs of theatre seats.

We have seen many people buying items as mementoes of their visits to the theatre – one couple bought a pair of theatre seats for ‘cinema & popcorn’ nights when their grandchildren visit. Thank you to everyone who has helped support our ongoing fundraising campaign by buying something from the sale. I would particularly like to thank Truro Bid and all the local businesses for their support.

It has been wonderful hearing people’s memories of visiting us and receiving their good wishes for the renovation. Many have told us they can’t wait to visit the new building when it is completed in two years’ time and we share this excitement.

In the meantime, although we have raised 90% of our £19.8m re-build target, there’s still a way to go to make our aspirations for a new theatre a reality. Over the coming months we’ll be launching a series of initiatives for people to get involved and support our project and we hope we can count on you to play a part in our exciting next chapter.

Celebration Community Club Festival Heritage Stories History Town Hall Truro

Truro Peace Day Celebrations, 1919

Truro Peace Day Celebrations, 1919

By Daisy Roberts

Peace Day celebrations took place in Truro on the 18th and 19th of July, 1919, marking the formal end to the First World War. Although the conflict on the Western Front had ceased when the armistice was reached on 11th of November, 1918, a formal peace was not agreed until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28th of June, 1919. This official end to the war was celebrated throughout the United Kingdom. As the image shows, King George V declared that a religious thanksgiving be held throughout the British Isles and Empire on 6th of July. In Truro, a service was held in the cathedral. This was followed up by the Peace Day celebrations on the 18th and 19th. London led the celebrations. A large victory parade made its way through the city and the first cenotaph was unveiled in Whitehall. (This temporary structure was so well received that the following year it was replaced with a permanent structure).

In Truro, celebrations spanning the 18th and 19th of July, were attended by the general public, local school children and former soldiers who had served in the war. These celebrations intended to remember the lost, commemorate their sacrifices and celebrate peace. Festivities included speeches, music, food, fancy dress, sports competition, a bonfire and carnival. Events on the 18th were primarily directed at local school children. The postcard shows their attendance at a religious service, delivered from a platform erected outside what is now the Hall for Cornwall building on Boscawen Street. This was followed by sports competition in Boscawen Park in the afternoon.

On the evening of the 18th, at least 500 ex-servicemen were entertained with dinner and a smoking (men-only) concert. Both were held in what is now the Hall for Cornwall building. The Saturday celebrations, on the 19th, began with bell-ringing from both Kenwyn Church and Truro Cathedral. Stood outside of the City Hall on Boscawen Street, the Mayor then read the proclamation of peace. After which, the festivities got into full swing, the parade and adult’s sports competitions began, followed by music in the evening.

These celebrations were enjoyed by all members of the Truro community. Truro City Hall building provided the perfect centre for these festivities, both public and private. A tradition Hall for Cornwall aims to continue on the same site today and in the future.

Images courtesy of the Cornwall Records Office, with thanks to Courtney Library of the Royal Institution of Cornwall for access to local newspaper archives.

City Hall Community Heritage Stories History Music Theatre Truro

‘A Cobra and Basket’: Truro Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society and City Hall

‘A Cobra and Basket’: Truro Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society and City Hall

By Kate Neale

In 1961, the Secretary of the Truro Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society received a letter from London confirming an order of a cobra and basket to be delivered to City Hall. A curious order! But apparently, not an unusual one in the day-to-day running of an ambitious local theatre group.

First formed in 1912, the Society performed in different venues in Truro before settling at City Hall for many of their shows. Originally performing Gilbert and Sullivan operas such as The Pirates of Penzance and Ruddigore, after 1929 the group mainly opted to perform more modern musicals such as Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady and South Pacific.

In 1961 the Society performed Kismet as its fiftieth anniversary show. Kismet originally premiered in 1953 in Los Angeles, before being performed in San Francisco and then at the Stoll Theatre in London’s West End. The story is set in an imagined historic Baghdad, and follows the adventures of a wily poet, and the love affairs of his daughter. The Society’s production at City Hall included a cast of over 40 main performers, additional dancers, and a 24 piece orchestra.

Archive material held at the Cornwall Record Office shows what an undertaking putting on a show such as Kismet could be. The Society arranged for band parts from theatre company Samuel French, scenery and props to be delivered to Truro train station, and of course the cobra and basket from a stage production company in London!

The fiftieth jubilee was an opportunity to showcase the Society, and the Mayor and Mayoress of Truro were invited to attend the performance.  It was also an apt moment for the Society to reflect on its own history; a large souvenir programme, printed by Truro firm Netherton and Worth, included snippets and stories of performances from past years. Former and life members of the society were warmly welcomed back to celebrate the Society’s ongoing work.

City Hall and Hall for Cornwall has been an important venue for Truro Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society over the course of its history. We hope that in its new form, our theatre will continue to be a hub for local creativity for years to come!


Creative Heritage History

£20m Redevelopment

Last week was a momentous occasion for everyone involved with our £20m redevelopment project as we handed over the keys to the building contractors Kier to mark the formal start of the building works.

This is a key milestone in our journey to create a world class venue which will provide Cornwall with access to the very best performing arts to rival anywhere in the country, as well as creating jobs and boosting the local economy.

As we look to raise the curtain on our future, it seemed only fitting to celebrate the spirit of all the audiences, performers, directors, writers and technicians who have made the magic happen over the last 20 years by staging a very special key handover event.

Our celebration was led by members of our Youth Theatre and Dance groups who gave a series of specially devised performances as guests were taken on a tour of the theatre for the final time. The building’s history and heritage were celebrated by all; one young person performed a poem he had written about the secrets contained backstage, the builders (aka our youth theatre in disguise!) animated the auditorium’s fascinating 20 year history and  a team of youth dancers performed a celebratory dance to mark the end of this extraordinary era. All those taking part did an amazing job and I would like to thank everyone who worked so hard to make this such a special evening.

Guests had a rare opportunity to access previously off-limits areas of the building, including a tour  backstage and an introduction to the ‘famous’ HFC red lipstick tradition of performers kissing the walls prior to a performance. Guests were also able to see the vault door still in place within the former Flourish Café, previously the site of a police station with jail cell and an integral part of the redevelopment design proposal, as an important part of the overall fabric of the Grade II Listed building. By reuniting this part of the City Hall with the rest of the Boscawen Foyer we hope that we can celebrate much more of the building’s history with the public.

To finish up, The Suitcase Singers with performers from three Cornish choirs sang songs commissioned as part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project celebrating the achievements of famous Cornish women. These included Jenny Mopus, a song which tells the true story of Jenny Davies, an 18th century ferrywoman who rowed people from the Roseland Peninsula to Truro and whose portrait hangs in the Royal Cornwall Museum; famous Cornish rower Anne Glanville, who famously led a team of female rowers against male teams from Cornwall before repeating their achievement in France; and a song about Dolly Portreath, reported to be the last native Cornish speaker.

The evening ended with 11 year old Maisie Crick, who performed in our last HFC Christmas Show, presenting the keys to the building to Chris Couch, Kier’s Area Manager for Cornwall. Confidently carrying out her task, Maisie summed up the feelings of people across Cornwall by telling Kier “Please look after our theatre”.

Earlier in the week Cornwall Council had arranged for the iconic Drummer sculpture to be removed from Lemon Quay to protect it from damage during the construction works. With the agreement of the artist, the Drummer will spend the next two years at the Eden Project before being returned to Lemon Quay when our project is completed in 2020. The sculpture is currently in temporary storage while a suitable site is prepared at Eden.

We have worked closely with Truro BID, Kier and local businesses to create visuals for the hoardings surrounding the construction site. These will tell the story of the redevelopment alongside celebrating the building and Truro’s history and heritage visually and will be erected over the next few weeks.

Now the construction has formally begun we want to make sure that you can follow the progress of the redevelopment. We will be taking photos and film footage of the building works which we will be posting on our website and social media channels and will be working with Kier to organise a series of hard hat tours, open days and events. We look forward to welcoming you to see our progress soon.

Creative Heritage Heritage Lottery Fund History

Hall For Cornwall redevelopment boosted by £2.5m National Lottery grant

Hall For Cornwall redevelopment boosted by £2.5m National Lottery grant

We are thrilled to announce that we have today heard that we have been successful with being awarded our full Heritage Lottery grant for our ‘Revealing City Hall’ project. Since investing initial development funds last year, the Heritage Lottery Fund team have been really impressed by the local support from the Cornish community that has gone into creating the foundations for the full project. Some of you will have been involved with our memory and stories collecting and pop-up performances.

The grant will ensure the conservation and reinvigoration of Christopher Eales’ 1846 Grade II building’s Boscawen Street and Lemon Quay public spaces that currently envelop our auditorium. Alongside this, ‘Revealing City Hall’ will unveil the 350-year history of the City Hall site and bring it to life creatively for all.  A really exciting project that will enable the local community and visitors to discover the evolving heritage of City Hall and its very unique story.

Commenting on the award, Julien Boast, Director of Hall For Cornwall said: “It’s always a thrill and relief to know that everybody’s hard work here has been fully recognized. We’re delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support and after all the research and preparations so energetically undertaken, we are now eager to unleash our building’s cultural and heritage potential and give expression to this enormous confidence in us”.

Over the years, Truro City Hall has been many things to many people. Courts of Justice, skating rink, food market, rifle range, jail, theatre and seat of political power. It has survived fire and more than one economic downturn; provided a platform for civic unrest and played host to award-winning shows. The HLF-funded project will enable people to discover the evolving heritage of City Hall and its place in an emerging city, through a ‘voice-scape’ of people past and present and a host of other creative innovations that will tell its very unique story.

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, Hall For Cornwall’s rich 350-year history will be revealed in an enhanced public building. We are particularly excited about the number of people, young and old, who will be involved in the building’s future through education and training programmes, volunteering opportunities and activities connected to their local heritage”.

We’ll certainly be keeping people updated of news and becoming involved over the coming months.

Heritage Lottery Fund History

When is a city hall, a city hall?

When is a city hall, a city hall?

Truro City Hall has seen all sort of stories in it’s long lifetime…

The building houses Hall For Cornwall (Cornwall’s largest theatre), 2 cafes, a restaurant, Truro Tourist Information office, rooms for hire, and regular flea markets in the grand foyer. In it’s past it’s also been a cinema, skating rink and a rifle range! And that’s just the social stuff. The Boscawen Street side of the building is also an important home to Truro City Council, the Mayors parlour, and Cornwall’s Coroners Court.

A theatre and a court in the same building may seem a bit strange, but the building has always had many uses and different things happening in the spaces. When our building opened in 1847 it included a large market, courtrooms and council rooms, a police station and cells, and even a space for the town’s fire engine! This trend for multiple uses can be traced back to two earlier buildings. You can still see an original motto-stone from Truro’s earlier market, under the Boscawen arches.

TRURO, ENGLAND – JUNE 01 2022: Launch of the Geography App featuring composer Graham Fitkin and Producer Michael White at the Hall for Cornwall, photographed for the HfC by Hugh Hastings

Jenkin Daniels Mayor

Who seeks to find eternal treasure

must use no guile in weight or measure


It was common to house all of a town’s civic needs in one place. Somewhere to buy and trade essentials such as food and livestock, a place where justice, law and governance happened, and spaces for learning, debating, meeting and gathering.

All of these uses were essential to the marketplace. Weights and measures were very important – if you bought food you wanted to know you were getting the weight that you paid for. With the police station and court in the same building, you could be assured someone was checking things were fair and taking action when they discovered cheating.

West Briton newspaper article, Friday 2 JUNE 1854

‘SHORT WEIGHTS AND MEASURES – Many complaints having been made by inhabitants of Truro against butchers and others in the market, for using short weights and measures, the magistrates, on Saturday last, sent the Inspector round the market and the result was that G. PEARCE and T. WHETTER, two butchers, were summoned, Pearce’s beam having been found an ounce and a half out of balance, and Whetter’s an ounce and a quarter. They both pleaded guilty of the charge, and were fined 1s. and expenses, the magistrates expressing their determination to inflict the full penalty if the offence were repeated. Six other summonses have been issued against butchers and potatoe sellers for using short measures. It is hope that this will have the effect of repressing these practices.’

Photo Courtesy of Jocye Rowe.