City Hall is a complex space. Stretching from Lemon Quay to Back Quay, it not only houses the Hall for Cornwall but also contains the rooms and chambers of the City Council upstairs.

The building has also acted as Truro’s marketplace since 1847 when it was constructed to coincide with Truro being made a city. Reflecting this prosperity and status, it’s probably the grandest City Hall complex in the county and the centre of Truro’s social and civic life.

To market, to market…

Middle Row is a well-known spot in Truro history. This ramshackle row of traders’ houses and shops once stood down the centre of Boscawen Street, until it was pulled down for being an eyesore in the 1790s.

Before it moved to its home on Lemon Quay, the market house and town hall stood at the west end of Middle Row. Then it moved to the current City Hall site in 1809, but the building before this one lasted less than 40 years.

Market days were Wednesdays and Saturdays when provisions and livestock were brought from outlying towns to be sold. Early markets, certainly those on Middle Row, would have been messy, chaotic and crowded with narrow rows, stallholders jostling for space and animals creating noise and mess. There is evidence in documents detailing the hiring of stalls that this market would have spread outside the building.

Initially, City Hall did not have a live animal market as the powers that be felt it best not to mix animals and townsfolk. A new cattle market was built on the site of the old castle (now the Crown Court building).

Cattle Market, Castle Hill, Truro, 1920 © Royal Institution Cornwall

The country comes to town

In 1902 the Truro Fat Stock Society was formed, moving their ‘best of breed’ show to City Hall in 1907. Since then the annual December Fatstock Show has always been a huge day in the Truro calendar, described as ‘the day the country comes to town.’

Stories abound of heavy bulls falling through rotten floorboards in the marketplace, cages falling over and even a scared bullock causing havoc by charging through town,  pulling a farmer behind him like a water-skier!

You’ve heard of the expression a bull in a china shop? Well, one in a car park isn’t much better. One year one of the huge beasts got spooked, refusing to go into the hall for the show. He then got loose and stormed around Lemon Quay, charging and causing damage to vehicles.

In 1985 the show (now called Primestock) moved to the new cattle market on the outskirts of Truro, but it made a return to the City Centre in 2002 and is still held here today. 2002 marked the year of the Queen’s Jubilee, the 125th anniversary of Truro becoming a City and the centenary of the Primestock Show. A large marquee was erected on Lemon Quay and show day began that year with a rare spectacle when the City Coroner exercised his right as Freeman to drive six sheep through the city.

Watch a video of a farmer preparing to take his cattle to a Cornish Fatstock Market. Via BFIPlayer