Leisure central

The City Hall complex you see today has been here since 1847. It sits on the site of a short-lived earlier town hall built in 1809 and was put up to coincide with Truro being awarded city status. Its exterior, built in the handsome Italian Renaissance style, has been widely admired.

“The climax of Truro’s classic style is the Granite Market Hall in Boscawen Street.” – John Betjeman, Poet Laureate.

Whilst the outside of the hall hasn’t changed much in almost 200 years, the inside has been knocked around quite a bit, providing space for lots of different uses over the years.

A fashion show held at City Hall. Fashion shows were well attended and would often include clothes from local retailers. Collection of Hall for Cornwall.

Flexible space

The space inside City Hall is tricky to keep track of with lots of different configurations and activities taking place here. A decline in the food market in 1902, and a growing desire for leisure activities, opened up a whole new set of uses at the complex.

A rifle range instigated in the early 20th century, and brought back periodically afterwards, allowed all local men, from the richest to the poorest, access to shooting practice in case they needed to help with the defence of the realm. Competitions were held throughout the year.

The Hall has always been a favourite hangout for young people growing up in Truro, particularly during a period as a rollerskating rink in the early 20th century. Articles in the Royal Cornwall Gazette tell of a lively space, opened in 1910 and hosting regular carnivals with fancy dress, figure skating competitions and races, including one where a man on a bike lost in a mile race to the floor manager (who was on roller skates) by half a round! It was also used as a cinema around this time and stretching right through to the forties.

Rollerskating rink at City Hall. Collection of Hall for Cornwall

Setting the stage

There’s been a stage here since the building was remodelled in 1925, creating a new public space with a stage, dressing rooms and a 1000 person capacity. The Green Market annexe was also arranged with a folding wall so it could be used in conjunction with the new space or separately, as needed. For performances and concerts, this space was used regularly by Truro Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (TAODS) – find out more about them at Storypoint 5.

The view from City Hall’s stage. Visible to the side is the Annex, which hosted numerous community events in the 1930s -1990s.

The seventies brought bands including Wizzard, and Thin Lizzy and the first performance by local boy Roger Taylor’s band after they changed their name from Smile to Queen. The eighties and nineties welcomed regular fashion shows and big-name indie from the likes of Radiohead and the Levellers.

A concert inside City Hall c. 1995. Collection of Hall for Cornwall.

Skating returned to the Hall in the early noughties, this time on ice. Russian skaters brought large scale performances featuring daring feats and spellbinding storytelling to a frozen main stage.

“The ice was brought up from the fish market at Newlyn. It was spread on this false stage and kept watered the whole time and frozen the whole time. There was a huge generator out by the stage door which was going for 24 hours a day. Then at the end of the show all the ice would be scraped off the stage and put into the gutters, outside, and also transported over to the back of Staples, in their car park there.” – Christine Holmes, HfC volunteer

By the 1980s the space had deteriorated badly and opera singer Benjamin Luxon took a low-cost lease which would soon lead to a campaign to fund a new theatre. The Hall for Cornwall opened in 1997.

Ann Jennings (who ran Flea Markets at City Hall) and Chris Warner (Hall for Cornwall’s early Director) showcase their newly received charity number in the lead up to the opening of Hall for Cornwall. City Hall is visible in the background. Collection of Hall for Cornwall.