The story behind Walsingham Place
As you know Walsingham Place is the grandest yet quietest street in Truro. However, did you know Walsingham Place – was originally known as Caribee Island due to Truro’s importance as a slave port?
Or that it was the site for coffin-dwelling partygoers, a haven for militant workers and was even saved from destruction by Sir John Betjeman, the Poet Laureate?
Many people simply know our pretty terrace as a quick walk-through to get from one part of the city to the next, so here’s the fascinating history of Walsingham Place.
Truro at the time was a small town dominated by the Allen and Kenwyn rivers – the latter now running behind Walsingham Place.
There was a castle where the law courts are now, a Dominican Friary in Kenwyn Street and a leper colony in St George’s Road. However, Walsingham Place was still a bog.
Three houses sat on Caribee Island, the land now known as Walsingham Place, at the end of the 1600s.
The area was also known as Cribby Island; the name is thought to derive from the Caribbean, due to the large number of slave ships docking in Truro’s port.
It was very marshy but had its own pub, The Ship Inn. The area was also home to the Fairfield or Moorfield where wrestling matches took place.
The Enys family were one of the leading landowning families in Truro, owning property since the 15th century. Samuel Enys was heir to his grandfather, Henry Gregor, who died in 1705. Samuel was wealthy enough in 1706 to purchase the Manor of Kenwyn and Truro for £2,146. Yes, he bought Truro for the cost of a used car.
The land owned by the Enys family known as The Moor (now Moorfield Car Park) and Caribee Island (Walsingham Place) was considered for a road taking coach traffic out of Truro to the south, but plans were abandoned when the land was found to be too boggy.
A Methodist community of 21 people built a wooden chapel on Caribee Island in 1768. There was a Whitbreads brewery nearby, which rented larger premises as the Methodist community grew. Eventually the society was given a site in Kenwyn Street where Wesley visited to preach.
Truro has had a strong Methodist presence ever since.
Wrestling matches were exceedingly popular on the site, attracting hundreds of spectators. Local ministers distributed handbills protesting at the disturbance caused by the huge crowds. However, there were no reports of any trouble at the matches.
Lemon Street was completed in the 1830s – the “pride of Truro” – and then Walsingham Place itself was constructed in 1837 by the then MP for Truro, Edmund Turner, who was a banker, and businessman John Ferris, who gave his name to Ferris Town just up the road. It was named after Edmund’s brother who had the unwieldy but rather splendid name of Walsingham Turner.
Philip Sambell, who couldn’t hear or speak, is thought to have been the architect of Walsingham Place, the charming, curved late Georgian terrace we still know today … though the lions invaded some time later.
Sambell was also responsible for the plans for Castle Street, St George’s Road, River Street, Strangways Terrace, St John’s Church, St Paul’s Church (which now stands empty), Truro Savings Bank (now the Royal Cornwall Museum) and Truro Methodist Church.
In 1851 it was reported that Walsingham Place was home to clerks, a wheelwright, butcher, wine and spirit merchant, ironmonger, fancy chair maker, English teacher, and the wife and family of an Inland Revenue officer called Mugford.
A fire destroyed the buildings near the bridge over the Kenwyn River alongside Walsingham Place in 1854. They were not rebuilt and Victoria Square was constructed.
In 1872 there was a government inquiry, revealing that four-and-a-half miles of sewer emptied straight into the Kenwyn River between Castle Street and Walsingham Place. A barge was kept at Lemon Bridge, where Lemon Quay is now, to take away the solid matter.
There were also sluice gates at the bridge but these were operated by “over-worked scavengers” who often caused catastrophes. The stench was said to be terrible at all times.
The residents of Walsingham Place in 1883 were a publican, insurance agent, dressmaker, fruiterer, law clerk, cabman, gardener, coach builder and hop merchant.
The building at the end of Walsingham Place, now occupied by the Cornish Food Box, was built in the 1800s originally as a maltings. To this day it has two very deep cellars, which the river ran through, which were used to convert grain to malt. You can still see the chimney.
The building was lost in a game of poker between the Rev Enys and well-known local businessman Robert Mallett’s great-grandfather, who set up the hardware shop in the 1890s.
The 20th century
Mallett’s carried on using the building as a store, particularly for coffins. Male employees were known to sleep in the coffins after a night on the town, scaring the bejesus out of the shop girls the following morning.
Since then it has been a dance hall, boxing club and meeting room for the Independent Labour Party – graffiti still visible on a beam states ‘Workers of the World Unite’, which is thought to date back to the Great Strike of 1926.
It remained empty for ten years before the Cornish Food Box opened in 2013.
Walsingham Place was famous as the home of one of Truro’s best-loved residents, the late Clarice Mortensen-Fowler, who moved into No 11 with her family in 1921 and then No 16 when they outgrew the two bedrooms of No 11.
In 1940 the family moved out of Walsingham Place because it became “too noisy”. That probably meant wartime planes buzzing overhead rather than the modern-day partying of L2 nightclub, which used to operate just around the corner.
The grandeur loved by Truronians and visitors alike almost came crashing down in 1964 when it was decided that Walsingham Place should be knocked down to make way for a new development. What fresh madness was this?
John Betjeman – one of the greatest poets this country has produced – was on the committee producing the Shell Guides. He visited Truro while compiling the Truro guide and his resultant report stopped the redevelopment. No wonder we love him so much in Cornwall.
It was also in the 1960s that the famous lions were placed over the doors by architect John Crowther.
Gradually the private residences changed to business premises, with the last domestic dweller thought to have moved out around ten years ago.
Among the businesses now occupying the small but sleek sweep of the terrace are The Walsingham Clinic, a natural health centre and acupuncture clinic, Healthwatch Cornwall, Hearing Loss Cornwall, Spalding Associates (Environmental) Ltd, Financial Planning Concepts, and KBG Chambers.
It’s quite amazing what a bit of boggy land has produced over the past 400 years. Long may its quiet splendour continue.