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Emotional return to Truro childhood home uncovered by archaeologists

Emotional return to Truro childhood home uncovered by archaeologists

A woman from Truro has made an emotional return to the site of her childhood home, after archaeologists uncovered remains of a street below a building site in the city. Working with building developers, Cornwall Archaeological Unit has discovered some of Truro’s hidden history beneath a major new project.

Once completed, Falmouth University will be the main tenant of the Pydar development in Truro, attracting over 700 students to a new campus in the heart of the city, where there will also be new shops and housing. But before the building work begins, archaeologists have had the chance to unearth the site of an isolation hospital, an old farmhouse, and the cottages of Boscawen Row.

One of the residents of Boscawen Row was Sheila Richardson, who lived in one of the cottages as a child before they were demolished to make way for the development of the Carrick District Council offices in the 1960s. Last week, Sheila was on site talking to school children about growing up on Boscawen Row.

The children from Archbishop Benson School were helping archaeologists find artefacts at the foundations of the isolation hospital, which was originally built as a poor house in 1779. Whilst Sheila was there, she was invited by archaeologists and the project team to walk up to see the site of her childhood home at Boscawen Row, an experience she described as ‘absolutely thrilling’.

There are 13 pictures in this photo story – click on the Next button at the bottom of the page to see them all.

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Born in 1947, Sheila Richardson lived with her family at number 16, Boscawen Row until the age of about 12 or 13. The row of cottages ran all the way from Pydar Street down to the river, although only the remains of four of the houses have been uncovered.

(Image: Greg Martin)

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As Sheila was guided onto the dig site, she walked from cottage to cottage, recalling the Pryors who lived at number 19, the Hicks family at number 18, and the Wrights at number 17, before finally moving onto the remains of the last cottage and standing on its footprint and saying “And this must have been ours. Wow!”

(Image: Greg Martin)

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This archive photo shows the back of Sheila’s home on Boscawen Row, with Truro Cathedral in the background.

(Image: Greg Martin)

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Standing in front of the site of her childhood home, Shelia was able to line up the view of the cathedral from her front window. She also recalled a sad day in the 1960s when she was out on her newspaper round. Her family had moved out of Boscawen Row in 1959, when the area had been earmarked for development. Then, one day a few years later, she was walking past the site delivering papers when she saw her childhood home being demolished, which made her very upset.

(Image: Greg Martin)

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Not far from Boscawen Row, children from Archbishop Benson School have been helping uncover artefacts at the site of the poor house, which was turned into an isolation hospital for infectious diseases in the 19th Century.

(Image: Greg Martin)

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James Gossip, senior archaeologist with Cornwall Archaeological Unit, explained: “We’re on the site of the former poor house, built in 1779, which later became an isolation hospital. We’re looking at the foundations of the building that was put up in 1779 – that would have been a nice two storey, C-shaped building, but quite austere – no mod cons in there.

“Later on, in the middle of the 19th century, you see the site transformed into a hospital for people with infectious diseases, and that’s a time when people are becoming much more interested in how diseases are transmitted.”

(Image: Greg Martin)

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James continued: “So, we see things like nice concrete floors going in and rendered plaster walls for washing down – the first hot water coming into the building – those sorts of things. So there’s quite a transformation between the 18th century and right into the 20th century, whilst it was being used as a hospital.”

(Image: Greg Martin)

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James also added: “What has been particularly surprising is that we’re also finding – as well as this material from the last couple of hundred years – we’re getting fragments of pottery that date way back into the 15th century, late medieval pottery, and this is an indicator, I think, of how well developed this site was coming off of Pydar Street from the medieval period onwards. We didn’t expect to find so much of that surviving, and we’re still exploring those areas, but we hope to find much more medieval pottery.”

(Image: Greg Martin)

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Enzo from Archbishop Benson School holds up a clay pipe which was found at the site of the poor house. It is understood that there was a clay pipe factory close to this site.

(Image: Greg Martin)

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As well as the isolation hospital, the area included almshouses, gardens, allotments and wasteland. A close-knit neighbourhood community existed around the former cattle market (between Castle Street, Edward Street, Union Street and Pydar Street) and a chapel, which once stood on Castle Street at the site currently occupied by Coodes solicitors.

(Image: Greg Martin)

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Although there is little left to see of the cottages on Boscawen Row, there is clearly enough to trigger happy memories for former resident Sheila Richardson.

(Image: Greg Martin)

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In the cottage believed to be number 19, there is the remains of a fireplace which James Gossips thinks could have been installed in the 1950s, not long before the houses were abandoned.

(Image: Greg Martin)

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Reflecting on the visit to her childhood home, Sheila Richardson said: “It’s a memory that will last me till the end of my days. And it’s thrilling. I’m very grateful to everybody who has enabled me to do this today, and hopefully I can write a little bit about it, because I write books. Absolutely thrilling. I’m very grateful. Unbelievable!”

(Image: Greg Martin)

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  • June 25, 2023