For a town built almost entirely in grey, Redruth has always been a lively place. Edward the Third gave permission for the townsfolk to hold two annual fairs and two weekly markets and I have happy memories of saving my pocket money for weeks in order to spend one glorious day on the Fair Field for the famous Whitsun Fair. As a centre of Methodism, the year was once scattered with Feasts and Tea Treats and Sunday School Walks. There have always been choirs and brass bands, as well as a lively Operatic Society and orchestra and the Druids Hall, now. like so many old buildings, burnt down, was a famous cultural centre in the Eighteenth Century, hosting theatricals, concerts. scientific demonstrations, menageries and travelling freak shows.
And talking of scientific demonstrations… William Murdoch, who came to the town in 1779, built a model steam engine which he ran along Church Lane, frightening the Rector, and in 1792 lit his home with piped coal gas, making this insignificant building the first in the world to be lit in this way. The Camborne-Redruth tramway, started in 1902, was the only tramline in the county and the Great Western Railway viaduct which crosses the town on seventy-foot high, granite arches could stand as a metaphor for Victorian engineering confidence.
A town in the centre of the richest metal-mining area in the country was bound to attracted talented engineers, as well as men of energy, willing to venture money on new schemes which sometimes made them very rich. Hence the fine, solid, granite houses they built for themselves, the grand public buildings they built for the town and the ornate shops that opened up to cater for the tastes of the wealthy. The fact that the gutters of the main street ran with steaming water from the Pedn-an-drea mine at the top of the town, that they were surrounded by spoiled countryside and mineral tramways, smelters and tin stamps operated, dirtily and noisily day and night, must have made it an uncomfortable place to live at times but I have yet to meet a Redruth-born person who wanted to live anywhere else.
And today, St Piran’s Day, is a good time to applaud their pride in their heritage. St Pirans Day in March and Murdoch Day in June are celebrated with music, processions, contests and miles of bunting. There are Town Trails, interpretation boards and charming sculptures to remind the visitor of the past and the Cornwall Centre, filled with every kind of documentation, is a great resource for anyone wanting to know more. This isn’t bucket and spade Cornwall but in many ways it’s a lot more interesting.