The Commercial Buildings of Redruth, Cornwall
New research to inform the work of the Redruth High Street Heritage Action Zone.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Redruth in West Cornwall was a major regional centre for the mining industry and a thriving market town. This heyday is still evident in the architecture of Fore Street, the main commercial street in the town. However, like many other high streets across the country, it has been suffering from vacant buildings and underused upper floors.
A particular focus of the High Street Heritage Action Zone initiative is the Buttermarket, just off Fore Street. Initially a general market, the name ‘Buttermarket’ was only widely used from the late 20th century.
Redruth received its first market charter in 1333 and for centuries the market was held in Fore Street. In the 1820s, the lord of the manor, Sir Francis Basset, 1st Baron de Dunstanville and Basset, provided a new space for the market, freeing up Fore Street for traffic.
Between 1825 and 1826, he built a colonnaded courtyard with a two-storey market house set back from the south side of Fore Street. It was approached from Fore Street via a lane (now Market Way) which led to single-storey colonnades either side of a narrow alleyway. Market stalls were located within the covered colonnades and in the small courtyard in front of the market house. The market house originally had open arcades on the ground floor for trading and the upper floor was used for meetings and administrative business.
Architecturally, the market as first built in the 1820s and as perpetuated by later extensions was an example of a loggia market, a transitional form between an open-air market and a market hall. Few examples of this type survive today; another one is the Pannier Market of 1828 in Dartmouth, Devon.
The market in Redruth proved successful and soon required additional accommodation, largely due to the increase in market activity following the construction in the 1850s of a more central railway station and a new connection to the national railway network, enabling trade between Redruth and a larger area. At some point between 1855 and 1874 the courtyard was extended to the south-west with matching open colonnades. Fixed stall divisions were created within the perimeter colonnades, with the butchers’ stalls concentrated to the north of the courtyard within the earlier colonnades. In the 1870s, these butchers’ stalls were replaced by a purpose-built Victorian market hall, housing the meat market.
In the 20th century the buildings gradually fell out of market use, due to competition from butcher’s shops and supermarkets. The market house was the first to be converted to new uses, followed by the meat market in the 1950s. Some limited commercial activity continued in the market courtyard into the late 1980s. In 1982, the former meat market hall was gutted by a fire, although its historic walls survived and a new building was constructed inside them in 2000-1. In 2017, the buildings around the Buttermarket courtyard were bought by the Redruth Revival Community Interest Company (CIC), with the aim of bringing them back into sustainable use.
The High Street Heritage Action Zone for Redruth identified the Buttermarket as a priority building for the initiative, the revival of which would have a positive impact on the whole of the town centre. Historic England’s research and investigation of the building informed a designation assessment which resulted in its listing at Grade II in May 2021.
The research report also supported the design work by the architects Thread and a successful grant application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which awarded £2.7m to the Buttermarket’s restoration.
Work is currently underway to create a new food hall, workspaces for local businesses and creatives, and shop units for local food providers.
Redruth’s historic banks
Another building type that demonstrates Redruth’s commercial success in the 19th century are banks.
Six historic bank buildings survive in central Redruth and their architectural ambition is evidence of the importance of banking facilities in a flourishing industrial market town.
Three of them are listed, but none is still in its original use; the last purpose-built bank closed in October 2022. A better understanding of their history and significance was urgently needed to inform options for the sustainable reuse of the buildings.
The earliest surviving purpose-built bank in the town is the former Redruth Savings Bank (now the Redruth Albany RFC Clubhouse) in Station Hill, built in about 1827 and listed Grade II. The bank had been founded in 1818, in the wake of the Savings Banks (England) Act of 1817, which encouraged the establishment of savings banks to give working people a measure of financial independence. Many of Redruth’s miners and their families opened accounts at the new Savings Bank. As was typical for 19th-century banks the upper floor was used as living accommodation for the bank manager. The new research suggests that this building is one of the earliest purpose-built savings banks in England and a rare surviving example from the 1820s.
Two Victorian bank buildings were designed by the local architect James Hicks (1846-96):
- the Redruth District Bank in Alma Place of 1879-80
- and the Devon & Cornwall Bank at 11 Fore Street of 1886-7
Both are Grade II listed. Typical of his work elsewhere, the banks display a mixture of architectural styles. This is particularly evident in the front elevation of 11 Fore Street which combines classical features like Ionic pilasters with a small oriel window, more characteristic of medieval architectural styles.
The largest bank building in Redruth is the former Barclays bank of 1906-7, designed by the Penzance architect Oliver Caldwell (1861-1910). His design used the same details and materials which he employed for several branches of the Consolidated Bank of Cornwall, which was taken over by Barclays in 1905. Barclays were clearly keen to continue to use this style for their Cornish branches – an early example of a bank using architectural design to express corporate branding and local identity. At least part of the upper floors of the building was initially used as the manager’s living accommodation but from the 1930s the upper floors were rented out.
Two further banks were built in the 1920s, when the main high street banks established and expanded their branch networks.
The Midland Bank (later HSBC) was erected at 81 Fore Street in about 1920. It was probably designed by the architects T. B. Whinney, Son & Austen Hall, a firm that had worked for the Midland Bank since the 1890s and who designed a very similar branch in St Ives.
The Lloyds Bank at 27 Fore Street was built in about 1922-4 and has a particularly fine interior with a glazed dome and decorative plasterwork.
The impact of our research
Historic England’s research into the banks has informed the updating of the list entries for the three listed banks. By establishing the significance of the former Midland Bank, it has also supported the building’s acquisition as part of the High Street Heritage Action Zone programme. The bank had been vacant for five years and now houses some of the tenants of the Buttermarket, while work is underway there.
Working in partnership with Cornwall Council, Redruth Revival and other partners, Historic England’s Redruth High Street Heritage Action Zone initiative aims to restore the Buttermarket and the bank buildings to their place at the commercial heart of Redruth.
About the author
- Name and role
- Title and organisation
- Architectural Investigator at Historic England
- Johanna joined Historic England in 2017. She has been working on several Heritage Action Zones and High Streets Heritage Action Zones and is the co-author of the book ‘Weston-super-Mare: The Town and its Seaside Heritage’, which was published by Historic England in 2019.
Download as PDF magazine
You can download this and other articles in our PDF format magazine.