In the past the little white river, part of the upper reaches of the river Fal which runs under the bridge at the bottom of Fore Street in Grampound, was a deep and busy waterway with a Roman encampment nearby. About 1,600 years ago the Romans built a great bridge here; in Norman times the bridge was called Grand Pont, by which name the village was known and from which its present name has evolved.
The community flourished and by 1332 Grampound was given its charter by Earl John of Eltham which gave the townspeople the right to ‘hang convicted thieves’ and to exemption from taxes and tolls on the repair and building of other bridges. Most importantly they were granted the right to hold 52 markets a year without payment of dues. The seven- sided market cross still remains in Grampound outside what was once the market hall. The clock tower, now a landmark on the A390, was a symbol of the status of the borough in later years.
The tanning of leather in Grampound goes back to medieval, perhaps even Roman, times and the large cattle markets supplied the hides. At one time there were five tanneries in the area, which was a centre for leather. From 1711 the Croggan tannery flourished in Grampound and until quite recently produced high quality leather by the traditional oak-bark method.
The church of St Nun was built in 1370, close to the market hall, as a chapel of ease for the convenience of worshippers. It was rebuilt in 1869 into the delightful church it is today.
A small dark chamber behind the market hall was the gaol. Perhaps it was used quite often, as later in its history Grampound became a notorious ‘rotten’ borough, with much buying and selling of votes. It was once described as ‘one mass of notorious corruption’ but, as it was also described elsewhere as ‘a place of great privileges and very poor inhabitants’, maybe the temptations were hard to resist.
Grampound sent two members to parliament from the time of Edward VI up to 1824, but was in that year disenfranchised for bribery, being the only borough so treated prior to the Reform Bill of 1832. It had the honour of introducing to parliamentary life two very notable men, Wm. Noye, the great lawyer (1604 to 1611), and John Hampden, the hero of the ship-money dispute (1620) and prominent parliamentarian during the Civil War, both good friends of the people, though the former deserted the popular cause. In 1768 it was represented by Grey Cooper, secretary to the treasury, and Charles W. Cornwall, afterwards speaker of the house, a man of great ability.
The village possessed a mill, mentioned in the Domesday Book, located at the end of what is still called Mill Lane. In 1501 there were spinning mills, in 1653 fulling mills and later, in 1801, these became woollen manufacturers. From 1816 the industry changed to glove manufacturing.
With all this industry, the inhabitants, visitors and the community from the 21 outlying farms became very thirsty and in the village, clustered around the main street, were six public houses. Nor was that all! The private enterprise of villagers who went in for brewing in their homes necessitated the presence of an Excise Office. Of the six public houses only the Dolphin inn remains, a welcome sight halfway up Fore Street. The village, which was once a town centred around the bridge and the market and is now divided by the main A390, annually cocks a snook by stopping the heavy flow of traffic with its carnival procession.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Grampound is set within a landscape of dense prehistoric activity, but no prehistoric discoveries have been recorded within the conservation area. Evidence of prehistoric settlement, field systems and monuments are recorded nearby. A number of Bronze Age monuments have been identified including standing stones and burial barrows and later prehistoric and Romano-British period enclosures, representing hillforts and defended farmsteads or ‘rounds’, have also been discovered. Excavations have taken place at the hillfort enclosure at Carvossa, 1 km to the west of the conservation area, and have yielded evidence for the occupation of the site between the first and fourth centuries AD. An earlier route of the main road (now the A390) survives as a small grassy lane and runs from Old Hill to the enclosure. It is likely that this route has ancient origins and originally crossed the Fal at a fording point.
Grampound originated as a planned medieval market town established as a financial speculation by the Earl of Cornwall. It takes its name from the ‘Great Bridge’ constructed c1250 under the patronage of the Earl and is first recorded in the Cornish as ‘Pons Mur’ in 1296 and subsequently in Norman- French as Grauntpount in 1302. The bridge, originally located slightly to the south of the present 20th century crossing, was strategically important, carrying the main southern route through Cornwall and forming the lowest road-crossing of the River Fal until the construction of the ‘Pons Magna’ or ‘Big Bridge’ at Tregony in 1300. By 1297 the Borough of Grampound had been established and 28 rent paying burgeses were recorded. The close connection between the bridge and the chosen location for the town is indicated in the Borough crest that depicts the bridge, road and river as well as the Earl’s coat of arms.
The planned market town was laid out along the spine road of Fore Street to the east of the bridge and elements from the original plan still shape the settlement today, and include:
- the basic road layout
- the distinctive long, thin property boundaries fronting onto the main street known as burgage strips
- the widened main street that formed the market place
- the surrounding strip field system
The first Borough Charter dates from 1332, but may represent the confirmation of existing arrangements. The charter gave the burgesses the right to hold a weekly market and two annual fairs, the manor mills and permission for a merchant’s guild. Grampound was promoted as an important town; the Hundred Courts of Powder were held here and from 1351 to 1824 the town returned two members to parliament. By 1370 a chapel of ease dedicated to St Naunter or St Nun had been established on the site of the current chapel. The medieval building stood until its collapse and demolition in 1820 and the present building was constructed in 1869. A medieval leper house is also documented from c1309 and is thought to have been located on the site of the Mill Lane Doctor’s surgery. From 1686 this was the site of the parish almshouses and subsequently the site of the Poor House built in 1795 and demolished in 1960. Surviving medieval architecture in the conservation area includes the headless shaft of the 15th century market cross and the Grade II* listed Manor House complex of probable 16th – early 17th century date. This building was the manorial administrative hub of the medieval town and was also the location for the Hundred Court and the Merchant’s Guild.
Grampound developed an important industrial and manufacturing economy dominated by its mills and tanyards that were powered by the Fal and its tributaries. The town’s sizeable cattle and sheep market attracted ancillary trades including slaughterhouses, a leather industry, wool and cloth production and glove making. The Town Mill site, to the north of the conservation area, has a complex industrial history with documented uses as a corn mill, a fulling mill, a malt mill and a grist mill. It is likely that this was the site of one of more of the medieval mills transferred to the borough in the 1332 charter.
Documentary evidence relating to a fulling mill on the Town Mill site provides evidence of a cloth trade at Grampound. Another fulling mill is thought to have stood on the opposite side of the Fal in Probus parish, outside the bounds of the Borough, on the site of Fal Valley Pets. Fulling mills were used to finish woven fabric, agitating the cloth to create a felted surface resulting in a denser, more hardwearing material. Other references to a textile industry come from surviving field names such as ‘Rack Field’, a reference to the tenter frames where the fulled cloth was stretched out to dry. Seventeenth century wills from the borough detail looms and raw materials including black and white wool, hemp and flax and 18th century records list 9 weavers, 2 dyers, 17 fullers, clothiers and wool staplers in the Borough suggestive of a considerable domestic industry. In 1801 Grampound Factory was established on the Town Mill site as a spinning mill, woollen cloth and woollen yarn manufactory. This seems to have had a limited success and finally burnt down in 1835. Fabrics from Grampound were likely traded at the nearby cloth market at Tregony and also at Exeter.
A leather industry developed during the medieval period based on the ready availability of cattle hides, water and oak bark for the tanning process. Manor Tannery, to the rear of the Manor House, was owned by the Croggon family from 1711 and continued trading using the traditional oak bark tanning technique until its closure in 2000. This site was originally three tanyards that were later combined and it is thought that the medieval tannery of the manor was located here. Fal Valley Tanyard, also known as Lower Tannery was the largest of Grampound’s tanneries and was located on the site of Fal Valley Pets. The lower part of the Old Hill area was historically known as Bermondsey after Bermondsey House. This is a reference to the London leather market that at one time was the centre of the English leather trade and where much of the leather made in Grampound’s tanneries was sold. Ancillary industries to the tanneries developed including curriers who dressed, coloured and finished the tanned leather and glove making manufactories. Glove making is documented on the site of Perran House and at Town Mills.
The prosperity and stature of the town seems to have declined to some extent by the end of the medieval period with John Norden writing in 1584 describing Grampound as ‘of small resorte: the town is verye Auntient, the priviledges large, the inhabitants few and poore’. Some 20 years later Carew also noticed that ‘the bridge there is supported with only a few arches, and the corporation but half replenished with inhabitants, who may better vaunt of their town’s antiquity, than the town of their ability’. Despite this, the market continued until its decline in the 19th century when travel to Truro and St Austell became easier. The present day Town Hall was probably built in the early 18th century and was originally open to the ground floor with the upper floor supported on stone columns. The road continued to bring a constant passing trade with coaching inns, alehouses, stables and smithies providing accommodation and refreshment for travellers. During the mid 18th century a turnpike trust improved the road from Falmouth to Plymouth and a datestone of 1782, reset in the modern bridge, suggests that improvements were made to the crossing at this time. However, it was not until 1834 that the present route of the A390 to the west of the bridge was laid out between Trewithian Gate and Grampound. Prior to this the ancient route up Old Hill and past the hillfort enclosure at Carvosa had continued as the main road. The new turnpike included a new bridge, slightly upstream of the medieval bridge, with tolls collected at the tollhouse that survives on the west side of the crossing. Later, in 1869, the National School, now Grampound with Creed Primary School, was built on the line of the earlier road. The cottage row on the south side at the bottom of Fore Street continues to respect the alignment of the earlier route leading to the site of the medieval bridge.
Charges of widespread corruption in the electoral system of the Borough had been raised during the 18th and 19th centuries and finally in 1824 Grampound lost its right to send two representatives to Parliament. It was the only ‘Rotten Borough’ to be disenfranchised prior to the Reform Bill of 1832. This loss of status marked another step in the decline of the settlement from town to village. The coming of the railway in 1859 reinforced the loss of settlement status bypassing the settlement completely. The nearest station was at Grampound Road, 3 km to the north-west. The extent of the settlement as shown on the tithe maps of 1840 and 1843 is likely to be very similar to the medieval extent of the town. The 1st edition 25” Ordnance Survey map of c1880 shows how little the settlement had changed, with the historic development figure demonstrating that significant expansion really only began in the mid 20th century. By the turn of the 20th century the settlement was perceived as a village. Throughout the century the rise of the motorcar has had a major impact on the nature of Grampound. The A390 was improved in 1968 with a programme of road widening in which a number of historic buildings in the bridge area were demolished. The 1834 bridge was also demolished and replaced with today’s structure.