Truro – Quimper: A Tale of Two Cities

Travel a few miles inland from Seasalt’s design studios in coastal Falmouth and you’ll reach the Cornish city of Truro.

Thought to get its name from the Cornish tre-uro meaning ‘settlement on the river’, Cornwall’s capital, and only city, marks the confluence of the rivers Kenwyn and Allen. Together, they form the tidal River Truro, which flows down to join the River Fal a few miles to the south.

With its sheltered position inland and easy access to the sea, Truro was once a key trading port for the region and a stannary town – an important administrative centre for local tin mining industry.

Across the Channel, the ancient capital of Brittany’s Cornouaille region, Quimper (pronounced cam-pair), also sits at the meeting of two rivers: the Steir and the Odet.  It takes its name from the Breton kemper, which means ‘confluent’ – flowing together or merging.

But that’s not the only similarity between these two cities. From memorable architecture to a rich cultural heritage, they have more in common than you might think.

Two Gothic-style cathedrals…

The city’s majestic cathedral is a national monument and dates back to the 12th century.  It’s named after Saint Corentin, the patron saint of Cornouaille and the first bishop of Quimper. It has an unusual bend in the middle where the builders shifted the position of the nave to avoid a marshy area during construction.

Truro Cathedral, on the other hand, is relatively recent – it was constructed between 1880 and 1910. The first cathedral in 650 years to be built in the Gothic style, it’s one of only three in the UK to have three spires. The highest spire rises 76m above the city, dominating Truro’s skyline.

Distinctive architecture…

Vieux Quimper (the old town) is characteristically Breton with its cluster of brightly painted half-timbered buildings and cobbled streets.

In Truro, local slate and Carn Brea granite give some of the older buildings a striking look, and there are some particularly fine examples of Georgian architecture along Lemon Street and Walsingham Place.

A cluster of cobbles and quirky, winding streets…

It’s easy to see how Vieux Quimper’s streets got their names with the likes of the Place au Beurre (Butter Place), Rue du Sallé (Street of Salt) and Rue Kéréon (Cobblers Road).

However, Truro’s Lemon Street has nothing to do with fruit – it’s actually named after local MP and mining magnate Sir William Lemon. Other streets are named for local families, such as the Boscawens of Tregothnan, or notable figures such as Bishop Jonathan Trelawny.  But the city’s Squeeze Guts Alley does exactly what it says – it gets narrower and narrower the further along you go!

A wealth of local industry…

Quimper is most famous for its traditional hand-painted Faience pottery, which has been produced in the city’s Locmaria district since 1690. The intricate designs feature unique brushwork techniques, and often include a petit breton figure in regional dress and a colourful floral border.

We were captivated by this beautiful pottery, which inspired our Pottery Flower and Painted Daisy prints in this collection.

Truro’s own potteries flourished during the 19th century when the town was a thriving centre for industry. Since 1919, Truro’s Royal Cornwall Museum has celebrated the region’s industrial heritage and is home to an internationally renowned minerals collection.

Plenty of reasons to push the boat out!

Quimper celebrates the best of Breton culture with the Festival de Cornouaille. In mid-July each year, the city is filled with music, dancing and competitions. The festivities culminate with the Great Sunday Parade when everyone flocks to the streets dressed in traditional Breton costume.

Truro, holds off till winter, when the City of Lights parade of giant paper lanterns lends a soft glow to the streets and marks the start of the festive season in the city.

Discover the collection inspired by the shared cultural history of Cornwall and Brittany.