Northgate and Tower Streets

Northgate Street c.1900.
Northgate Street c.1900.

Once a thriving, living part of the town and until the construction of the Western and New North roads in the mid 19th century , the main route through the town to and from the north. Like many of Launceston’s streets, Northgate street was from the medieval era and as such was quite narrow. It connected to Church street at its southern point in the town travelling downhill to its juncture with St. Thomas hill. In actual fact, Northgate Street was in earlier times just the segment of road that ran from the Northgate until the junction with Castle Street and from here it was known as Fore Street. Tower Street or Back Lane, ran in an arc from the bottom of Northgate Street which it rejoins again by St. Mary’s Church and the ‘Bell Inn.’

Northgate Street in 1853.
Northgate Street in 1853.

Three alley ways linked the two streets with one called Duke’s road built at the cost of the Duke of Northumberland in the 1850’s. Along the two streets lay four public houses, the Northgate Inn, the Ring o’ Bells, Jubilee Inn and the Bell Inn. The first cinema ‘The Picture Theatre,’ was later opened at the top of Northgate Street on December 9th, 1912.

The Northgate (below left) itself was demolished in the 1830’s some 120 years after the same fate befell the Westgate, the Southgate itself was saved by a few dissenting voices including the notable Mr. Richard Peter.

Launceston's Northgate.
Launceston’s Northgate.

Richard Robbins in his 1830’s reminiscences said  “The inhabitants of Fore Street threw all their night soil, slops and refuse into this open sewer. At the top of Fore Street in front of the Jubilee Inn, there the street sweepings of that part of the town were kept, and again all the nearby residents would empty their night soil, slops and refuse unto this heap which included around  not more than thirty families that resided in the housing where the Wesleyan Chapel now sits.”  He again revisted the area in his 1884 lecture  where he gives mention to Fore-street, “now Northgate-street, the two having been merged in the mayoralty of Mr Nicolls in 1869. In this street, which was the leading thoroughfare to the North, and in the middle of which there was an open gutter three feet wide into which the refuse of the neighbourhood was thrown,”  he did not remember a new building having been erected for 60 or 70 years until the commencement of the Congregational Schools. And so the area was often referred to as a slum, something that it never truly shook off and something that would inevitably be used as a reason for the whole area’s ‘re-development’ in the 1960’s.  In 1964 most of the buildings along the top of Northgate street and Tower Street were demolished after being considered ‘sub-standard’ housing to make way for modern housing as a part of a three year ‘re-development’ plan.  Most of the residents living in the area were totally against the plan but there was little they could do once the plan was implemented.

northgate-tower-street-report-from-1955
The first mention of the Northgate/Tower Street re-development in 1955.
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Cornish and Devon article from January 1960.

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january-16th-1960-2-article

january-16th-1960-3-article

mervyn-cottrells-letter-of-january-1960 mervyn-cottrells-letter-of-january-1960-2 mervyn-cottrell-letter-from-january-16th-1960

development-map-1963 aerial-of-northgate-street    aerial-of-northgate-tower-and-castle-street-in-the-1950s

As we are to witness today, the planners had their way and the residents and many businesses were moved to other parts of the town and this historic and busy part of the town was bulldozed to be replaced by ‘modern’ designed blocks of flats in what Cornwall Council’s own words in the plan of 2005, ‘of an uninspired design’. With the building of the Tower and Castle street car parks the area is now devoid of much activity with what remains of Northgate street now a pedestrian walkway which in itself is little used nowadays. The character of this area within the old town walls was altered for ever and stands as testament to an act of destructiveness driven by a misguided view on progress.

Two ladies walk down Northgate Street in 1964 with the demolition of some of the buildings taking place.
Two ladies walk down Northgate Street in 1964 with the demolition of some of the buildings taking place.

Northgate/Castle/Tower Street Gallery.