Bodmin (St. Petrock)

BODMIN (St. Petrock), a parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Trigg, E. division of Cornwall; containing, with the municipal borough of Bodmin, 4643 inhabitants, of whom 4025 are in the borough, 20½ miles (S. W. by W.) from Launceston, and 234½ (W. S. W.) from London, on the western road. This place, in the Cornish language called Bosvenna, "the houses on the hill," and in ancient charters Bos-mana and Bod-minian, "the abode of the monks," owes its origin to a Monastery founded by King Athelstan, in 936, on the site of a cell for four brethren established by St. Petrock about 518, and which had been previously a solitary hermitage, originally occupied by St. Guron. Historians are widely at variance concerning the claims which Bodmin possesses to the distinction of having been the primary seat of the bishopric of Cornwall. Dr. Borlase, whose opinion has been entertained by others, states that Edward the Elder in 905 conferred upon it this honour, which it retained till 981, when, the town, church, and monastery having been burnt by the Danes, the episcopal chair was removed to St. Germans. But this has been strenuously combated by Mr. Whitaker, in his work entitled The Ancient Cathedral of Cornwall Historically Surveyed, in which he shows that the see was founded in 614, and that St. Germans was made the original seat of it; asserting, on the authority of a grant by King Ethelred, that the monastery of Bodmin was annexed by that monarch, in 994, to the episcopate of St. Germans, and that both places combined to furnish a title to the future prelates until the annexation of the bishopric of Cornwall to that of Crediton, in the county of Devon, in 1031, about twenty years after which Exeter was made the head of the diocese. He refers the Danish conflagration to the monastery of St. Petrock at Padstow, and in this conclusion he is borne out by the flourishing state of the church at Bodmin, as described in Domesday book, where its possessions are enumerated, including 68 houses, with the privilege of a market. This religious house, under different renewals of the establishment, the last of which was by one Algar, in 1125, appears to have been successively inhabited by Benedictine monks, nuns, secular priests, monks again, and canons regular of the order of St. Augustine, whose prior, from the circumstance of his possessing a gallows and a pillory, had evidently the power of inflicting capital punishment. Its revenue at the Dissolution amounted to £289. 11. 11.: the site and demesne were granted to Thomas Sternhold, one of the first translators of the Psalms into English metre. St. Petrock was buried here; for, says Leland, "the shrine and tumbe of St. Petrok yet stondith in thest part of the chirche."

The town appears to have increased rapidly after the Conquest. Leland describes the market as being "lyke a fair for the confluence of people," and enumerates, in addition to the parochial church and the cantuary chapel near it, two other chapels; a house and church of Grey friars, begun by John of London, a merchant, about 1239, augmented by Edward, Earl of Cornwall, and in the time of Elizabeth converted into a house of correction for the county; and two hospitals, dedicated respectively to St. Anthony and St. George; besides the hospital of St. Lawrence, a mile off. Norden, also, says, "It hath been of larger recite than now it is, as appeareth by the ruynes of sundrye buyldings decayde." William of Worcester, citing the register in the church belonging to the Grey friars, states that 1500 of the inhabitants died of the plague, about the middle of the fourteenth century. It was one of those decayed towns in the county to repair which an act was passed in the 32nd of Henry VIII.

In 1496, Perkin Warbeck, the pretended duke of York, on landing in Cornwall, assembled here a force of 3000 men, with which he marched to attack the city of Exeter; and in 1498, an insurrection of the Cornish men was organized, under the influence of Thomas Flammoc, a lawyer, and Michael Joseph, a farrier, in this town, who, being chosen leaders, conducted the insurgents to Wells, where they were joined by Lord Audley, who placed himself at their head. The rebels continued their march into Kent, and encamped at Eltham, where, in the battle of Blackheath, they were surrounded by the king's troops, made prisoners, and dismissed without further punishment; but Lord Audley, Flammoc, and Joseph, were executed as ringleaders. During the depression of trade and agriculture, in the reign of Edward VI., the Cornish men, attributing their distresses to the Reformation, assembled at Bodmin to the number of 10,000, under the command of Humphrey Arundel, governor of St. Michael's Mount, and, being countenanced by the inhabitants, encamped at Castle Canyke, near the town. The insurgents marched thence to besiege Exeter, demanding the re-establishment of the mass and the restoration of the abbey lands; but, after having reduced the inhabitants of that city to extreme privation, they were defeated by Lord Russell, who had been sent with a reinforcement to the relief of the citizens. Subsequently to their dispersion, Sir Anthony Kingston, provost-marshal, who had been sent to Bodmin to punish the insurgents, is said to have hanged the mayor at his own door, after having been hospitably entertained in his house. During the civil war in the reign of Charles I., the town, which had no permanent garrison, was alternately occupied by each party, till, in 1646, General Fairfax finally took possession of it for the parliament. After the Restoration, Charles II. visited the place on his journey to Scilly, and humorously declared it to be the most polite town through which he had passed, "one-half of the houses being prostrate, and the remainder uncovered."

The town is situated on a gentle elevation rising out of a vale, between two hills, almost in the centre of the county: it consists of several streets, the principal of which is a mile in length; it is well paved, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. The races, which formerly took place annually after the summer assizes, have been discontinued for several years; the course, which is one of the best in England, is about a mile and a half distant. In July an annual procession of the populace, on horseback and on foot, carrying garlands of flowers, was till lately made to a place in the vicinity, called Halgaver Moor: this ceremony, the memorial of some ancient festival, was called "Bodmin Riding." The manufacture of bone lace, which formerly flourished, has given place to that of shoes, a great quantity of which is exposed for sale in the neighbouring markets and fairs; there are also a large tan-yard and a brewery. A railway has been constructed to Wadebridge. The market is on Saturday: fairs are held on Jan. 25th, the Saturday preceding Palm-Sunday, the Tuesday and Wednesday before Whitsuntide, July 6th, and Dec. 6th, for horses and horned-cattle; large cattlefairs are also held in the hamlet of St. Lawrence on Aug. 21st, and Oct. 29th and 30th. The inhabitants were incorporated in the 12th century, by Richard, Earl of Cornwall; and charters were subsequently granted by Edward III., Richard II., Elizabeth, and George III. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., c. 76, the corporation now consists of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors, of whom the mayor and late mayor are justices of the peace, and hold petty-sessions weekly for the borough. The shire-hall is a substantial building of granite, 104 feet long and 56 broad, erected by the county, at an expense of £8000, upon a portion of the site of the ancient convent of Grey friars; it was first opened at the Midsummer sessions of 1838. Nearly adjoining, elegant and commodious lodgings for the accommodation of the judges of assize were erected by the town-council, at an expense of nearly £4000; and in consequence of these improvements, both the assizes were, by order of the privy council, July 6th, 1838, appointed to be holden at Bodmin, the summer assize only having been previously held here. The quarter-sessions for the county are also held at the place. The powers of the county debt-court of Bodmin, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Bodmin. The elective franchise was conferred in the 23rd of Edward I., since which time the borough has continued to return two members: the limits of the borough were extended for parliamentary purposes, in 1832, to 13,651 acres; the mayor is returning officer. The county gaol and house of correction, built in 1780 on Mr. Howard's plan, and since greatly enlarged for the proper classification of prisoners, is a neat and compact building.

The parish comprises 4586 acres, whereof 330 are common or waste. The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £13. 6. 8., and in the gift of Lady Basset; net income, £283. The church, formerly the conventual church of the monastery, was rebuilt in 1472, and is a spacious structure chiefly in the later style of English architecture, with a venerable tower on the north side, formerly surmounted by a lofty spire, which was destroyed by lightning in 1699; the interior contains some exquisitely carved oak, a large Norman font curiously sculptured, and several interesting monuments. Near the altar was a small chapel, taken down in 1776, in which the shrine of St. Petrock was preserved till the Reformation; and at the north side of the chancel is a fine altar-tomb of grey marble, resembling that of Henry VII. in Westminster Abbey, and on which is a recumbent effigy of Prior Vivian, removed from the ancient priory. In the churchyard is a building supposed to have been a chantry chapel, dedicated to St. Thomas, with a crypt underneath; it was used, until a few years since, for the free grammar school, and is at present occupied as a national school for girls. There are places of worship for Bryanites, the Connexion of the Countess of Huntingdon, and Wesleyans. The grammar school was founded by Queen Elizabeth, who endowed it with £4. 13. 8. per annum, payable out of the exchequer: no appointment has been made since the death of the late master. The poor law union of Bodmin comprises 21 parishes or places, and contains a population of 20,800. The county lunatic asylum was built here in 1820, at an expense of £15,177, including the furniture; it is of an octagonal form, consisting of six ranges, each containing two galleries.

About a mile to the west of the town are some remains of the hospital of St. Lawrence, originally endowed for nineteen lepers, two sound men and women, and a priest, who were incorporated by Queen Elizabeth in 1582, from whom they received the grant of a market, now discontinued, and two fairs, still held. There are three intrenchments in the parish, namely, Castle Canyke, the Beacon (near the town), and one in Dunmere wood; and above the ford at Nantallon a Roman camp has lately been discovered, in which coins of Vespasian and Trajan, and some pottery were found. On the north side of the town is a ruined tower, called Berry Tower, 418 feet above the level of the sea; it belonged to the chapel of the Holy Rood, and was built in the reign of Henry VII.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.