From Parochial and Family History of the parish and borough of Bodmin, in the county of Cornwall

by Sir John Maclean. London, Nichols 1870

Historical Incidents

Our notice of historical occurrences connected with the town of Bodmin must necessarily be very brief; nevertheless it may be of interest to mention a few incidents of some importance, not elsewhere alluded to, though not entirely local; and in other cases, to shew the effect upon the town of great political and social changes.

The inhabitants of Cornwall have been somewhat forward in times of excitement to assert by force what they believed their rights. This has been exemplified by corn riots and other popular demonstrations. The earliest rising, however, which assumed any political importance was that in 1497, for the purpose of resisting the collection of a subsidy by King Henry VII. The original leaders in this insurrection were Thomas Flamank, said to be a lawyer, and Michael Joseph, a blacksmith, both of Bodmin. Having led the Cornish insurgents into Somersetshire, they were joined, at Wells, by the Lord Audley, and proceeding to London, for the purpose of delivering their petition to the King for the removal of his councillors, they were defeated at Blackheath, after showing great personal bravery, with the loss of 2000 men. The Lord Audley, Flamank, and Michael Joseph were taken prisoners. The former was beheaded on Tower Hill, and the two Cornish men hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn, on the 24th June 1497. [ The King was once in mind to have sent down Flammock and the blacksmith to have been executed in Cornwall for the more terror; but, being advertised that the country was yet unquiet and boiling, he thought better not to irritate the people further. (Lord Verulam's Life of Henry VII, Kcnnet's Collection, vol. i. p. 619.)]

In the month of September following, Bodmin again became the scene of excitement and the seat of a new insurrection. The unfortunate personage known in history as Perkin Warbeck arrived in Whitsan Bay from Ireland, and proceeding to Bodmin, caused himself to be there proclaimed Richard IV King of England. A body of 3000 men flocked to his standard. Placing himself at the head of this force, after sending his wife to St. Michael's Mount for safety, he marched into Devonshire and laid siege to Exeter. The citizens defended the place with great bravery, and the enemy having burnt North-gate, and forced an entrance into East-gate, even as far as Castle Lane, was gallantly foiled and driven back with great slaughter. [ Oliver's History of Exeter, p. 86 ] Hearing of the approach of the Royal Army, Perkin raised the siege, and afterwards fell into the King's hands. After having been subjected to much contumely he was eventually hanged at Tyburn in 1497.

It appears from the accounts of the Receivers-general for the year ending on the feast of St. Francis, 24 Hen. VII, that a certain Thomas Vaughan had slain one John George, and had escaped. There is an acknowledgment of the receipt from one Peter Bowden of the sum of iij s iiij d in part payment of the rent-charge which William Vaughan, brother of Thomas, had granted unto divers men upon his brother's escape, for permitting which escape the mayor and burgesses were subjected to a fine of 100s. to the crown. ...

On 11th May, 1519, Richard Lathian of Bodmin was granted a pardon for the murder of his groom, Henry Rawlyn, it having been proved before John Glyn, coroner, that the said Henry provoked the said Richard, who struck him with a "smythes ladell." [ Pat. Rolls. 11 Henry VIII part i. m. 22 ]

The Commissioners for the Town of Bodmin for collecting the great subsidy granted in 1523 on account of the war with France were: the mayor, Thomas Trott, John White, John Trelygh, Robert Stergyn, and John Glyn. [ State Papers, Dom. 1523 ]

Again in 1549 in Bodmin was formed the nucleus of an insurrection in the West, which, combined with a similar rising in the North and in other parts of the country, threatened to strangle the Reformation in its cradle, and which, if successful, would have changed the whole tenor of English history. There can be no doubt that the proceedings of Henry VIII in the suppression of the religious houses, and the policy of his successor in encouraging the inclosure of waste lands, were exceedingly unpopular, generally, among the people. Great disturbances occurred in various parts of the country, Resistance was offered everywhere. The men of Cornwall were not backward. At the summons of Humphrey Arundel of Helland many gentlemen of family and estate and many stout yeomen assembled at Bodmin, Henry Bray, the mayor, being one of the chief leaders. Hence they marched into Devonshire, whither Lord Russell had been sent to suppress them. He, however, was more inclined to treat than to fight. The Cornish men embodied their demands in fifteen articles, which Russell pledged himself to lay before the King and Council. The first seven, in substance, contained a demand for the restoration of the old religion, and that the new service "should be laid aside, which the memorialists stated was like a Christmas game." The other articles required that Dr. Moreman, vicar of Menheniot, should be sent to them, Cardinal Pole made of the King's council, that every gentleman should have only one servant for every 100 marks of rent, that half of the abbey lands should be taken back and restored to two of the chief abbeys in every county [ Burnet's Hist. of the Reformation, vol. ii. 116 ], and that for their particular grievances they should be redressed as Humphrey Arundel and Henry Bray, called the King's Mayor of Bodmin [ Strype's Memorials, vol. i. p. 186, and App. 113 ], should inform the King, for whom they requested a safe-conduct.

The insurgents besieged Exeter, which the citizens defended with great bravery for thirty-five days [ Oliver's Hist of Exeter, p. 97], though they were reduced to the necessity of eating their horses. [ Maclean's Life of Sir Peter Carew, p. lix ] The rebels were eventually defeated on Clifton Heath on 7th Aug., and pursued with great slaughter to Launceston. Arundel, Sir Thomas Pomeroy, the mayor of Bodmin, and other leaders, though they escaped for the time, were subsequently arrested and sent before the council, and were afterwards executed. The royal army under Sir Anthony Kingston, the Provost Marshal, pursued the flying Cornish men into the county, and with gross treachery, breach of hospitality, and brutality, hanged Nicholas Boyer (who had been elected mayor of Bodmin in succession to Bray, and who had also been present at the battle of Clifton,) before his own door. [ For an interesting detail of these transactions see a paper in the Journal of the Roy. Inst. Cornwall, No. III. 36 ]

During the rebellion of the seventeenth century, the exposed situation of Bodmin and its central position led to its frequent occupation by each of the contending parties in quick succession. The King raised his standard at Nottingham on 25th August 1642. [ Clarendon, i. 719 ] In the month of September Sir Ralph Hopton, with a small force of 120 horse, marched into Cornwall, and was immediately joined by Sir Bevil Grenville, who conducted him into the western parts of the county, as being the best affected to the royal cause, the eastern parts being much influenced by Sir Alexander Carew of Antony and Sir Richard Buller, then knights of the shire in Parliament. [ Clarendon states that there was in this county, as throughout the whole kingdom, a wonderful and superstitious reverence towards the name of Parliament, and a prejudice to the power of the Court; yet a full submission and love of the established government of Church and State, especially to that part of the Church as concerned the Liturgy or Book of Common Prayer, which was a general object of veneration with the people. And the jealousy and apprehension that the other party intended to alter it was a principal advancement of the King's cause. (Clarendon, book vi. 129) ]

In the beginning of November, Sir Ralph Hopton being at Pendennis at the head of 500 men, "a body of 500 or 600 fishermen, with their wives, armed with spits, clubs, and stones, in a violent and rustic manner attacked Bodmin and plundered the inhabitants of all their plate and pewter." [ Brit. Mus. Thomason's Coll. vol. lxxxii Lond. 1642, 4to]

In the month of January 1642-3 Bodmin was the head quarters of Sir Ralph Hopton, whence, on the 19th January, he marched out to meet the Lord Grey de Ruthyn, over whom he obtained a complete victory on Bradoke Down, and chased him out of the county with the loss of 1,250 prisoners, most of his colours, and all his cannon. Through the moderation of the General there was but little bloodshed, so that the Parliamentary troops designated Cornwall as "the land of mercy." [ Bod. Library, Lond. 1642, 4to. Brit. Mus. Thomason's Coll. 12 7/91, fo. 26] This success made the King master of the county.

An effort was now made by some of the Cornish gentry attached to the Parliament to establish a treaty, having for its object the preservation of the peace in the counties of Devon and Cornwall. Such a treaty was actually entered into, and was confirmed by the most solemn oaths; but the Parliament would not allow of it, and speedily took means to break up the pacification. In the month of April the Earl of Stamford entered Cornwall with a large body of horse, and took up a position near Stratton. Hopton, with such force as he had at his disposal, was at Launceston, and the first object of the Parliamentary general was to prevent reinforcements from reaching him. Accordingly, Sir George Chudleigh, with a considerable body of horse, was despatched to surprise Bodmin, and prevent the sheriff from marching with the trained bands to join the King's army. On the 5th May Sir Ralph Hopton and Sir Bevil Grenville, with a force of 3000 men, attacked Lord Stamford on a hill near Stratton, and, notwithstanding the disadvantage both in numbers and position, completely routed the Parliamentary troops, leaving 300 dead on the field, and taking 1700 prisoners, among whom were Major-General Chudleigh and thirty other officers. This was one of the most brilliant victories achieved by the Royal forces during the war, and was the immediate occasion of the King's letter of thanks to the inhabitants of Cornwall. [ On 4th Sept. 1643, Sir Ralph Hopton was created Baron Hopton of Stratton, but he died 1652 s.p. and the title became extinct.]

It is doubtful whether the design of Sir George Chudleigh upon Bodmin was successful, but the burial register shows that on or about the 16th May, 1643, a battle was fought in or near Bodmin. Under that date, we read: -- "Weare Buried 10 men that weare killed in fight Between the Roy: and the Militia, whereof was Captaine Kendall of Lestithiell." Twenty-four other militia men were buried during the month of May, and "two souldiers of Captaine Blight.

Nothing further of importance occurred until the following year, when the Earl of Essex was sent into Cornwall with the hope that by this demonstration, and through the influence of the Lord Robartes and other opponents of the King, something might be done to weaken the loyalty of the Cornish people. He entered the county on the 20th July 1644. Having seized Launceston and Saltash, he marched to Bodmin and took possession of that town, and afterwards of Lostwithiel and Fowey.

The King, however, quickly came to the rescue. He crossed the Tamer at Poulstan Bridge on 1st August, and slept at the house of Mr. Manaton in Lezant. On the day following he marched to Liskeard, where he received intelligence that Essex was at Bodmin. On the 8th the King's army encamped on Bradoke Down, the scene of the defeat of the Lord Grey de Ruthyn two years before. On the 10th news reached the King that Sir Richard Grenville's army was at Bodmin, and had forced an entrance. Essex had removed his head quarters a few days before, but had left 100 troopers, whom Grenville found plundering the inhabitants. On the following day Grenville joined the King, leaving his army at Bodmin raising works as if they would fortify the town; but in the night they withdrew and joined the King's force. On the 31st a severe skirmish occurred near Tywardreth. The King lay at night under a hedge in the field. The Parliamentary forces now capitulated, and were allowed to march away, leaving all their cannon, muskets, and pikes. The King and the Royal troops were unable to protect the Parliamentarians from ill usage of the country people. On 6th Sept. the King finally left the county, and was able to say to Sir Francis Bassett, "Mr. Sheriff, I leave the county in peace in your hands."

In the month of February 1645 Sir Thomas Fairfax with a large force entered the county and occupied Launceston. The headquarters of the King's army were at this time at Bodmin. On 1st March the Parliamentary forces marched from Launceston to Blisland, "within three miles of Bodman." "When," says the account, "wee were come very neere to Blisland the enemies horse appeared upon the Down near Bodman within halfe a mile of us: But our horse drawing up towards them they retreated. A little before this wee were advertised that two troops of our dragoons, which were commanded on friday to Davidstow, were engaged by 600 of the enemies horse. Upon this Lieut.-General Cromwell ordered two regiments of horse and the rest of the dragoons to advance for their relief, himself commanding them." On the following day Cromwell secured "Warebridge" without resistance and the King's forces having evacuated Bodmin it was occupied by the Parliamentary army, who made it their head quarters for several days. Hopton retreated westward, and on the 14th of the same month was compelled to surrender at Truro.

The Prince was at this time in Cornwall, as shown by various entries in the Bodmin Mayors' Accounts. The writer in the Western Informer, above referred to, under the date of the 2nd of March, says: "We received intelligence just now that the Prince tooke shipping at Falmouth, and is gone for France, with many more gentlemen, yesterday night."

End of this excerpt; the rest of Maclean's section gives some details of town expenditures in this period.

Bodmin Customs

Several peculiar customs have, from a remote date, prevailed in this town. Most of them have now fallen into disuse, and it is desirable to preserve a record of them before they are altogether lost from memory. This has been done, to some extent, though in a desultory way, by T. Q. Couch, Esq., surgeon, of Bodmin, a zealous and painstaking antiquary; but a history of Bodmin would be incomplete if it preserved not some memorials of these by-gone usages.

The Curfew -- The custom which first claims our notice is the ancient practice of ringing the curfew bell. The name is supposed to be derived from couvre feu, because it was required that about sunset in summer, and about eight or nine o'clock in winter, every person should cover up his fire at the ringing of a bell. The custom is said to have been introduced by the Norman Conqueror; but, inasmuch as it prevailed in Scotland, France, Spain, and other countries never subjected to the domination of the Normans, such an opinion is scarcely sustainable. Moreover, the practice is probably more ancient in this country than the Norman Conquest. The object, in addition to protection from fire, was doubtless the preservation of discipline and good order in towns. At the ringing of the curfew every person was expected to retire to his own home. In the "Liber Albus" of the City of London it is forbidden that any person shall be so daring as to be found going or wandering about the streets of the city after curfew rung out at St. Martin's-leGrand, and St. Laurence, or at Berkynge chirche, unless it be some great lord or other substantial person of good reputation, or a person of their household, who from them shall have warauntry, and who is going from one to another with a light to guide him. It was prescribed that any offender against this law shall be taken by the keepers of the peace and put into the "Tun," which for such misdoers is assigned, and to be brought the following day before the lord mayor and aldermen for punishment. The doors of taverners and brewers were also directed to be shut at the ringing of this bell, and no person afterwards admitted.

At Bodmin the curfew bell is now, and always has been from time immemorial, rung at eight o'clock in the evening. A bell formerly was rung at four o'clock in the morning, but this custom has for a considerable time fallen into desuetude. As early as the year 1696 the grand jury at the law court and general sessions of the peace, among other things, presented the sexton , for irregularity in respect to this bell ; and in another presentment of about the same date the object of the bell is said to be "the warning of prentices and others."

Bodmin Riding -- A ceremony of great antiquity, so called, was celebrated with considerable notoriety down nearly to the close of the last century, after which it degenerated into mere revelry. The origin and intention of it are unknown, but there is a sort of tradition that it commemorated the recovery of the relics of St. Petrock after they had been stolen from the priory church in 1177. The festival commenced on the Sunday nearest the anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Thomas of Canterbury (Becket) which was observed on July 7th. The inhabitants appeared at church in great nmnbcrs decorated with ribbons, &c. On the following day there was a grand procession, in which the principal inhabitants of the town and the gentlemen of the neighbourhood took part. The procession was divided into classes, and each of the classes bore the emblems of their professions and crafts, being a remnant of the ancient guilds. They first went to the priory and received from the hands of the master of the house, who was supposed to represent the prior, a garland of fiowers, and a pole decorated with flowers, ribbons, &c. which they had previously deposited there. These were borne by two men, preceded by musicians, at the head of the procession, which in this manner perambulated the town, all who possibly could being mounted. This being done, they commenced the celebration of their sports and games. In this merry-making the good old English custom of a dinner was not omitted by the mayor and his brethren.

An interesting account of this ceremony, as it was practised in its later days, was contributed to the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, a few years ago, by Mr. Couch. He obtained his information from those who took part in its latest celebration.

Some attempts have been made to resuscitate this festival, but without effect. It seems to be hopelessly dead.

The Riding tune is annexed to Mr. Couch's account. It is considered by Mr. Chappell to bc quite modern.

Halgaver Sports -- Some persons have confounded the "Halgaver Sports" with the "Riding," but they were altogether distinct, and kept at different times, though in the same month. Carew mentions the sports in these words: "The youthlyer sort of Bodmyn townsmen vse sometimes to sport themselves, by playing the box with strangers, whom they sulnmon to Halgauer. The name signifies, ' Goat's Moore,' and such a place it is, lying a little without the towne, and very full of quauemires. When these mates meet with any rawe seruingman, or other young master, who may serue and deseruo to make pastime, they cause him to be solemnely arrested for his appearance before the Maior of Halgauer, where he is charged with wearing one spurre, or going vntrussed, or wanting a girdle, or some such like felony; and after he hath been arraygned and tryed, with all requisite circumstances, iudgement is given in formal termes, and executed in some one vngracious pranke or other, more to the skorne then hurt of the party condemned."

"Hence is sprung the prouerb, when we see one slouenly appareled: He shall be presented in Halgauer Court.

"But now and then," Carew continues, "they extend this merriment with the largest, to the preiudice of ouer credulous people, perswading them to fight with a dragon lurking in Halgauer, or to see some strange matter there; which concludeth at least with a trayning them into the mire."

These sports have also been discontinued.

Paul's Pitcher -- The eve of St. Paul's day is marked in this town by a singular custom called "Paul's Pitcher," the intention or origin of which it is difficult to divine. The boys of the town, after nightfall, slink along the streets and hurl a pitcher into every house which is left incautiously open. Mr. Couch, a few years ago, inserted an inquiry in Notes and Queries as to the origin of this practice, and whether it obtained elsewhere, but it elicited no reply.

Grace Night -- Another popular custom formerly obtained in this town called "Grace Night." It was regulated by the first Sunday in Advent, and was held on the Friday preceding it, evidently in commemoration of the sacred history of that season. The prophecy of a Branch in the Epistle on the Sunday before, and the Gospel for Advent Sunday, which describes our Saviour's entry into Jerusalem, the multitude cutting branches from the trees and strewing them in the way, is figured by the children carrying branches of laurel and other evergreens, usually denoting joy and deliverance, to their respective schools, where they erect a sort of stage, and from thence recite such portions of Scripture as are suitable to the subject, in the presence of their friends and teaehers, who regale them with cakes and other refreshments in token of their approbation. This account is derived from a letter dated 11th Jul. 1812, and addressed to Mr. Lysons by the Rev. Edmund Gilbert of the Priory. The late Mr. John Wallis, afterwards Vicar of Bodmin, gives a somewhat different account of this observance, saying it was held on the Friday before St. Nicholas day; and suggesting that the ceremony might be in honour of St. Nicholas, he being regarded as the patron saint of children. Mr. Wallis also says that the children of the grammar school did not take any part in the ccremony.

The Wassail Cup -- Nicholas Sprey, town clerk of Bodmin, by his will, bequeathed "13s. 4d. yearly among such good friends of the better sort, inhabitants of Bodmin, as shall be pleased to make at some convenient house in the said borough, on Twelfth-day a supper, and for furnishing a wassail cup with wyne and sugar, and from thence to go with the cup to every mayor's house yearly and for ever according to the manner and fashion in that kind accustomed, for the continuance of love and neighbourly meeting in the said town; to be paid out of the rents and yearly profits of a house and stitch of land in Bore-street, and over against the Bore-lane; and if it be not used every year to revert to testator's heirs."

The rent-charge of 13s. 4d. was received by the corporation out of the premises alluded to until the death of Mr. Samuel Stone in 1838, when the devisees under his will objected to make any further payment, alleging that it was nothing more than a free gift. The origin and purpose of the charge had been entirely forgotten; and, the conditions of the bequest having ceased to be fulfilled, the gift would revert to the heirs of the testator or their assigns, in accordance with the terms of the will.

Viewing the Bounds -- Another custom, which has now ceased, deserves also to be mentioned. In Rogation tide it was the practice of the mayor and corporation to perambulate the boundaries of the borough in some state. His worship, mounted on horseback, and preceded by the common serjeant and town crier wearing cocked hats and bearing their maces of office, accompanied by some members of the corporate body and principal inhabitants, also on horseback, and attended by a considerable number of men and boys, proceeded, as nearly as possible, along the boundary line. They visited certain marked spots on the boundary with special formalities, e.g. Salt Pool (at the corner of Lancarfe), Callywith Black Pool, Carminowe Cross, &c. At these spots what was called a "hurling" took place: a quantity of buns, biscuits, figs, nuts, &c. were thrown into the air, and formed the subject of scrambling and boisterous merriment among the boys. On one occasion in the melee Mr. Mayor had the misfortune to be unhorsed in Salt Pool. Three hurraghs were then given by the whole party, followed by the shout "Thus far extends the ancient borough of Bodmin." These proceedings served to fix for life in the memory of the boys present the position of these special boundary marks. The viewing the bounds usually occupied two days.

This old custom, like those before mentioned, and many others which in former times served to bring together persons of all ranks and degrees in life, promoting merriment, harmony, and goodfellowship, had been discontinued after the "reformation" effected by the Reform Bill of 1832; but in the year 1866, in the mayoralty of the late Mr. W. R. Hicks, a humourist of more than local celebrity, it was renewed, at least for that year, and carried out with great spirit.

End of this section of Maclean's book.

See also Maclean's History of Blisland excerpted on this site.

The story of Cornwall's Bodmin Moor