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Bodmin in 1836

BODMIN, a borough and market-town in the hundred of Trigg and county Of Cornwall, 20½ miles SW by W from Launceston, and 234½ WSW from London. The parish, which includes the borough, contains 6,310 English statute acres, and the borough itself 2,840 acres. The bounds are surveyed once a year, and a record of the perambulations is preserved.

Bodmin or Bodman, in Cornish Bosvenna or Bosuenna, ‘the Houses on the Hill,' and in some of the ancient charters called Bosmana and Bodminian, 'the Abode of the Monks,' owes its origin to the circumstance of St. Petroc’s having taken up his abode in the valley now occupied by the present town, about the year 520. That saint, to whom St. Guron (a solitary recluse) had resigned his hermitage, greatly enlarged it for the residence of himself and three other devout men, who accompanied him with the intention of leading a monastic life according to the rules of St. Benedict. St, Petroc, who died about the middle of the sixth century, was buried here, and according to William of Worcester and Leland, his shrine was preserved in a small chapel to the east of Bodmin church. Leland in speaking of it says, 'The shrine and tumbe of St. Petrock yet standith in thest part of the chirche.'

The hermitage was inhabited by Benedictine monks till 936,when King Athelstan founded a priory near the spot of the old hermitage. This monastery soon fell into disuse, and its large possessions were seized by Robert, earl of Moreton and Cornwall, and after the death of his son William they became the property of the crown. After having passed through various hands, and been alternately inhabited by Benedictine and St. Augustine monks, nuns, and secular priests, it was granted to one Algar, who with the licence of William Warlewast, bishop of Exeter, refounded the monastery in 1125 and filled it with Austin canons, who continued in it till the dissolution of monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII when its revenue amounted, according to Dugdale, to £270, 0 shillings and 11 pence, and according to Speed to £289, 11 shillings, 11 pence.

The last prior was Thomas Vivian, alias Wannyworth : an award in his time shows that the convent received considerable benefit from the tin works in the neighbourhood. Among other privileges the prior held a market and a fair, and possessed a pillory, gallows, &c., from the latter of which we may fairly presume that he had the power of inflicting capital punishment. The site of the monastery, with its large demesnes and dependencies, was granted to Thomas Sternhold, one of the first translators of the Psalms of David into English metre, and was subsequently purchased by some of the Rashleigh family.

Dr. Borlase, Carew, and many other eminent antiquarians, have, and not without some foundation, supposed that Bodmin was the primary seat of the bishops of Cornwall, and that this honour was conferred on it in 905, when the bishops made it their residence till the end of the year 981, at which date the town and church having been burned and sacked by the Danes they removed to St. German's. But the fallacy of this supposition has been satisfactorily proved by Mr. Whitaker in his 'Ancient Cathedral of Cornwall historically surveyed,' in which work he shows that the see was founded as early as 614, and that St. German's was made the original seat of it, though he asserts, on the authority of a grant from King Ethelred, that the monastery of Bodmin was annexed to St. German's, and that both these places continued to give a title to future prelates until the annexation of the bishopric of Cornwall to that of Crediton in Devon in 1031 about twenty years after which time Exeter was made the head of the diocese.

The same writer also states that it was another religious house dedicated to St. Petroc at Padstow that was burnt by the Danes. An imperfect impression of the abbey seal is attached to the surrender preserved in the Augmentation Office. In its area the Virgin and infant Jesus and St. Petroc are represented under canopies of Gothic tracery, with the words ' S. Maria at S. Petroc below them. The word Bodmyn is all that is left of the legend which went round. (Dugdale's ‘Monasticon’.)

Bodmin is said to be one of the towns which had the power of stamping tin ; but it seems that the privilege was lost before 1347, for in that year the burgesses petitioned parliament, complaining that although they were authorized to deal in all kinds of merchandise, yet they were hindered by the prince from buying or coining tin. They were unsuccessful in their application, and their petition was dismissed.

Some centuries ago Bodmin must have been a place of considerable extent, for we find that in 1351 no less than 1,500 persons died of the pestilence. William of Worcester, who visited Cornwall in the reign of Edward IV, speaks of this as recorded in the registry of the friars, and at the same time he adds that, during that same year, there died in various parts of the world 13,883 persons of the order of friars. Bodmin was one of those decayed towns, to repair which an act was passed in the 32nd of Henry the Eighth.

In 1496, Perkin Warbeck, the pretended Duke of York, landed in Cornwall, and assembled here a force of 3,000 men, with which he attacked the city of Exeter. A serious insurrection of the Cornishmen took place in 1498, when Thomas Flammoc, a lawyer, and Michael Joseph, a farrier of this town, were chosen leaders. These two men joined their forces to those of Lord Audley at Wells in Somersetshire, and marched with this nobleman as far as Eltham in Kent, where there was then a royal palace ; but the insurgents were defeated by the king's troops at the battle of Blackheath, and their leaders, Lord Audley, Flammoc, and Joseph, were executed.

In 1550, in the reign of Edward VI, the Cornish rebels superstitiously attributing the depression of trade and agriculture to the Reformation, assembled to the number of 10,000, and placing themselves under the command of Humphrey Arundel, governor of St. Michael's Mount, they encamped at Castle Kynock near this town. After a severe contest they were defeated by Lord Russell, who was sent to oppose them.

Bodmin having no fortifications, it was successively occupied by both parties during the civil wars in the reign of Charles I, and was finally taken by General Fairfax in 1646.

The corporation of Bodmin consists of a mayor, a town or common clerk, capital burgesses, councillors, &c, but is to be re-modelled in conformity with the Municipal Corporation Act, 5 and 6 William IV. cap. 76.

The elective franchise was conferred on this borough in the twenty-third year of the reign of King Edward I, and it has ever since returned two members to parliament. Prior to the Reform Act, the right of voting was only enjoyed by the 36 capital burgesses, but under that act, in 1832, the number of electors registered was 252, of which 30 were capital burgesses, and 222 occupiers.

The first charter seems to have been that of Edward III, granted in 1362. Subsequent charters were granted by Richard II in the third year of his reign, by Elizabeth in 1563, and again in 1594, and by George III in 1798, in the thirty-eighth year of his reign. This last is the present governing charter, and by it a civil court is directed to be held every Monday before the mayor and town-clerk, or his deputy. It has jurisdiction over all personal actions under £100, and pleas of law within the borough. There is also a court of pie-powder ; but both these courts have fallen into disuse. By the charter of George III, law-days and views of frank-pledge were also given to the corporation, to be held within one month next after the feast of Easter, and one month next after the feast of St. Michael, before the mayor.

Courts of session of the peace are held here twice a year, which have jurisdiction over all offences except treason, felonies, and other matters touching loss of life. The assizes are also held here once, and the county sessions three times in the year.

The town of Bodmin is situated on a gentle slope, in the middle of a vale between two hills, nearly in the centre of the county, and consists of one long street, nearly a mile in length, part of which has been recently paved at the expense of the corporation. The town is not lighted, nor is it watched by night ; but seems in a prosperous state, and contains some good houses. The late patron, Lord de Dunstanville, usually expended about £500 annually in improvements.

It has been the fashion to call Bodmin unhealthy, but that seems without foundation, and so thought Brice, who published his ‘Geographical Dictionary’ in 1759, for he mentions it as celebrated for the longevity of its inhabitants. Cave, however, was not of this opinion, for, says he, alluding to Bodmin, 'it ought to be called Badham, for of all towns in Cornwall I hold none more healthfully situated than Saltash, and none more contagiously than this.'

The living is a discharged vicarage in the archdeaconry of Cornwall, in the diocese of Exeter, of the clear yearly value of £283, and in the gift of Lord de Dunstanville.

The church, which is a handsome structure, was rebuilt about the year 1470. William of Worcester speaks of the old church as considerably larger than the conventual church, being ninety paces in length by forty in width. It has a handsome tower, on which originally stood a lofty spire, but the spire was destroyed by lightning in 1699. The tomb of Thomas Vivian, the last prior of Bodmin, a very curious relic, still remains at the east end of the north aisle of the church, with his effigy in his pontificals placed upon it ; and angels supporting shields, both at the head and the feet. Round the tomb are the symbols of the four Evangelists, and two shields of arms carved in alto-rilievo. The font is also very remarkable.

The town-hall consists of part of the ancient refectory of the convent of Gray Friars. The corn-market is held in the area ; and above is an assembly-room. The county-gaol and Bridewell, a spacious building, stands about half a mile north-west of the town; and a lunatic asylum has lately been built near it.

Bodmin was never of much importance as a commercial town. Bone-lace was formerly manufactured to some extent, but now shoes and boots are the principal commodity, of which a great quantity are exposed for sale in open booths on market-days. The market is on Saturday, and is well supplied with corn, fish, and all sorts of provision. Leland, in speaking of the market in his day, says that it was 'lyke a fair for the confluence of people.’ And it seems that in the reign of William I, when 'Domesday Book' was taken, the annual profits of it to the priory amounted to 35 shillings. There is a woollen-cloth manufactory ; and some yarn is spun here.

The population of Bodmin in 1831 was 3,470, including about 174 males and 45 females confined in the lunatic asylum and gaol, and a few labourers working in the neighbouring mines. One hundred and forty-three families are employed in agriculture, and 295 in trade, manufactures, &c.

There are places of worship for Bryanites and Wesleyan Methodists, and a chapel belonging to the trustees of the late Countess of Huntingdon. There was formerly a chapel, called Bery Chapel, built by the parishioners in the reign of Henry VII : the site of this chapel, with the yard adjoining, is the glebe of the vicar. The ruins of the tower of this chapel still remain.

The grammar-school in the church-yard was founded by Queen Elizabeth, who endowed it with £5, 6 shillings, 8 pence a year, payable out of the exchequer, to which the corporation have added £90 per annum out of the market tolls ; in addition to which the master is allowed £2 for each scholar. There is also a National school for girls.

About a mile east of the town is the ancient hospital of St. Lawrence, incorporated by Queen Elizabeth in 1582, under the name of 'the master or governor and brethren and sisters (thirty-nine in number) of the hospital of St. Lawrence Ponteboy, the poor men and women to be leprous people, and to elect one another.' King James granted them a market a fair : the market has long been discontinued, but a fair, which is very well supplied with horses and cattle, is still held on the 21st of August : they hold a fair also for cattle and horses on the 29th and 30th of October. The revenue of this hospital amounted to about £140 per annum ; but in consequence of abuse the corporation was dissolved, and the revenue was transferred to the infirmary at Bodmin, by a decree of the Court of Chancery. There appear to been two other hospitals at Bodmin, St. Anthony and St. George, both mentioned in the will of Thomas Killegrew, preserved in the Prerogative Office, and bearing the date 1500.

The jurisdiction of the borough extends about a mile round the town, but the parish, which is very extensive, includes the villages of Bodiniel, Dunmere, St. Lawrence, Nantallan, and Castle Kynock.

In the vicinity of Bodmin is Halagaver Moor, where a low kind of festival, called 'Bodmin Riding,' was formerly held in the month of July. Carew thus describes it. A mock mayor was elected, before whom was brought some person 'charged with wearing one spurre, or going untrussed, or wanting a girdle, or some such like felony, and after he hath been arraygned and tryed with all requisite circumstances, judgment is given in formal terms, and executed in some one ungracious prank, more to the skorne than hurt of the party condemned. Hence is sprung proverb, when we see a man slovenly dressed, "He shall be presented in Halagaver Court." ' It is said that Charles II once 'rode to Halagaver Court.' A large body of the populace still assemble on some particular day in July, and march to Halagaver, some on horseback and some on foot, carrying garlands of flowers. The evening is spent in wrestling, drinking, &c.

About a mile and a half from the town is the race-course, where races are occasionally held. Near Bodmin there is the celebrated Scarlet's well, which was supposed to have the miraculous power of curing all diseases. 'Its fame,' says the author of the Survey Cornwall, 'grew so farre and so fast, that folke ranne flocking thither in huge numbers from all quarters ; but the neighbour justices finding the abuse, and looking into the consequences, forbad the resort, sequestered the spring, and suppressed the miracle.' It is certain that the water of this well is uncommonly pure, and its specific gravity is heavier than any other spring-water. It will continue the best part of a year without alteration of scent or taste, only then you see it represent many colours like the rainbow, 'which (in my conceite),' saith Carew, 'argueth a running thorow some minerall vein, and therewithall a possessing of some vertue.'