Home  ·  Neolithic  ·  Bronze Age  ·  Iron Age  ·  Romano-British  ·  Early Mediæval  ·  Mediæval Interactive Maps  
 
 
Mediæval
Chapel
   
Berry Tower
Roche Rock
Trethevey Chapel
 
 
  Berry Tower
Bodmin

North Cornwall
NGR: SX 07251 67467
 
Berry Tower.
 
The town of Bodmin has played a central role in the development of Christianity in Cornwall, and tradition, legend and history combine to suggest that the area around the Berry Tower was an early focus of settlement. The 12th century ‘life’ of St Petroc states that the saint built two habitations in the place that was later to become Bodmin: one in the valley where the parish church now is, and the other on the hill to the north – at the Berry. Here may also have been the seat of the Cornish bishop Kenstec in the 10th century. The site is located on a prominent spur overlooking the modern town and may have been fortified, as the names Berry, derived from Anglo-Saxon burh, and Dinuurin, which contains Cornish dyn, both suggest. No remains survive to substantiate this however.

The focus of mediæval Bodmin was a long main street stretching west from the parish church. This was a thriving, busy place, with markets, fairs, and many religious institutions including a Priory, a Friary, a hospital, and 13 chapels. There were also numerous guilds – associations formed for social, religious or economic purposes whose activities might include charitable works, raising money for various causes or building projects, and alms giving. By 1470 there were three guilds based at the Berry, the main one being the Guild of the Holy Rood. This guild was associated with a chapel here and at the beginning of the 16th century was responsible for building this tower.

Remarkably, accounts relating to the building of the tower still survive and provide a fascinating insight into the methods, materials and processes involved in such a project. The income for the work came mainly from local donations and gifts, all of which are recorded in the accounts. From the accounts we know that work on the tower commenced in 1501 and that it took ten years to build, growing at a rate of about 6 feet per year. Granite for windows and quoins came from St Austell or Bodmin Moor, but the slate was from a local quarry. During the last four years the furnishings like floors, a bell, lead roof and window fixings were provided. At the same time as the tower was raised, the chapel was extended with a south aisle, whose walls were decorated with murals of St Christopher and St Petroc.

Although work was completed in 1514, the newly refurbished chapel was only in use for just over three decades before the cataclysmic changes of the Reformation forced it to close. By the 18th century, only the tower remained with the chapel reduced to foundations. The present cemetery was established on the site by Bodmin Town Corporation in the 19th century. An interpretation board on the site provides detailed information about the building of the tower.

Standing in front of Berry tower is a mediæval wheel-headed cross of perhaps 12th or 13th century date. This was moved here in 1860 from its original site on Cross Lane at the junction of Berry Lane.

At the foot of the hill on which Berry Tower stands is Bodmin parish church, dedicated to St Petroc, the most important Celtic saint in mediæval Cornwall, whose relics survive in the church, in a 13th century ivory casket. This is one of the largest parish churches in Cornwall, reflecting the importance of Bodmin in the Middle Ages. Here also can be seen the holy well of St Guron, a pillar from the Friary, a good collection of coffin slabs from both the Priory and the Friary and the remains of another guild chapel, that of St Thomas. In the nearby Shire Hall is Bodmin’s Museum, with displays of finds from all these sites.

Access to Berry Tower is easy, from nearby Cross lane, where parking is easy, and this is a good place from which to walk down Castle Hill to the church and on to the town.
 
 
 
How to get there


Map

Access to Berry Tower is easy, from nearby Cross lane, where parking is easy, and this is a good place from which to walk down Castle Hill to the church and on to the town.

Map link


Ground & Aerial photographs

 
     
   

Illustrations

 
 
 

Nearby sites

Helman Tor
Respryn Bridge
 
supported by HLF and compiled by the Historic Environment Service of Cornwall County Council  
last updated: 14/09/2007