Cornwall & The South: Pt 10 – Bodmin

We soon arrived in the town of Bodmin, a historic town near the border with Devon…


Status: Cornwall Unitary Authority & County, Town, England

Date: 04/08/2015

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Memorial Clock Tower, Shire Hall, Public Rooms, Turret Clock, Honey Street Listed Buildings, St Petroc’s Church, Mount Folly Square, Former Guildhall, Fore Street Listed Buildings, Market House, St Petroc’s Church, Cornish Rebellion 1497 Monument, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch Birthplace Marker, The Keep, War Memorial, Bodmin & Wenford Railway, Bodmin Jail, Cornwall’s Regimental Museum etc

Bodmin 2

Our exploration began in the towns main square, known as “Mount Folly Square” outside the stunning Shire Hall building, designed by an architect from nearby Launceston called Henry Burt, and completed in 1838. The Hall is the former home of the Cornwall County Courts, which moved to Truro in 1988, whilst today it contains Bodmin Town Council, as well as the local Tourist Information Office. It is perhaps the standout building in Bodmin, although its neighbour, the intricately designed “Public Rooms” shown to it’s immediate right is another strong contender…

Bodmin 3

Bodmins Public Rooms were completed in 1891, a fine Victorian addition to the town masterminded by Octavius Ralling (1858 – 1929, Architect who worked for Ralling & Tonar from Exeter in Devon). It was paid for by local shop owners/traders, presumably becoming something akin to a local exchange, where traders could meet and show off their goods to the public, probably in the Great Hall at the buildings centre.

Sadly due to local budget cuts the Council closed the majority of the building a few years ago, aside from the impressive Bodmin Town Museum housed on the ground floor, a must for anyone interested in the history of the town. It has some amazing photographs from days gone by, and lots of information about the town, the local area and how it grew over the last few centuries.

Bodmin 4

Looking back towards the Guildhall, the building to it’s left is another historical gem in Bodmins crown, in the form of the “Shire House”, constructed as the local Judges Lodgings around 1840. The architect was a Joseph Pascoe, who hailed from the town itself.

You may have noticed many of Bodmins grandest buildings all date from a similar period, the mid to late 19th century. It was around 1835 that Bodmin became the County Town of Cornwall, taking over from its predecessor, Launceston. The Shire Hall was constructed, becoming Cornwall County Hall where local government was concentrated. Of course the County Courts were also located here, hence the reason for the Judge’s Lodgings across the street.

Bodmin 5

Just across the road from Mount Folly Square is the town’s Clock Tower, dating back to 1845, which is also known as the “Turret Clock”. It backs onto a large town house, completed a few years after the Tower, which is also known as “Turret House”.

When it was built, the Clock was in a prominent position and effectively welcomed visitors into the town centre, as it stood at the intersection of all major routes into Bodmin. New road layouts have however diminished its presence as various routes can bypass the centre all together.

Bodmin 6

The Clock is at the North end of the Square, and behind it is a short pedestrianised street called “Honey Street”, which heads off in a Northeasterly direction. It’s certainly an attractive street, and contains a plethora of Listed Buildings, which are mainly concentrated on the left hand side.

An example of this is:

1 Honey Street: Currently inhabited by a shop called “Jai The Jeweller”, Number 1 was built as a Town House in the 18th century, long before many of Bodmin’s major landmarks were constructed.

Bodmin 7

Further round the corner, continuing along Honey Street, we came across “The Weavers Public House”, again built as a Town House, as much of the street probably was, during the 18th century. It was later converted into a Public House, or the local Inn, and appears to have expanded to take over the building to its left. Officially the Inn is Number 11 on the street.

The building to the right of Weavers is of course Number 13, another Town House, although much more modern, and listed as Mid 19th Century. This end of the street appears to be a lot newer, as the 19th Century date is continued at Number 15, again to the right, which originated as a Warehouse, before being converted into a Shop.

Honey Street is a lovely collection of various historical buildings, and shows how the area has evolved over time.

Bodmin 8

At the end of the Street, where it meets “Turf Street”, a major route through the town that runs past the Shire Hall, separating it from the Shire House, stands a rather incongruous looking stone column. An attached plaque explains its significance:

“On or near this spot stood the house in which Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, renowned in all the world as “Q”, freeman of the Borough of Bodmin was born on the 21st November 1863.”

It also goes on to give another date, that of 21st November 1963, which is presumably when the post was moved to it’s present location, marking 100 years since Arthur’s birth. A second Plaque states that it used to stand in the grounds of Bodmin Priory.

Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863 – 1944) was a well known writer who, as the plaque explained, wrote using the pen name of “Q”. Some of his best known works include his “Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900) which featured various poems from English history, as well as numerous Fictional works.

Bodmin 9

On the far side of “Turf Street” sits Bodmin Parish Church, dedicated to St Petroc (Died c 564, a revered Saint born in Wales who is thought to have founded a Monastery near Padstow). Our previous destination of the day, Wadebridge, also featured a Church dedicated to Petroc, a popular figure around the County.

The Church is notable in Cornwall, as upon it’s completion in 1472 it was the largest Church in the entire county, a title it would hold until the incredible Truro Cathedral was finished in 1910. Whilst the main building dates from this period, parts of the tower are supposedly of Norman Origin, presumably part of an earlier Church on the site.

Bodmin 10

Moving back to the Clock Tower, we began to head West along “Fore Street”, Bodmin’s main Shopping & High Street. There are various Listed Buildings up and down the Street, however we focused on two in particular, starting with the “Market House”, shown above.

This stunning structure was designed by William Harris, and completed in 1839. There are numerous fine details to spot, the most obvious being the Bulls Heads above the four pillars around the main entrance. The building is still in use, as the “Bodmin Market House Arcade”, a collection of shops all under one roof.

Bodmin 13

The second is “Number 22 Fore Street” which was originally constructed as the towns Guildhall, in the 17th Century. Above the main entrance you can see the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom, which features the English Lion (left) and the Scottish Unicorn (right). Whilst the buildings structure is 17th century, the front was remodelled in the 19th. The Guildhall remained in use by the Town Council for local government purposes until 1983, when they presumably moved into the Shire Hall.

Note the Granite Columns around the original entrance to the Guildhall, one of the few original features to survive in the new frontage.

Elsewhere on Fore Street we came across another building of interest, which bears a plaque on it which states:

“Near this spot lived and worked John Arnold. Born in Bodmin in 1736. Horologist, perfector of the ships chronometer and benefactor of those who journey on the seas.”

John Arnold (1736 – 1799) was a local Watchmaker, who is famous for his work with the Marine Chronometer. Amongst his other creations was the world’s smallest watch, presented as a gift to His Majesty King George III (1738 – 1820), set into a small ring.

Further up the street is another Memorial, this time to Thomas Flamank (Died 1497) & Michael Joseph (Died 1497) who lead the Cornish Rebellion in 1497 which culminated on a march to the British Capital, London. The rebellion began when the people of Cornwall were forced to pay a tax introduced by King Henry VII (1457 – 1509) to fund his campaign to invade Scotland. The distance from Bodmin to Gretna, on the Scottish Border is 420 miles, so understandably the Cornish were adamant the campaign was not their fight, and refused to pay. Other counties in the South joined their March, and the Rebels took park in the Battle of Deptford Bridge against the King’s Army on June 17th, 1497 in an area now part of East London. Unfortunately they lost the fight, and the leaders were captured and executed.

Leaving the town centre, we pulled up outside one of Bodmin’s most striking landmarks, the ruins of Bodmin Jail. The Jail (or Gaol) was designed by Sir John Call (1731 – 1801, English Engineer from Devon, later MP) and opened in 1779. The design was unique in the UK, as it was the 1st to separate prisoners out into individual rooms, rather than keeping them in groups in large cells, and Male/Female prisoners were split into different sections.

The complex was expanded almost continuously after it first opened, until the 1850’s, when a new Jail was incorporated into the existing complex, with space for over 200 prisoners. As there was now spare capacity, part of this was soon converted into the Royal Naval Prison, which remained in use until 1922. The rest of the Jail was sold off by the end of the 1920’s, and the buildings fell into ruin, as shown in the 1st picture. However, if you make your way round to the main entrance, some of the original buildings here have been restored, and form a small Museum about the buildings history. You can find out more on their official website here.

Bodmin 16

Before we left Bodmin to continue our adventures, we had two more stops to make, with the first being Cornwall’s Regimental Museum, located inside the old “Victoria Barracks”, also known as “The Keep”, shown above. The Barracks opened in 1859, and have been the home of various regiments throughout the last 150 years, including:

1877: The 46th (South Devonshire) Regiment of Foot arrived in 1877.

1881: The 46th Regiment was later incorporated into the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, which was then based here at Bodmin Barracks.

1959: The Duke of Cornwall’s Regiment was then in turn merged with the Somerset Light Infantry to form the Somerset & Cornwall Light Infantry in 1959, again being based at the Barracks. Prior to this, during the 1940’s the building was also used as a training centre for World War II. Although the Regiment was disbanded in 1968, the Barracks are still in use as a Museum, original founded back in 1925.

Various war exhibitions are on show, with one of the most famous being the Bible owned by George Washington (1732 – 1799, 1st President of the USA), taken during the American War of Independence (1775 – 1783).

Outside the Barracks stands the Bodmin War Memorial, crafted by Leonard Stanford Merrifield (1880 – 1943, Sculptor) in 1922, to commemorate the fallen soldiers from the then Cornwall Light Infantry Regiment during World War I.

Just across the road from the Barracks is the “Bodmin & Wenford Railway”, which is a surviving Heritage Railway which follows the original route of GWR’s branch line from Bodmin Road Station to Bodmin General Station, opened in 1887.

Both stations still exist, with Bodmin General (1887) now being the main station on the route, shown above. Bodmin Road (1859) was built long before the branch line was opened, and lies on the original GWR through Cornwall. It has since been renamed Bodmin Parkway, and allows an interchange between the heritage route, and the mainline.

A third station also exists, called Boscarne Junction (1997) as in 1888 an extra line from Bodmin General was built to connect it up to the existing “Bodmin & Wadebridge Railway” which would eventually run to Padstow. At this time there was no station here just a junction, the station was built to extend the heritage line in the 1990’s. and is now the Northern Terminus of the line, whilst Parkway is the Southern. Bodmin General is an interim station, but as it was designed as a terminus, trains must reverse out of the station a short distance to continue round to Boscarne Junction.

Various locomotives operate on the line, but when we visited we spotted GWR 5619, part of the GWR 5600 Class, built between 1924 – 1928. They are known as 0-6-2T engines, which refers to their wheel configuration, with 0 small wheels at the front, 6 large ones in the centre and 2 small wheels at the back. Nine of the engines currently survive, at various heritage lines around the UK including obviously here at Bodmin.

Bodmin 1

On the way out of town, we spotted one final local landmark, a second Clock Tower, built as a War Memorial by St Lawrence’s Hospital in 1925. There are five names from WWI, and it was later updated with a further two after WWII.

Bodmin is both historically and visually stunning, with lots of history behind every brick. You can hardly move in the town centre without finding something interesting, from the Shire Hall to the various monuments to important people/events in Cornish history. Transport wise, Bodmin is ideally located, as the A30, the main route through central Cornwall from Devon runs straight past the town, along with the Cornish Main Line out at Bodmin Parkway, just outside the town. You can connect from there into the centre via the Bodmin & Wenford Railway, or local buses, which can also take you to the other nearby major towns such as Wadebridge, and the city of Plymouth in Devon where you can get onward connections via rail and bus.

It was time to head off, our next destination being the famous Jamaica Inn at Bolventor, on the top of Bodmin Moor…


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