I had visited Bodmin many times but had never had enough time to see the Berry Tower. It could at first glance be dismissed as a folly built by a rich landowner as a mark of his wealth but on closer inspection, its true past is evident. It sits in an elevated position overlooking the town and is surrounded by a well-tended graveyard.
St Petroc founded two monasteries in Bodmin during the early 6th century, one in the valley where the parish church now stands ( St Petroc's church) and one upon a mound below where the tower now stands.
Building work commenced in 1501 and took an exceptionally long time; labourers were used only between Easter and harvest-time when the weather was favourable and records show that the tower and accompanying chapel grew by little more than six feet per year. During the colder, winter months, the masonry would be covered to protect it from frosts whilst funds were raised for the following summer's work.
By 1505 the walls had reached a height of about thirty feet which necessitated the purchase of a crane; one was built in St Issey and transported to the site using rollers. You can still see the putholes in the outside masonry where the wooden scaffold was joined to the tower.
From surviving accounts, the tower stood about sixty feet tall and had cost about £100 to build, a vast sum in those days. The top was finished with carved pinnacles bearing brass weather vanes and iron crosses.
By 1520, the site had become the centre for a cult known as the Holy Rood but by 1538, Henry VIII seized all the powers and wealth of the monasteries and established the Church of England. Bodmin's monastery was dissolved and guild chapels such as the Holy Rood were closed.
This marked the end of a Christian era that affected Bodmin more than any other town in Cornwall. Precisely when the Berry chapel finally closed is difficult to pinpoint but 1548 is often mentioned, the building gradually falling to pieces until just the ruined tower that is visible today was left.
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