Introduction to site
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 known 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.
Access and Facilities
Access to Berry Tower is easy from nearby Cross Lane, from which the tower is visible.
On-road parking is possible where permitted, and this is a good place from which to walk down Castle Hill to the church and on to the town.
The site is free to visit, and is open any reasonable time in daylight hours.
There are public toilets and refreshment facilities in the local area, within the town of Bodmin.
There are regular bus services to Bodmin. Visit the Traveline website for customised sustainable transport options.
Near Cross Lane, Bodmin
View our interactive Access to Monuments map to find this and other nearby sites.
The town of Bodmin has played a central role in the development of Chritianity 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 Angle-Saxon burh, and Dinuurin, which contains Cornish dyn, both suggest. No remains survive to substantiate this however. The focus of medieval 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 at the beginning of the 16th century was responsible for building this tower.
Standing in front of Berry Tower is a medieval 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. The present cemetery was established on the site by Bodmin Town Corporation in the 19th century.
At the foot of the hill on which Berry Tower stands is Bodmin parish church, dedicated to St Petroc, 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 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.