Bodmin riding FESTIVAL
WHAT IS THE BODMIN RIDING FESTIVAL?
Bodmin Riding is an ancient Cornish festival unique to Bodmin, which takes place each year on the first weekend of July. The festival has changed over the years, but it remains a celebration of Bodmin: of our unique history, our proud Cornish identity, our community, and the rich traditions of our ancient Cornish heritage.
why do we celebrate Bodmin Riding?
Nobody knows when or why Bodmin Riding began, but we do know that it was an old tradition when it was first recorded in 1469. Then Bodmin celebrated the restoration of the bones of St Petroc after they were stolen and taken to Brittany in 1177. The casket holding the saint’s bones (still surviving in St Petroc’s Church) was paraded through the town, there was a mock court, sports and horseracing at Halgavor and a civic dinner, Riding Ale and the Riding Dance.
By 1700 sports were being held and 100 years later there was wrestling and a grand ball. The traditional Riding was probably last held in 1825. It was revived first by Bodmin Rotary Club in 1974 and observed for two years. In 1986 it was revived again incorporating a commemoration of events of the 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion. The mock hanging of the mayor attracted large crowds and much controversy. For many years the town was thronged by people in Tudor or medieval dress on the first Saturday in July. Over a number of years, Heritage Day ran as part of the Bodmin Theatre Festival. However in 2004 the Saturday celebrations did not take place due to lack of support.
The Riding Committee made a successful bid to the Local Heritage Initiative for a new style celebration featuring the Hunting of the Beast of Bodmin. All over the world, when people think of Bodmin they think of the Beast. The idea also links with ancient legends of St Petroc who tamed the dragon of Halgavor. Graham Jobbins was commissioned to create the Beast. Young men from Bodmin were enlisted as Helliers, to hunt the Beast they chose their kilts and Cornish colours. Older residents were recruited to become the Ragadaziou, the elders of the town who, dressed in black robes and leather masks, try the Beast when he is caught. The trial is a whistlestop tour through the history of Cornwall, a history of conquest, rebellion, exploitation and recovery. In 2005 children from the town became so caught up in the celebration that they spontaneously demonstrated to “free the Beast.” In 2008 the schoolchildren were the stars of the day when they danced down Fore Street in spite of torrential rain. In 2010 the town criers contest began. 2012, there was Cornish wrestling in Priory Park which the Helliers joined in. From 2013 there were Vikings, ancient Britons and the 32nd (Cornwall) Regiment of Foot. In 2018 the festival faced an uncertain future, but a brand new committee of Busy Rebels took over, and with the help of the community and a successful crowdfuning campaign, the festival was resurrected for another year. Since then it has gone from strength to strength, and looks set to become THE event of the Cornish calendar!
find out more about the trial of the beast of bodmin
Did you know...?
Festivities at the Bodmin Riding Festival include the ancient tradition of the floral garlands, the procession of St Petroc’s bones, the Riding Ale and the Trial of the Beast of Bodmin!
THE CURFEW BELL AT ST PETROC'S CHURCH
The ringing of the curfew takes place at 8pm on each night during the week of the Bodmin Riding Festival. This consists of ringing the number 6 of the church’s 8 bells for 5 minutes and then striking the date on the tenor, the largest bell of the peal.
The curfew was rung in Bodmin every night from medieval times up until 1995 when through a lack of interest in bellringing it became impractical for the small team to continue. Its origin was to instruct the townspeople to damp down their fires for the night, but the tradition continued in Bodmin until 1995. Prior to the rota system that was adopted by Bodmin ringers until its demise, the curfew was rung by a person employed by the council to do so, the last of which was a gentleman by the name of Charlie Hoskin who lived in St Nicholas St and who's walking stick still resides in the tower.
Rather than abandon this tradition completely, it was decided to ring the curfew for 1 week only during the year, and Bodmin Riding & Heritage week was chosen.
An entry in the journal of John Wesley states that having been lost on Bodmin moor he found his way to the town by following the sound of the curfew bell.
"We rode forward. About sun-set we were in the middle of the first great pathless moor beyond Launceston. About eight we were not quite out of the way; but we had not gone far before we heard Bodmin bell. Directed by this, we turned to the left, and came to the town before nine.”
Monday 29th September 1743 (Source).
Many thanks to Paul Scoble and the team of bell ringers who keep this tradition alive.