THE TRIAL OF THE BEAST OF BODMIN

Bodmin riding FESTIVAL 

An Gwary Bosvenna

The Bodmin Play

Riding Day | Time: 15:49 | Place: Mount Folly Square

The Ragadaziow (forefathers) are a group of Guisers (masked performers) who meet annually at Bodmin Riding day. They represent local worthies and Guild Masters intent on performing their Janticle, a procession of St Petroc’s Ossery Casket throughout the town.

Proceedings are interrupted by news of a rampaging Beast threatening to upset the ceremony. Something must be done,  and so, after some deliberation, the Helliers (hunters), youths of the town, are called upon to find and capture the Beast and present him for trial. The Janticle and hunt for the Beast continues throughout the day. When he is captured the Beast is paraded to the Folly where the trial commences at eleven minutes to four (1549).

The trail is conducted by the self-appointed leader of the local worthies, the legendary Justice Jan Tregeagle, who makes compelling opening arguments that seem to guarantee the Beast being found guilty and his subsequent execution.

Fate intervenes and as Tregeagle swears an oath by all he holds dear on St Petroc’s Bones, a magical transformation occurs. The various worthies become characters from history and are called as witnesses for the defence.

 

The Bodmin Play (An Gwary Bosvenna) is in the form of a traditional mummers play. Common themes being; that the players are in disguise; magical transformations occur; “serious” messages are given in an apparently frivolous medium; grotesque drolls are given licence to make “subversive” comments; there is a death and resurrection scene and that ultimately good overcomes evil.

The Play borrows from ancient Cornish miracle plays, historic manuscripts, local folk songs, folk lore, customs and traditions.

The Beast of Bodmin is not only a fairly recent popular cultural reference but also harks back to the local tradition of a dragon at Halgavor. Legend has it that St Petroc removed a splinter from the creature’s eye and so tamed it. Historical records of Riding Day Revels refer to people being tricked into searching for and fighting it and the name the Dragon Pit persists in the location of the Dragon Leisure Centre.

There are many myths and legends throughout Britain and Cornwall of large, black fearsome beasts haunting secluded areas. They frequently resemble huge, hairy, dog like creatures with enormous teeth and glowing eyes. Usually they have a sinister reputation but on occasion they show benevolence by steering lost travellers away from peril. In Cornwall these supernatural beings are known as Lane Hounds.

The Beast of Bodmin Riding Day draws these features together as a local Cornish spirit. The Helliers are therefore sent to seek that Cornish spirit and through their efforts find it within themselves and themselves within it.

During the Bodmin Play the defence of the Beast references scenarios when that spirit was challenged, suffered and yet still survives. The counsel for his defence sums up the beasts personality best:-

This Beast was born of this land and reflects its nature.

This land is at once wild and rugged and yet a cornucopia of riches for he who is prepared to seek them.

Try to tame it and it will bite you.

Embrace it and you have a friend for ever.

Tax it and it will begrudge you ever penny

Ask for alms and it will gladly give you five fold.

Harness it and it will drag you to destruction,

Work beside it and you will achieve great feats.

 

He is unkempt, he is wild;

He cannot be tamed, he is nature’s child.

Can he be rude if denied a voice?

Is he uncivilized if denied his choice?

If he should roam, you say he rampages;

Yet this is his home denied him for ages.

His very existence is his only offence

And there rests the case for the defence.

tHE hELLIERS

(The hunters)

Have you seen a big, hairy Beast prowling the streets?  You best call the Helliers!

Fear not! This collection of rowdy Bodmin youths are here to help.  They may be wild, unkempt heathens (and probably still drunk from last Riding Day) but they’re Bodmin’s best hope of finding the Beast.  Are they brave?  Stupid?  Or just plain drunk?  No one knows.  As long as they stop it rampaging – who cares?

Each Riding Day, Justice Jan Tregeagle sends out the Helliers (Cornish for ‘hunters’) to hunt down the monstrous Beast of Bodmin.  He threatens to disrupt the historic procession of St. Petroc’s bones and his uncivilised appearance is spoiling the town’s celebrations.  His pointy ears, pointy teeth and pointy tail have scared the townsfolk; they worry he’ll eat the children or, worse yet, scare the horses!  Answering the call, the Helliers throw on their kilts, grab their staffs and set off in noisy pursuit of their prey.  After an exhausting six-hour chase over Halgavor Moor, the Helliers finally catch the Beast and return him to Bodmin to face justice.

 

If you see the Helliers parading the Beast through town don’t be alarmed.  Like all good pet owners, they’ve got him in chains and under close control… well, most of the time at least.  Watch closely and you might even see the Helliers perform the ‘Death and Resurrection’, where they revive the poor, injured Beasty with a magical Cornish song. 

Like the Wild Hunts of Celtic myth, this untamed rabble can appear one minute and be gone the next.  Keep an ear out for cries of “An Hellier!”, a good old-fashioned “Oggy Oggy Oggy!”, or their signature song, “Through Bodmin Town a-riding we will go”, as they journey from pub to pub. 

To find videos and lyrics (in Cornish and English) visit the LEARN THE SONGS Page here.

Hunting beasts is thirsty work and professional Helliers don’t come cheap.  For their hard work they demand a reward…. Beer! And lots of it.  Luckily, the obliging landlords and landladies of Bodmin’s finest drinking establishments are at hand to cover the fee.  Pop into one of the pubs along their route and you’ll likely find the Helliers gathered with a generous mug – or two – of Riding Ale.  But tread carefully, enter at the wrong time and you might have to suffer a Hellier rendition of a traditional Cornish sea shanty.  Feel free to join in if you know the words but don’t get too comfortable, for when the clock strikes 15:49, all good people of Bodmin are expected to attend the Beast’s Trial at Mount Folly.

Our gruesome and ghastly Beast, escorted by the Helliers, stands accused of Beastly Behaviour… but will he be found guilty of any crimes?  Is he a terrible monster, or merely misunderstood?  Join the Helliers on Riding Day and all will be revealed...


Riding Day | Saturday 6th July 2019 

the helliers | Proposed route

Please note, although we'll do our best to keep you informed of our whereabouts, all timings are approximations and are subject to change

10:00am: Bodmin & Wenford Railway - opening play

10:30am: Beast hunting - roaming the town

11:00am: Wetherspoons

11:30am: The Beehive

12 Noon: Garland Ox

12:30pm: Freddie’s

13:00pm: White Hart

13:30pm: Weavers

14:00pm: Masons

14:30pm: Hole in The Wall

15:00pm: The Old Library for procession with Ragadaziow

15:49pm: Mount Folly for the Bodmin Play (to last approximately 20 minutes).

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19:00 - late: The Beastly Ball at Bodmin Jail (Get your ticket here!)

the RAGADAZIOW | Proposed route

Please note, although we'll do our best to keep you informed of our whereabouts, all timings are approximations and are subject to change

10:00am: Bodmin & Wenford Railway - opening play

10:30am: The Weavers

11:00am: The White Hart

11:30am: The Guildhall (Barnecutts Bakery)

12 Noon: Wetherspoons

12:30pm: Lowender Peran Rebel Voices & Bodmin Shout at the Masons

   Learn the songs and join in!

12:45pm: Join the Rebel Voices at the Masons

continuing to the Garland Ox

14:00pm:Bodmin Jail

15:00pm: The Old Library for procession with The Helliers

15:49pm: Mount Folly for the Bodmin Play (to last approximately 20 minutes).

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19:00 - late: The Beastly Ball at Bodmin Jail (Get your ticket here!)

Did you know...?

The words from some of The Hellier's songs are taken directly from an old Cornish-language play written in 1611!

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