Jubilee Rock, Bodmin Moor

jubilee rock

Let joys uncurb’d swell every soul,

And let us own our extacy;

For free from sorrow and controul,

We’ll celebrate the Jubilee!

JOhn Rogers, 1810

Just a short walk north of the moorland village of Blisland are the Pendrift Downs and here, part way up the gorse-covered slope, the walker will find an enormous boulder, known as the Jubilee Rock. This stone, a bulbous dome of granite, had almost certainly been a place of play and adventure for the young John Rogers growing up on the farm at Pendrift less than half a mile away. But by 1810 John was a grown man of twenty-four years, a lieutenant in the British Army who had returned to Cornwall after years of fighting in foreign fields. He was full of patriotic fervour and with plenty of time on his hands he began to see the rock in a new light.

jubilee rock

A Cornucopia of Designs

Jubilee Rock, as it was later christened, became a canvas for this young man and he set to work with a hammer and chisel. It isn’t clear when Rogers started but his efforts were unveiled on 25th October 1810 in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the accession of King George III. To the delight of the gathered crowd, some of whom were his army friends, John Rogers revealed he had covered the rock in carvings.

  • jubilee rock

Carved on the north side of the boulder are the Falmouth and Morshead coat of arms, with the Molesworth arms on the south side. Other emblems also include the figure of Britannia as depicted on a penny coin, a beehive, a ship, a plough and then of course the Cornish Arms complete with the Prince’s Plume of feathers. There are also Freemasonry symbols, leading to speculation that Rogers was a freemason himself, and later additions include commemorations of Queen Victoria’s reign and that of Queen Elizabeth II added in 2012.

At one time the rock also had a brass plaque attached, also handmade by Rogers, and inscribed with a poem he had written, (see below). The plaque was rumoured to have been pulled off sometime in the early 1900s and thrown into the gorse and bracken close by where it was re-discovered years later. It was then kept by the remaining members of the Rogers family and taken to the Jubilee Rock once a year in a kind of commemorative event until it was passed to Bodmin Museum. Where it is now I am not entirely sure.

Let joys uncurb’d swell every soul,

And let us own our extacy;

For free from sorrow and controul,

We’ll celebrate the Jubilee!

The City’s huge parading crowd

May use their pompous forms, whilst we

Invoke each friendly listening cloud

To aid out Jubilee!

Great Nature’s self shall now rejoice,

And chant her merry airs with me,

The subject Sea shall lend it voice

To sing its Monarch’s Jubilee!

Long may Great George triumphant reign,

And may all Loyal Britons see

When fifty years are past again,

Another glorious Jubilee!

And then, my lads, if life’s our lot,

And fortune helps us merrily,

We’ll meet again upon this rock

And have another Jubilee.

John Rogers, 1810

The Painted Rock

It is less well known, and somehow hard to imagine today, that the carvings on Jubilee Rocks were once painted in bright colours. When this tradition began isn’t clear as there is no mention of the boulder being painted when it was initially unveiled in 1810. The first mention I have found comes from the Portsmouth Evening News which mentions that the rock was painted in 1891. But by the 1930s touching up the weather-worn decoration had become a regular thing. In 1935 a reporter from the Western Morning News visited the Pendrift Downs and met with the rather elderly Mr WH Rogers, a business man from Camelford and the great-grandson of Lt John Rogers. He had been known to repaint the stone at least twice over the years and the reporter was able to see that:

“Some little trace of green paint in the olive branch, the gold bezants on the Cornish motto, and the flaming red nostrils of the lion and the unicorn still remain.”

Western Morning News, 9th May 1935

The definition in this postcard image from the 1920s is probably due to the outlines of the carvings and certain details being painted in.

A Meeting Place

There is a strange snippet of folklore which says that Jubilee Rock, long before it was adorned with Rogers’ embellishments, was thought to be “the oldest rock on Bodmin Moor'” A completely unprovable fact of course! This “ponderous mass of granite” is roughly 3m (10ft) high and 7.5m (25ft) across, it is estimated to weigh at least 150 tons. Though bare now there are stories that it was once the site of a balancing logan rock.

“That the Jubilee Rock was or was not the basis of Norden’s Logan Stone is quite a matter of speculative opinion . . . An aged person whom I met on the common told me that he well remembered two or three ‘moving’ stones being cut up by the stone cutters and there was some objection to its being done.”

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 4th Oct 1866

John Norden was a cartographer and surveyor who is said to have drawn a picture of a logan rock in the area. Supposedly however the Jubilee Rock bore little resemblance to his illustration which showed a rock ‘on the summit of a conical elevation’. What is clear is that this boulder was, and is still, a focal point for the Blisland community. It was a favourite picnic spot for families and courting couples and open air services were held here by the United Methodists in the late 19th century, the last meeting being around 1906. Mr P. Matthews, who died in 1919, was said to have preached for the rock for seven years in succession.

jubilee rock

Undoubtedly as long as there have been people living in this area there is one thing that will have drawn them to Jubliee Rock – the view! The rock stands about 200m above sea level and offers a stunning panorama of mid-Cornwall and the coast towards Padstow. In 1939 when the Rector of Blisland, Edmund Clarabut, was leaving the parish to take up a missionary role in Zanzibar, he said:

“I am not going because I am tired of Blisland or Blisland is tired of me . . . nor because I want to see the world – I can see as much as I want to from Jubilee Rock!”

The Life of Lieutenant John Rogers

John was said to be the forth son of John and Grace Rogers, born at Pendrift in 1786. His father was recorded as a farmer in the parish records. As a young man John joined the 65th Regiment of Foot, an infantry regiment of the British Army raised in 1756 and under the command of General Edmund Stevens between 1797 and 1814. It is unknown where exactly John served but we do know the movements of his regiment so can take an educated guess. In 1800 the 65th Foot shipped to South Africa, then on to Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) for the so called Kandian War in 1802. From 1803 onwards they were based in India.

“The 65th Foot served with great distinction in India during the early part of the nineteenth century. It took part in the Mahratta Wars of 1805 and 1817 and various expeditions against the Arab pirates of the Persian Gulf

H.L. Wickes, Regiments of Foot, 1974

John was obviously at home in Cornwall from 1809 onwards, some accounts say recovering from injury or illness, others that he was on leave, interestingly one early newspaper even says he was ‘furloughed’. His regiment was dispatched to Mauritius in December 1810, a few weeks after John had celebrated the completion of his decoration of the rock. The force took part in the capture of the island and then returned to India in 1811. The assumption is that John was with them. The only reference I could find to his passing was from a newspaper article about the Jubilee Rock in 1935.

“On the field of battle Lieut. Rogers laid down his life for his King and the country he well served.”

Western Morning News, 9th May 1935

Further Reading

Neville Northey Burnard – Cornish Sculptor

Temple Church – Knights Templar & Cornwall’s Gretna Green

Walking Opportunities

Circular Walk around Blisland and Pendrift Downs

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5 thoughts on “Jubilee Rock, Bodmin Moor

  1. i have enjoyed your history of cornish places as a fellow brithonic celt i take a great interest in our shared culture ,but this jubilee rock piece has i am afraid ruined the celtic theme and history for me .

    1. Oh dear! I am sorry you feel like that! I certainly had no intention to offend, just telling another story that is part of Cornwall’s history, whether we agree with it or not. Not to worry I have plenty of other stories coming, just sorry this one wasn’t for you! x

  2. I was brought up locally in the 70s at South Kerrow farm. We loved the rock. Interesting to read about it. Thank you 😊

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