130117 Polson Bridge and the Capa de grisanto

Well now, here we are at Polson Bridge which today carries the A388 across that Great Water, the River Tamar.

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Handy-by is Launceston RFC’s ground which was bought in 1969.

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Bridge Club’s extensive researches reveal that the current bridge was opened in 1835 despite not having been built until 1851 (according to Henderson).

Here’s what Charles Henderson had to say about this bridging point in earlier times. Bear in mind that Henderson’s book was first published in 1928.

Close to St. Leonard’s is Polston Bridge, anciently Polstonel, the time honoured threshold of Cornwall.

“Ubi Cornubia incipit.”  [see William of Worcester’s Itinerary] The highway from Exeter and Okehampton comes down to the bridge from Polston farm. Green valleys radiate in all directions, bringing tribute to the Tamar. From Cornwall come the Attery  and Kensey; from Devon the Carey and Lyd with the Lew and the Thrushel. The old long bridge of Polston, with its six grey arches, was set in the midst of the meadows, but its historic associations were powerless to save it from the mid-Victorian  Vandals who erected the present monstrous bridge of stone and iron in its room.

As Launceston was the first centre of feudal power, so Polston must have been the first great bridge in Cornwall. William of  Worcester in 1478 tells us that the countryside [Patria] had built it but he was referring to a subsequent rebuilding. The original bridge must surely have been the feudal work ordered by an Earl of Cornwall. As early as the 12th century we hear of that interesting and curious tenure in petty serjeanty, whereby the Manor of Cabilla in Cardinham was held by the service of rendering a grey cape to the Earl as often as he should enter Cornwall at Polston Bridge. This is mentioned in the Red Book of the Exchequer. Another version appears in an inquest held in 1337, whereby it appears the Henry de Kellygren held 2 acres Cornish in petty serjeanty by the service of meeting the Duke of Cornwall (we changed from an Earldom to a Dukedom in 1337) at his coming into the County and there receiving a certain grey cape and carrying it after the Duke throughout Cornwall at the Duke’s expense for 40 days. Accordingly, on13th September, 1353, when the Black Prince (Duke of Cornwall) entered his Duchy we find an order given for the purchase of a grey riding coat at the expense of 3s 4d (17p) to be carried by John Keligryn as soon as the Prince entered Cornwall. (White Book of Cornwall. The Prince actually crossed Polston Bridge about 16th August.) This curious tenure was revived in 1908 when the present King ,  then Duke, entered his Duchy by Polston Bridge. A grey cape specially made for the occasion was bought by Viscount Clifden, as Lord of Cabilla, and presented to Mrs Lygon-Cocks  as owner of Pengelly in St. Neot, who gave it to the Duke.

ADDENDA – In the Assize Roll for 1301 (No.118) is an unpublished version of the tenure as presented by the Jury of the Hundred of Trigg. They say that John de Trevelly holds in Penkelly, half acre Cornish, worth 20s (£1), yearly, by the Serjeanty of receiving a Capa de grisanto  at the Bridge of Pouston when the King should come to Cornwall, from the Lord of Cabila who must bring it there for the King’s advent and hand it over to the said John who shall then carry it with the King throughout the whole of Cornwall.


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Pannus de grysanto is, as regular Bridge Clubbers know ‘cloth of grising or griseng’ in her article “Harberget: A Medieval  Textile Conundrum” Professor Eleanora Carus-Wilson  gives us this – “Griseng or Grise (grey) was a cheap undyed cloth often worn by the poor; it was regularly bought for the royal almsgiving, and was adopted by the Franciscans – hence called the Greyfriars.” … and the cloth griseng became grisanto –  the grey cloth of the holy friars.


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