My brother came to stay this week in a challenging run of weather. Looking for suggestions of places to visit, we came up with Bodmin Jail as an option. I haven’t visited since the massive refurbishment so was very interested to see the transformation so I can tell Bosinver guests what to expect…..
My first home in Cornwall was in Lanhydrock on the outskirts of Bodmin, so I know the town and surrounding area quite well. The Jail has always been a fascinating place ~ a giant crumbling granite ruin with a foreboding feel to it and a massive challenge financially for anyone to develop it. I visited some 20 years ago and have memories of a forlorn place, smelling of damp and decay with holes in the roof, bats and birds fluttering about with some mannequins scattered around the cells telling the stories of the most infamous inmates. What it did have in buckets was atmosphere, it made you feel what prisoners may have felt to be incarcerated there ~cold, dark, uncomfortable and no chance whatsoever of escape.
Fast forward to today and as a result of a gargantuan project of rebuilding and development from 2017 to 2021 following a visit by the MD of Tudor hotels. His vision and massive investment of over £60 million has resulted in a 70 bedroom boutique hotel combined with a state of the art visitor attraction with restaurants, pub and shop.
We booked a 2 hour guided tour which we hoped would give a more in depth experience than wandering around on our own and cost £20 per adult.
On arrival, the first problem we encountered was parking. There is a small parking area reserved for hotel guests, so ended up in a local public car park which only takes cash. Many people don’t carry cash all the time these days so be prepared.
On our trip there were about 25 people and in the cell areas it was pretty congested and difficult to hear the guide, who spoke very fast. I didn’t enjoy his delivery but I have read rave reviews about other guides so perhaps we were unlucky. In retrospect I would have much preferred a recorded guide with earphones to wander round at my own pace.
The rooms were full of montages and holograms on the ‘Dark Walk’ which selected the crimes some of the most famous inmates had been hanged for, including highway robbery, infanticide and burning a field of corn. There was a lot of wailing and moaning in the background which I found off putting. We then arrived at the cells, tiny spaces which in the early days could house 8 people, including children, with nowhere to sit, lie or go to the toilet.
It was troubling to discover the crimes you could be imprisoned for back the the mid 1700’s ranging from not paying a debt, to stealing a loaf of bread or trespassing and this included children as young as 6.
Next up was a punishment room with a treadmill and various whips and devices for dealing with any misbehaviour. The tour finished with the condemned cell and execution pit which is the only original, fully working Victorian hanging pit in the UK.
It was interesting to hear that crowds of more than 20,000 people would gather to watch a hanging, travelling from all over Cornwall to stand on the hill opposite for a good view of the proceedings. The last hanging took place here in 1909.
My overall impression was that the modernisation had made for a more sanitised attraction for general public viewing using modern techniques and gimmicks. However, I felt that they could have done so much more given the evocative setting and fascinating history of such an iconic building and its occupants.
This is my personal perspective and I would like to point out that they have many Excellent reviews on Trip Advisor.
Also to note that dogs are not allowed at this attraction.