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Bodmin Jail

Photographs taken 2006

(Due to re-open in May 2020)

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Bodmin Jail is a foreboding place, and even now, with the jail in a state of dereliction and restoration, it is not a place where you can linger within its walls without your mind turning back 150 years to feel what it must have been like. A visit here is quite an experience, especially in the moody weather that we visited it in - indeed, to feel the greatest atmosphere, you almost need to visit this place when the weather is dull, grey, wet and gloomy. This really is a very evocative place.

(Read any of the historical novels by E.V.Thompson that are set in Cornwall to get a flavour of these times!)

Convicted felons were likely sent here to Bodmin Jail after being having been tried and sentenced at the Courtroom at Bodmin Assize Court, in the Shire Hall.

Bodmin Jail
Bodmin Gaol today, with restoration in progress ~ the Naval Prison is the nearest wing,
and the Main Prison (the Civil Prison) is the longer wing on the right

Bodmin Jail
Looking up at the old Naval Prison

Bodmin Jail
Peering in from the outside, the state of repair of the Naval wing can be seen...
only the ground floor cells are accessible, with the galleries gone

There is now a very well set out - and expanding - area of the jail that has been opened up once again, but for visitors only, not live-in guests of Her Majesty! There are more views of the derelict and overgrown parts of the jail that await whatever restoration is possible or feasible, and there some other areas that have been re-created to show what a nineteenth century prisoner's life was like, which wasn't a comfortable one! However, there is now also a very welcoming pub and restaurant within, which is definitely not as it was before!!!

The prison received its first "guests" when it opened in 1860, although there was an earlier prison on the site since 1779. Closure came for both the Civil Prison and the Naval Prison in 1927. During the whole time that there was a prison at Bodmin, there were 48 hangings outside the wall of the Jail (they were public exhibitions then!), but only 5 after the new prison opened after 1860. These last five were all for murder, and the last was in 1909. The smallest crime for which a hanging took place, was in 1787, for stealing a watch.

Bodmin Jail
Looking out into the Naval wing, along where one of the access galleries would have been

Bodmin Jail
You can clearly see where the galleries used to be in the Main Prison (mainly men,
although there was a smaller section at the end for women) for access to the upper cells.
Wire netting was strung between the side galleries to prevent suicides.

Bodmin Jail
One of the communal Cells!

Bodmin Jail
Dark and dingy at any time, especially at night with only a candle for light

Bodmin Jail
Inside the Main Block between the two wings ~ cells either side, and stocks for added comfort

The light in the cell is artificial - the only light available would have been that coming through the small barred window. The cells would have been very dark and cold, but there was a gas burner provided for limited heating and lighting, but only during the winter months. Cells were 13 feet long, by 7 feet wide, and there you spent your days - unless you were given the fine job of oakum picking (very sore hands), or received the added pleasures of hard labour on the Treadmill. Still, I guess that was preferable to the condemned cell, where there was at least a larger space. Well, for a limited time anyway.

Bodmin Jail
This would be your home for however many days, months, or years your incarceration was for.

For more information, visit the Bodmin Jail website.

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