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Bodmin Jail (Bodmin)

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Address: Berrycoombe Road / Bodmin / Cornwall / PL31 2NR

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      22.07.2010 01:06
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      A summary of Bodmin Jail as a tourist

      Oh My God what a scarest place Bodmin Jail is. On holiday this year me and my mum did not want to go on the steam train in Bodmin as we are usually forced to go on my dads passion we discovered Bodmin Jail. It is well sign posted in Bodmin with plentiful brown signs. There is car parking in the main yard a little limited but there is some extra parking at the rear. You enter the door and the restaurant/ bar is to your right where you can have a light snack or a full dinner which can be taken outside in the coutyard. I did think some of the main courses were a little expensive however they used local produce and high quality ingrediants. The restaurant and bar is situated in the old guards room and it has been beautifully restored with next door with the witness box turned into a lounge and function room. YOu pay at the bay which is about 6.00 per adult discount for kids and oaps to my mothers delight(how embarrasing). You enter the jail half way through and it has six floors to start the tour you start three floors underground and you visit six floors which consists of stories on flogging, hanging, packed cells and several stocks. This is place is cold so take a coat and it is quite scary and can bring the shivers on. There is still alot more to restore which is evident when you get to the top floor also it was a navel prison and a store for the rum in the second world war for the sailors. There are two video rooms one on the second floor of the jail and the other is situated to the side of the courtyard. The courtyard video room consists stories of hangmen and how to hang some one. I learnt alot from Bodmin Jail espicially how poor people were in Cornwall and the odd one is How to Hang someone. It is excellent value for money not for the weak hearted. Bodmin Jail featured on the Yvette fielding programme most haunted and she has been quoted to say it has been one of the scariest places she has been too and I have to agree with her too.

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      23.07.2008 10:06
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      Unusual venue with a real sense of Cornwall's past

      Bodmin Jail (formally known as Bodemin Gaol) is a very large, austere looking grey building. Steeped in history, the building looks like it has a sad tale to tell and it certainly does. Nowadays Bodmin Jail is a tourist attraction located on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. We decided to pay a visit to Bodmin Jail on our recent week in Cornwall, mainly because the weather wasn't being kind to us, and we didn't want to sit on the beach freezing in a gale force wind (again). Bodmin Jail is set in a quiet lane just a couple of miles from the town of Bodmin. It's very easy to find and well signposted by white and brown heritage/attraction signs.

      The building is now partially in ruins, but many of the former cells still exist and these display the exhibits detailing their previous inmates, their gruesome history and their final fate. To understand the Bodmin Jail of today, we need to travel back in time and understand how harsh life and conditions really were in the 18th and 19th centuries for those poor unfortunates that ended up here. Some were only children who probably stole because they were hungry. Others who stole items of clothing, killed a sheep or set fire to a sheaf of corn ended up hanging for their crimes. The lucky ones ended up with incarceration and several years of hard labour. Others were shipped off to Australia for seven years hard labour...unlikely to ever return to their Cornish homes (mainly because those that did manage to survive the voyage there, often succumbed to disease once they arrived due to harsh and unsanitary living conditions.)

      ~~ Bodmin Jail of Yesteryear ~~
      Bodmin Jail was built by Napoleonic prisoners of war sometime around 1776 to 1779 (dates differ depending on which source you read). Over 20,000 tons of granite from a local Bodmin quarry was used in its construction. The jail played host to over 55 hangings, 51 of which were public hangings (with the executioners being paid anywhere up to £10 per hanging - an absolute fortune in those days). Public hangings in the 18th/19th century were like our rock concerts of today - huge public entertainment. Thousands of people would travel miles to watch the gory spectacle of someone putting their head through a noose. It's unlikely that many of the throng would have been able to see anything of the action at all - after all they didn't have the benefits of wide screen playbacks in those days! The gallows would be positioned so that they could be seen from the local railway station and many people would pay for a decent view. In 1844, 20,000 people turned up to watch the execution of a young man called Mathew Weeks, who had allegedly murdered his girlfriend Charlotte Dymond. Mathew Weeks is said to still haunt the jail to this day....

      The public hangings ceased in 1862, and would take place instead behind closed doors. The prison played host to its last execution in 1909 and finally closed its doors in 1927.

      Interestingly, Bodmin Jail allegedly stored the Doomsday Book, various state papers and the crown jewels during the First World War. Presumably these valuable and historic items would be safely hidden away from Johnny Foreigner if he'd ever managed to invade Blighty....

      ~~ Bodmin Jail today ~~
      Since its closure in 1927 Bodmin Jail had started to decay. It was purchased by the Wheten family in 2004, and they have plans to renovate the entire site. They plan to put all the revenue from entry fees/profits back into a project to completely restore all the roofs, cells and internal structures and make the jail into a fully operational museum detailing Cornish life over the last three centuries.

      I must say that they certainly have their work cut out, as it is an enormous project. What you get to see on a paying visit is just a fraction of the whole site. The building is still literally crumbling away, and I was rather put off by the profusion of disclaimer signs all over the car park as we walked up the entrance. The disclaimers starkly pointed out that parts of the building are unsafe and you enter at your own risk. I wonder if they are in the process of being sued by some tourist who missed their footing whilst wandering around the site? And I can easily imagine it happening too; the light inside the jail is incredibly dim - almost non-existent in some places. It's certainly incredibly authentic for the times, but it doesn't make easy passage if you're a bit unsteady on your pins. Added to which the stairs to gain access to the upper and lower levels are very steep and narrow and run over five levels.

      Finding the jail is very easy (just follow the brown and white heritage signs from Bodmin town centre). As you pull into the jail, the car park is a bit confusing and not very clearly signposted. It's unclear where you can and cannot park, so we drove around the corner and down a slope and found a bigger parking area there. Again, the point of entrance into the jail itself is not clear either. Basically entry to the jail is through the onsite pub, which is just slightly bizarre. You pay the bar tender once he's finished serving his drinkers, and then you wander through a couple of doors (via their kitchen storage area) into the jail. On the whole I'd say that the whole attraction could do with a decent bit of signage inside and outside so you know where you're supposed to be heading.

      There is no official guided tour of the jail, you wander around at your leisure and the bar man did say we could stay as long as we liked. Once inside the jail, it's very, very cold and very gloomy. Despite reasonably warm (but cloudy) weather outside on a mid July day, you could have been plunged into November at 4pm such was the light and temperature inside the gaol. I was lucky in that I'd thought to take my pashmina with me, and boy was I grateful. Himself only had a short sleeved shirt and he was chilled to the bone by the end of our exploration.

      The jail is set over five levels and the light and temperature seems to steadily drop the lower down you get within the building, the cellar being positively freezing. It's all very atmospheric I must say, and the light and gloom make it very, very easy to imagine how awful life for the poor inmates would have been.

      As you wander in and out of the first few (empty) cells, you can see that the only light the occupants would have had was from a very small barred window. The cells are small, being a maximum of 13 feet long by 7 feet wide, and they would have been shared between several occupants of the same sex (there were no mixed sex cells at Bodmin Jail - they were the first prison to segregate the sexes). The only "release" the prisoners would have received from their cold stone cells was through the daily labour they would have been subjected to. Prisoners would have been expected to work on either the treadwheel or at oakum picking.

      Oakum picking was less arduous physically, but it gave the prisoners very sore hands, as it was done without any tools. Oakum is the loose fibres obtained by unpicking old ropes. Prisoners were given piles of old rope, which they had to untwist until the mesh became loose. The rope was then sold to the navy or other ship-builders. The phase "money for old rope" is thought to have originated from the oakum picking process.

      Although oakum picking may have made you sore, it was sheer bliss in comparison to being put to work on the treadwheel. Prisoners had to hold onto a bar and walk up the wheel - all in total silence. They had to do ten minutes on the wheel and then take five minutes off, solidly for eight hours a day. It's the equivalent of climbing over 8,000 feet a day, or being expected to go up Mount Snowdon three times. The treadwheel at Bodmin Jail was used to grind grain, but wheels were used in other jails to mill flour, raise water or pump water.

      As you wander down into the lower levels of the jail, the air grows progressively cooler and it gets darker and gloomier. Many of the cells have boards outside which tell the tale of the former occupants within. Because the light is quite poor in the lower levels, reading these can be quite hard, and taking a torch with you may be a good idea (sadly we didn't have one). Similarly, the damp or rain had got to some of the signage so it was impossible to read some of the stories about Bodmin Jail's former occupants. The life-size models inside the cells were a bit manky looking. They were certainly not up to a Madame Tussauds standard. However, manky looking models probably suit the venue, as I suspect we'd all look more than a little manky if we were incarcerated within the walls of Bodmin Gaol for any length of time! On the lowest level, there are some stocks and suchlike which you are allowed to "play with". My partner took a photo of me pinned into a set of stocks but there is no way I'm posting it on Ciao.

      The stories of the former prisoners made for interesting reading. Their crime was detailed along with the punishment that was meted out to them. I must say that some of the punishments were well out of proportion to the crime - at least by today's standards. For example in 1787, 22 year old William Congdon was hanged for stealing a watch. If he'd done it nowadays he'd have been given a fine, possibly some counseling or maybe even a holiday! William Hocking was hanged for bestiality in 1834; nowadays he'd of probably just appear on Big Brother or in a Channel 4 documentary (along with his favourite sheep stroke girlfriend....). Of course, not all the prisoners were punished for such seemingly innocuous crimes - there were plenty of hardened criminals and crimes - murderers and poisoners a plenty.

      ~~ The Paranormal ~~
      Bodmin Jail (like Jamaica Inn) is a popular haunt for the modern day ghost hunter. Indeed, Bodmin Jail's promotional leaflet is emblazoned with the words "Most Haunted's Yvette Fielding described Bodmin Jail as "one of the scariest spots I have ever visited". Never having watched "Most Haunted", and not being particularly keen on the paranormal, I can't comment on this claim. However, on Googling Bodmin Jail, there are no end of stories of ghost hunts and sightings at the gaol.

      Allegedly, there are plenty of ghosts at Bodmin Jail. As you'd expect, reports of eerie footsteps and rattling keys and chains have been reported. Similarly, misty figures have been seen roaming the corridors and unexplained voices have been heard. Some of the victims who allegedly still haunt the jail are Selina Wadge who was hanged in 1878 for the murder of her bastard child. There are reports that she tries to grab young children and pregnant women. There's Mathew Weeks who was hanged in 1844 for the brutal murder of his girlfriend Charlotte Dymond. It's said he haunts the jail because he's innocent. Another alleged ghost is that of Anne Jefferies, who was sentenced to starvation until she confessed she was a witch. She managed to survive without food for three months, without losing any weight, which only served to confirm that she had supernatural powers or was in league with the devil. Lucky for her, she died naturally, but her spirit still roams the jail.

      If all that sort of caper floats your boat, there is a monthly paranormal ghost walk held at the jail. Activities begin at 10.30pm and they let you out again at 7.00am the next day (if you survive the night of course...). The evening is hosted by a couple of mediums and will set you back £70.00 per person. Further details are available at their website http://www.bodminjail.org/ if you're interested. However, it's certainly not one I'll be signing up for. I definitely prefer the comforts of a warm house and cosy duvet over a cold cell and a wretched ghost any day of the week.

      ~~ Recommendation ~~
      All in all, we were probably inside the jail for about an hour. The atmosphere was very chilling and sad inside the jail, although we certainly didn't get any sense of the paranormal that some claim is so strong there. We took our dog with us around the entire jail, and her hackles didn't go up once. Dogs are usually very susceptible to anything slightly spooky, and Bolly didn't jump once.

      For those interested in history, it really does make a realistic backdrop to just how harsh life was for the poor and not so fortunate in days gone by. The tales of the prisoners made very interesting reading and you couldn't help but sympathize for their fate and the conditions they were living in. Bodmin Jail is a very evocative and foreboding place, and it really does evoke a sense of the past.

      However, I should point out that only a fraction of the jail is open to the public and a large portion remains derelict. Obviously these parts are hopefully due for restoration at some stage, but as it stands you only get to see a tiny portion of the jail. Indeed, I feel their promotional literature is rather misleading as it states "Experience the life of an eighteenth century prisoner, visit the gallows, stock and underground cells. All set with 3 acres of original building and grounds". There is no access to this acreage of buildings and grounds for the paying public, as we were hoping to find somewhere for our dog to have a bit of romp after the claustrophobia of the jail. Instead you're greeted with bars and signs to keep out. I'm sure the jail and grounds will be stunning if and when they're ever completed, but they sure have a long, long way to go. So many of the buildings are derelict it's a hugely massive project to undertake. Evidently, there are plans to create a hotel on the site using some of the derelict cells as guest rooms.

      What they have renovated so far is quite interesting and very atmospheric. Unfortunately it also looks a little on the amateurish side. The life size models look slightly the worse for wear, and as I said earlier, some of the signage has been ruined by rain or damp making it illegible. It could also be a bit of a health hazard in there - the lighting is very dim and the stairs very steep. I didn't like the look of the laminated disclaimer signs in the car park informing visitors that the building was unsafe and you entered at your own risk. I'm not at all sure that the building would pass a health and safety inspection, though I'm sure it must have to have some kind of safety certificate to let the paying public in.

      That aside, it's not an expensive venue to visit (maximum price is £5.25 for adults), and it does put you very in touch with the past. However, it's certainly no Madame Tussauds or London Dungeon. The exhibits are by no means lavish, but the chilling and realistic atmosphere rather makes up for it.

      Recommended if you like history and a true sense of the past. Not really recommended for very young children ( I think they'd find it too spooky and dark) or the infirm or elderly (too many stairs and sharp edges).

      ~~ Site Facilities ~~
      There is a pub on site selling both food and drink, and I think I spotted a pool table in there too. The outside seating area appeared more pleasant looking with lots of tables with pretty brollies over them. There was an extensive menu on the table offering full meals as well as teas, coffees and snacks. We didn't partake of any food or beverages on the site as we really didn't want to hang around there much longer. My partner had caught a bit of chill from the dank walls in the underground cellars, and just wanted to get out into the warm again! I had a swift peak into the gift shop but it seemed a little sparse. A few items of tat emblazoned with "Stolen from Bodmin Jail" didn't really tempt me.

      ~~ More details ~~
      Opening Hours are 10am until dusk 365 days a year. Parking is free. The site also lets dogs in provided they are on a lead (and you clear up any mess they may leave).

      Bodmin Jail
      Berrycoombe Road
      Bodmin
      Cornwall
      PL31 2NR

      Telephone No: 01208 76292

      ~~ Entry costs ~~
      Adult @ £5.50
      Children aged 5-16 @ £3.25 (under 5's go free, but they might be spooked by the place and not want to go anyway)
      Senior Citizens @ £3.75
      Disabled Persons @ £3.25 (NB: their website states that due to the constraints of the building, wheelchair access is fairly limited but they will try to assist where possible. Therefore it might be an idea to telephone beforehand to alert them)

      ~~Websites giving further information~~

      http://www.bodminjail.org/
      http://www.chycor.co.uk/tourism/bodmin-jail/bodmin-jail.htm

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    • Product Details

      The last county Jail in Cornwall and closed in 1927.