Those of you who have visited Bodmin recently will have noticed the tall, yellow crane and scaffolding surrounding the town’s most historic and iconic building.
Cornwall’s former county jail which originally opened in 1779, is currently in the middle of the largest private leisure development in the South West since the Eden Project; a £40 million investment that will result in a world class visitor attraction and 70-bedroom boutique hotel, both scheduled to open in 2020.
Behind the scaffolding, the Bodmin Jail team is busy getting the new attraction ready for the opening launch, led by general manager, Martin Lyall. Martin was appointed in December 2016 to help steer the business through the development, and he’s really had his hands full!
‘What I like most is being instrumental in managing the transformation of such an iconic building from start to finish,” Martin says when asked about what he loves about his job. “I work with an amazing group of people who are truly passionate about what they do, and this dedication is going to be very obvious once we open the new attraction.’
Bodmin Jail is steeped in history and heritage, with a whole host of stories, legends and paranormal activities to keep visitors entertained. "Let’s just say there is definitely an atmosphere and a presence" Martin says about the haunted reputation of the Jail. Any favourite prisoner stories? "I love the chap who kept committing a petty crime each year, just before Christmas, so he could get a half decent meal and a warm bed for Christmas" he laughs.
The building works have not been without challenges, and Martin and the team have had to steer through some interesting situations over the last few years. "The biggest challenge we faced was probably the bats" Martin states. "Bodmin Jail is home to over seven species of bats, including two species of the very rare Horseshoe Bat. As part of the development we have worked very closely with ecologists to ensure we protect the bats and their habitat – we even built a bat bungalow to ensure they have somewhere to roost!"
Martin, who grew up with a father in the RAF, moved to Cornwall in 2016 with his wife, who’s from the South West. "I love the beaches, the walks and the culture of Cornwall" he says. "The heritage and the history are what attracted me to Bodmin Jail in the first place – the chance to deliver an experience like no other by restoring the ruins of this captivating monument so that new generations can experience and understand its importance. We want to give people the opportunity to really feel, hear and taste what it was like to be a prisoner in 18th century Cornwall!"
"The new year has seen some real developments in the building project,’ he continues. ‘We have finally got a roof on the jail for the first time in a century! What a milestone."