History of the Building

1777 - 1778

John Howard, the Prison Reformer, investigates prisons around the country called Houses of Correction. He concludes his findings in a report titled ‘The State of Prisons’. An Act is then granted to build a new prison to reform criminals in Cornwall, the first of its kind.


Cornwall County Gaol (Bodmin Jail) is built by Sir John Call, a military engineer. The builders themselves were French prisoners of war. This new prison gave inmates better conditions such as gender separation and healthcare with a capacity of 67.

1815 - 1840

With the Napoleonic Wars affecting Britain, national crime was on the rise. The prison became overcrowded, and extensions were gradually built to extend capacity.


1850 - 1861

Even with the extensions, Bodmin Jail was declared unfit for purpose in 1850. The original Jail was overhauled completely to create a new 220 cell prison by 1861. During this period a new heating system was installed as well.

1868 – 1872

In 1868 Public Hangings are abolished with the act ‘Capital Punishment Amendments’. Every prison had to build a pit or a shed away from the public eye for execution. Hangings change again in 1872 with William Marwood. An executioner who develops the Long Drop method where the death is instant. You’ll see our original Long Drop hanging pit at the end of our museum!



The official name changes to ‘H.M Prison, Bodmin’ and more changes are made. The women are moved to a different section of the prisons and the HM Royal Navy establishes an overflow section from their Plymouth prison in the ex-women’s wing.


The construction of the Execution Shed is completed and is ready to use. Whilst the construction took place, a few hangings did occur. These were completed on temporary scaffolds in the Courtyard, still away from public view. The pit was rediscovered during renovations of the site in 2005.



The last execution takes place at Bodmin Jail. This is the last time a person was executed in Cornwall, after this time they take place in Exeter instead.

1911 – 1923

The women’s section is closed in 1911. Civilian men follows in 1916. The last inmates in the Jail are they Navy, with that section closing in 1923.



Bodmin Jail was officially decommissioned and closed in 1927. Cornwall no longer had a prison.

Life After Jail


The building was auctioned off to demolition men. They took down several smaller buildings on-site and attempted to blow up the larger wings with dynamite. The reason for this destruction is due to the building materials, these could be sold on for a profit.

1960’s – 1980’s

The Jail had many uses over this period. Fish mongers, car garage, badminton court etc. But it’s most interesting would be the Nightclub.

‘The 99 Club’ was a cabaret venue, casino, and nightclub. Many customers who visit today still have memories of visiting and enjoying nights in this venue.

1990 – 2008

During this period the Jail became a museum and pub. Many events were held here including pro-wrestling matches in the courtyard. Several members of staff working at our museum today remember attending this version of the museum as children and young adults.

2016 – Now

Tudor Hotels saves the Jail from being condemned and demolished, and a new redevelopment plan is put in place.

After a £65 Million investment, a new hotel and attraction was launched in 2021. Now open to more visitors with state-of-the-art technology, the story of the Jail (and it’s inmates) can continue for generations to come!

But this is only the tip of the iceberg that it is Bodmin Jail. If you wish to learn even more, we recommend our Guided Heritage Tours. Our award-winning Heritage Guides will take you on a journey through the prison to learn about our history in a fun and engaging way.

Guided Heritage Tours

With thanks to The Frank Stone Collection, Bodmin Town Museum, Dudley Prout Collection and The Johnson Collection.