The iconic Bodmin Jail looms over the town of Bodmin as a reminder of a different time, when prisoners were brought to the austere county jail to serve sentences for everything from petty theft and fraud to arson, rape and murder. The county jail might have closed its doors as a penal institution in 1929, but the building with its diverse history and immense heritage remains to tell the story of a very different time in Cornwall.
Bodmin Jail has had many different incarnations since its closure in 1929. Initially opened as a casino, nightclub and attraction with mock executions in 1930, it was a popular destination for revellers and gamblers in the local area. When a section of the roof was removed for repairs, it caused a rapid deterioration of the building and over time the jail’s walls started to crumble, leaving many parts derelict.
Attempts were made to ‘blow’ up the original building in the 30s and 40s to deconstruct it for salvage, but the walls were so thick and well built – over one metre in places – that this proved impossible.
It was not until 2004, when the local Wheten family purchased the old building, that Bodmin Jail had some proper investment. Money was spent on restoring the old walls, turning parts of this historical monument into a tourist attraction telling the story of its many inmates and life on the inside.
In 2015, a businessman was on holiday with his family when he visited the Bodmin Jail attraction on a rainy day. He immediately fell in love with the iconic building and the depths of heritage hidden in the dark corridors and grimy cells. He wanted to help preserve the immense history of the building and tell the stories of the many people who worked and lived within its walls over the centuries. His vision of turning this historical landmark into a world class tourist attraction and hotel is now a reality.
The redevelopment of Bodmin Jail has been five years in the making, with a dedicated team of investors, planners, architects and designers working tirelessly to help preserve this important heritage asset to its former glory. In addition to the £8.5million immersive and state-of-the-art visitor attraction, a four-star boutique 70-bedroom hotel resides within the listed building, retaining many of the original features of the jail.
The journey has not always been an easy one!
- The Grade II listed original jail building was derelict in many places. Parts of the building has not had a roof for over 70 years, and there were many restrictions in place in regard to building regulations.
- The walls of the original jail building were built using limestone mined from Bodmin Moor. The stone walls were so thick in places that there were no drill bits strong enough to drill through the stone!
- Although the framework of the structure was still in place, there was no roof on parts of the building, leaving the floors to decompose over time.
- It was difficult to get hold of the original prison plans, which made it difficult for the architects to figure out the exact layout of the building.
- One of the biggest bat populations in the UK had set up residence in the ruins of the jail, which caused one of the biggest issues for the development team. Bats were actually hibernating inside the plaster of the walls, slowing down any developments to ensure the animals were protected.