The People of Bodmin Jail

1777 – John Howard

Prison Reformer, John Howard, travelled across England and Wales to investigate prisons called Houses of Correction. He concluded his findings in a report titled ‘The State of Prisons’. He draws up plans for new prisons that are designed to look after criminals to reform them, teaching them what they did was wrong.

1779 – Sir John Call

Sir John Call, a military engineer, and High Chief of Cornwall, decided that the county needed a new Gaol of John Howards design and builds the first one in Bodmin. There is a monument dedicated to him today in London where he spent the last few years of his life.

1813 – Elizabeth Osborne

On the 28th of May 1813, Elizabeth Osborne took revenge on her former employer for discharging her. She set fire to a mow of his corn and showing no remorse for her crime. She was sent to the gallows on the 6th of September 1813 at just 20 years of age.

1813 – Joan Wytte

Joan Wytte, the Fighting Fairy Woman of Bodmin, was a local witch incarcerated in Bodmin Jail for brawling. After her death in 1813 inside the jail from pneumonia, her bones were used in seances during the Victorian era, then displayed in a glass coffin in the Museum of Witchcraft until she was finally laid to rest in Boscastle. You can still visit her gravestone today, we recommend leaving her a little gift if you do!

1820 – Sarah Polgrean

Sarah murdered her husband Henry Polgrean with arsenic to escape a marriage of physical violence and abuse. At the time she said she had bought the poison to kill rats. She had a public execution by hanging on the 12th of August 1820, narrowing missing being burnt at the stake by just 30 years.

1840 – James & William Lightfoots

Turning to highway robbery for a chance of earning more money, the pair of brothers murdered Nevell Norway from Wadebridge. Both were found guilty of the crime (after trying to blame each other) and sent to Bodmin Jail for a double public execution, a rare occurrence, which drew a large crowd from as far as London. Their hanging took place on the 13th of April 1840.

1844 – Matthew Weeks

One of Cornwall’s most famous crimes, Matthew Weeks allegedly murdered Charlotte Dymond in 1844. At the time everyone believed it had been Matthew, a monument to Charlotte with the words ‘Murdered her by Matthew Weeks’ inscribed on it was erected before his trial. In the years since, there has been speculation if it truly was him and now their story is a ‘Who done it?’ that still causes discussion today. Matthew was executed for the crime in 1844 to one of the biggest public crowds at Bodmin Jail on record.

1862 – John Doidge

John had a rough start to life, neglected by his parents and left to a life of crime. He spent 9 months is Bodmin Jail for burglary in 1849, just one of his stints inside the prison, but later met his final end for a different crime. Following a pub brawl in 1862, John murdered Roger Drewe. John has the dubious honour of being the last person publicly hanged outside Bodmin Jail with a Short Drop hanging.

1872 – William Marwood

Public Hangings were stopped in 1868 with the ‘Capital Punishment Amendments Act’. William Marwood, an executioner, develops the Long Drop method for the new private hangings. This method killed the condemned instantly, making it a more humane death than the strangulation people faced beforehand.

1878 – Selina Wadge

Selina murdered her youngest son by dropping him down a unused well outside Launceston. She was unmarried and in the Victorian era, being an unmarried mother meant you were the lowest of the low. James Westwood, a solider, had allegedly promised to marry her if she got rid of her youngest child who was disabled. She is the last female hanged at Bodmin Jail and the first to receive the Long Drop mentioned above, executed by William Marwood himself at a goods-in-goods-out door. Her ghost is still seen in the prison to this day.

1909 – The Last Man Hanged – William Hampton

The Murder of Emily Tredrea shook the county of Cornwall. William Hampton, her ‘boyfriend’ came forward to claim it was him. There is still speculation to this day whether it truly was him. Before his execution, a petition was signed by over 3,000 signatures to alter his sentence, but it was denied. William was lead to the gallows on 20th July 1909 at 8am and is the last person to be executed in the County of Cornwall.

The Last Governor – Henry Leonard Browett

Born in 1858 in Coventry. At the current time not much else is know about Mr Browett but our Heritage Team are currently researching into his life.

The Last Chaplain – Rev. Thomas Austin

Born 1854 in North Devon, Thoams was ordained in 1880. He served in the Navy on 7 different H.M. ships before coming to work at Bodmin Jail between 1907 to 1922. Not only did his work cover religious aspects, but he also worked hard on increasing education in the prison. He died at 79 years old in 1934.

The Last Chief Warder – Richard Amos Doidge

Born 1859 in Saltash from a farming background, he began his work at Bodmin Jail at 29 years old. He married on 11th March 1905 and had several children during his service. Richard moved to St Austell after the Jail's closure and died in 1945 at 86 years old.

Present Day

Today, Bodmin Jail Attraction has a dedicated team of people all passionate about the history of this building and the persons held inside it. From Personnel to Paranormal, Gift shop to Guides and everything in between, everyone is committed to showing off this incredible piece of Cornish History.

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.

Book a Heritage Guided Tour