An 8.5-million revamp of Cornwall’s historic Georgian jail opens today.

Like most of Cornwall’s post-industrial inland towns, Bodmin doesn’t have a lot to offer the visitor, but the superbly creepy Bodmin Jail is one good reason to check it out. The new Bodmin Jail visitor attraction opens today [1 October]; the forecast is for rain, though I have to say, a bit of wet, gloomy weather might actually enhance the experience: a chilling journey into the guts of the British penal system between 1779 until the jail closed in 1927. 

When I visited back in 2008, the jail was dank, over-grown, partly derelict and furnished with mannequin-style dummies that looked like they’d been knocked up by a gang of kids for a Guy Fawkes party; and although the air of neglect added to the atmosphere, it seemed a depressingly low-rent presentation of a genuinely fascinating place. The prison itself is impressive (built during the reign of George III from solid hunks of granite brought from Bodmin Moor’s Cuckoo Quarry) and it’s hard to think of any other Cornish building so drenched in dark and, indeed, horrible history.  Home to the country’s only working execution pit and witness to over 55 hangings, these walls are haunted by wretched lives and terrible injustices as well as heinous crimes. 

Fast forward to 2020, and the prison has been treated to an £8.5 million redevelopment creating an immersive experience with theatrical effects, courtroom scenes, a ‘Dark Walk’, a chance to get into the cells and an ‘After Dark’ experience, among other prison-themed delights. I’ve yet to see the new-look prison (I’m thinking Halloween is a good time to go) but I must admit I rather hope that the smell of dispiriting decay – my lasting memory of the place – has survived the revamp and that the building’s historical authenticity hasn’t been eclipsed by theme-park theatricals. We’ll see.

Bodmin Jail reopens with reduced capacity to aid social distancing. Tickets from £15 per person. For more info visit www.bodminjail.org

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