Cornwall

Bodmin Jail

Operating between 1779 and 1927, Bodmin Jail embodies the more macabre side of Cornwall’s past. Built by prisoners of war and notorious for its grim hangings, its dark secrets are revealed within the fascinating public museum and preserved execution pit that stand amongst its tumbledown remains today.

Infamous throughout the country, Bodmin Jail was the first prison in England to hold inmates in individual cells, and also protected the Domesday Book and the Crown Jewels during the First World War. Originally taking in all prisoners indiscriminately, it eventually was taken over by the Admiralty in 1870. Amongst its notable inmates, the jail briefly housed Frank Digby Hardy (aka John Henry Gooding), an English naval writer, soldier, career criminal and would-be spy during the Irish War of Independence.

Although Hardy was one of the lucky men who managed to leave the confines of his cell walls unscathed, its Bodmin Jail’s more sinister history that intrigues visitors today. Home of the only working execution pit in the UK (uncovered during renovation works in 2005), Bodmin Jail was where the fatal ‘long drop’ was pioneered by William Marwood in the 1860s, a technique that was subsequently used to condemn many an ill-fated man.

As well as convicted men, the prison was also responsible for the death of many women too. In fact, between 1868 and 1899, four women were hung for murdering their own children. These included Selina Wadge, who murdered her infant son under the guise of coercion; Mary Ann Cotton, a serial poisoner who murdered as many as ten of her children to obtain insurance money; Elizabeth Berry, who also poisoned her daughter for insurance; and Louisa Masset, who murdered her son for encumbering her relationship.

Which such dark characters weaved into its history and with the last of its 150 hangings carried out little over 100 years ago, its hardly surprising Bodmin Jail has such an eerie atmosphere. Teeming with ghost stories and strange stales, it is definitely a must-visit for history-lovers and paranormal-seekers. Check out their intriguing exhibitions, super events held throughout the year and brand-new attraction, open in May 2020.

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Bodmin Jail, Berrycoombe Road, Bodmin PL31 2NR | 01208 76 292 | http://www.bodminjail.org/

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