If you are looking to uncover the good, the bad and even the downright ugly bits of Cornwall’s history, then a trip to Bodmin Jail is a must. Opened in 1779, its tall grey frame has been a brooding presence on the town’s landscape for centuries, guarding a number of dark secrets within its walls.
Originally constructed to include three penal institutions, Bodmin Jail was initially home to a county jail, a debtor’s prison and a house of correction. Built to be light and airy (and therefore healthier for its inmates), it kept male and female prisoners segregated and was also the first prison in England to house inmates in individual cells. As well as benefitting from hot water, prisoners also had access to a chapel, an infirmary and paid work.
Yet despite these relative luxuries, its Bodmin Jail’s more gruesome past that intrigues its visitors today. Infamous across the country, the jail is home to the UK’s only working execution pit and was also the birthplace of the fatal long drop, developed by notorious British hangman, William Marwood. The end of the road for dozens of inmates, 60 executions took place in Bodmin between 1735 and 1909.
Of those condemned to death, eight of the 60 executed were actually women. Between 1868 and 1899 alone, four women were hung for murdering their own children, including Selina Wadge who murdered her infant son in order to supposedly win the support of her boyfriend. As well as Selina, there was also Mary Ann Cotton, a serial poisoner who murdered ten of her children for insurance money, Elizabeth Berry, who poisoned her daughter for insurance, and Louisa Masset, who killed her son for getting in the way of her relationship.
Having harboured such dark characters betwixt its walls and with the last of its hangings carried out little more than 100 years ago, it’s hardly surprising that Bodmin Jail has such a strange atmosphere. A magnet for paranormal activity seekers and awash with tales, it is a must-visit for history-lovers and thrill-seekers. Check out their website for opening times, ready to plan your day out before returning to your luxury cottage in Padstow to put your feet up and relax – far from the hangman’s noose!