Picturesque on the outside and appalling inside. Just what I expected of a historical prison. Warden, Old Martin, takes pleasure in the telling of Bodmin Jail’s grim past. Thieves, murderers, and ghosts of poor souls who suffered within the walls.

I’m not sure what I imagined, but I was more than impressed by the renovated attraction, originally built in 1779 to detain convicts.

From the start, anticipation intensifies with the sound of prisoners hammering rocks, their chains rattling, and a ticking clock counting down to the tour’s commencement into the darkest depths. I don’t want to give too much away and spoil the surprise, but uncertain of what was going to happen, I clutched Mr Word Loft’s arm as we descended the stairs into a cavernous space.

The beguiling story began. I stared in awe at dramatic scenes of moorland and coastline before moving on and learning about the crimes and fates of those criminals shown in the village and courtroom.

“Away to the cells!” the judge declared.

Each is set out with stylised representations of the occupants, and their story is revealed on notices by the door. Recordings of pitiful voices and weeping bring their tragic circumstances to the fore. Some, including starving children, were incarcerated for stealing small amounts of food – a woeful thought.

I’ve always been fascinated with words, so it was interesting to see a life-sized model of a doctor treating a patient in one cell. His macabre outfit includes a beaked mask, containing perfume to hide smells, and herbs to offer protection from disease. Of course, the latter was ineffective, but this strange headwear is where ‘quack’, the slang for doctor derives.

The punishment room is bleak, the treadmills and machines designed to tire and degrade. However, in the late 18th century, the situation changed. Prisons were no longer places of punishment, but for confinement only. Convicts were employed to bolster jails’ incomes with tasks such as shoemaking, stone cutting, spinning and weaving.

Further on, the temperature plummets in the spookiest area of the jail; I pulled my jacket around me. A sign boasts that it’s the most haunted building in England. No wonder it’s been the location for a paranormal investigation TV programme, with tours and events regularly held there.

I gave the gallows and execution chamber a miss, Mr Word Loft didn’t. He is braver than me. I waited outside in the sunshine, eyeing up the Courtyard Restaurant until he appeared again.

“Shall we come back another day?” He asked as we sat inside the warmly decorated surroundings.

“Let’s do,” I replied, and ordered a cup of frothy-topped hot chocolate.

Until next time,
Sue. X