Bodmin #Jail

If you find yourself wondering what to do on a wet day in Cornwall, I recommend a visit to Bodmin Jail.  As long as you are not of a nervous disposition and don't mind going down and up several flights of stairs, you will have an entertaining time.

Bodmin Jail (formerly Gaol) was designed in 1778 by Sir John Call, a retired mining engineer on the basis of plans made by prison reformer, John Howard.  It was to be light and airy with individual cells, running water in the courtyards and boilers for hot water.  There were separate areas for felons (serious offenders), debtors and minor offenders (including young boys).  Women prisoners were segregated from the men.  As in workhouses there was an oven to bake clothing, killing vermin.  A chapel and infirmary were also provided.

The prison had to be expanded after the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, due to the many unemployed soldiers returning home to no work and no money.  Originally there had been one Gaoler and two Turnkeys with their families on the site but after 1815 the staff gradually increased to 15 plus the Surgeon and Chaplain in the town.  By 1839 there were at least 4 female staff members.

In the early 20th century first the female section of the prison closed and then the Naval Prison, which had been established in Bodmin in the 1880s.  The gaol was formally closed in 1927 and the buildings sold.  Shortly after the sale some roofing was removed and parts of the old quarters demolished.

Since the second world war the Administration Block, including the Chapel, have been used as a Night Club, Casino, Bar and Restaurant.  Many people now choose the Jail as a venue for their wedding reception including interesting settings for photographs!

Exploring the 6 floors of cells I was especially intrigued by the boards describing some of the inmates, such as unmarried girls who drowned their babies. 

There were many Executions held just outside the jail and these soon became a welcome entertainment for the local townspeople.

I wonder if the victim, James Hoskin, descended from John Hoskin, above who had been executed 25 years earlier.

Some of the boards are about events in the town such as Wife Selling or penalties which did not involve imprisonment as below.

For more information 


  1. Wife selling! Really? I wonder what the purpose of the halter was—perhaps to establish her position as livestock that could be bought/sold? Wouldn't the Church have had something to say about this?

  2. It's not the first case of wife selling I've heard of. Women weren't allowed to own anything in their own right after marriage (until widowed) so I suppose they were also owned by their husband. I imagine the church would not approve but obviously the law turned a blind eye.

  3. According to Wikipedia: The English custom of wife selling largely began in the late 17th century when divorce was a practical impossibility for all but the very wealthy. In the ritualized form, after parading his wife with a halter around her neck, arm, or waist, a husband would publicly auction her to the highest bidder. Although the custom had no basis in law and frequently resulted in prosecution, particularly from the mid-19th century onwards, the attitude of the authorities was equivocal. At least one early 19th-century magistrate is on record as stating that he did not believe he had the right to prevent wife sales, and there were cases of local Poor Law Commissioners forcing husbands to sell their wives, rather than having to maintain the family in workhouses. The English custom of wife selling spread to Wales, Scotland, Australia and the United States before dying out in the early 20th century.

  4. People say those were cruel times and we have advanced. Given what is currently going on in this country, I'm not so sure....