Inside Bodmin Jail’s new £8.5m attraction ahead of its opening

Bodmin Jail is finally about to unveil its new £8.5m attraction after years of planning and works.

Cornwall’s historic jail is reopening tomorrow (Thursday, October 1) with its much-expected Dark Walk experience, which is the biggest attraction opening in 2020 in the South West

A boutique hotel on the site is also planned to open in February.

From October 1, the Dark Walk will treat visitors to an immersive and interactive discovery of Cornwall’s most haunting histories using state-of-the-art technology and the latest theatrical effects including holography.

This afternoon Cornwall Live visited the Dark Walk as well as the Naval wing and the administration block which will be open to the public for the first time.

Previously described as “not as good as it could be” by some Tripadvisor users, Bodmin Jail now has one of the most exciting attractions Cornwall has to offer.

While we cannot show you what the Dark Walk looks like, we can confirm that it is spectacular.

The tour starts with a walk through a recreated mine, where visitors are transported back to the time when Cornish miners and smugglers were risking their lives daily.

(Image: Greg Martin / Cornwall Live)

Each room has been designed to look like Bodmin Moor, the treacherous coast, a Cornish village and even an old courtroom where visitors attend the trials of criminals who were actually hanged at the jail.

Ghostly voices from Cornwall’s murky past appear including wardens, highway robbers and a baby killer.

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The cinematic visual experience also tells the stories of the Beast of Bodmin, criminals hiding on Bodmin Moor and even wreckers.

Following the Dark Walk, visitors enter the Naval Wing and discover the grimy cells where criminals were held captive in the 18th and 19th centuries.

(Image: Greg Martin / Cornwall Live)

There they discover the stories of young mothers hanged for murdering their own babies, arsonists and even child criminals.

Next is the administration block which gives an insight into the background of the people who served, worked and lived at Bodmin Jail and even the diet given to prisoners.

Visitors can also discover the UK’s only working execution pit, where at least 55 prisoners lost their lives in front of large crowds of up to 25,000 people.

“Executions were a public spectacle,” Jess Marlton, one of the heritage guides at the jail said.

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“Records show that up to 20 or 25,000 people would come to watch a public hanging at Bodmin Jail. In London at the time it would have been about 40,000 people having a look. That’s the entertainment people were after in those days. It was all about making people learn to behave. It was a social event.”

The last hanging took place in 1909.

Jess added: “The jail could accommodate 200 people at once. But that was its downfall. It was too big and by 1900 there was a prison in Exeter and another one in Plymouth. And that’s why it ended up being sold.”

It was no longer in use by 1927 when the Navy was its last occupant and by 1929 it had been sold to a private investor who even tried to blow it up to be rid of it.

“It was a garage,” Jess continued. “It was a notorious special nightclub known as the 99 Club where ladies would entertain gentlemen.

“And now it’s been sympathetically brought back to life. It’s home to rare bats and as it’s their home, great efforts have been made to protect them.”

(Image: Greg Martin / Cornwall Live)

General manager Martin Lyall said it has been hugely exciting to have finally have reached this point.

“It’s been wonderful,” he added. “We have had two weeks of soft opening and the feedback has been great”.

(Image: Greg Martin / Cornwall Live)

Mr Lyall said ticket bookings have been strong, despite the social distancing restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, and already the October half term is nearly full up with Halloween being sold out.

“We’re not the most haunted building in the UK for nothing,” he said. “In fact, we’re probably even more haunted as we invariably disturbed a few things during the construction phase.”

Cornwall Live