Bodmin's New Multi-Million Pound Hotel & Attraction Guarantees The Survival Of The Historic Jail But What Does It Mean For Ghost Hunters?

By Steve Higgins
November 03, 2021 1:00 AM ‐ ParanormalLong Reads
Bodmin Jail Hotel & Attraction, Cornwall
If you keep up with news about British paranormal hotspots, then you can't have failed to have heard that one of the country's most famous haunted landmarks re-opened after a huge renovation project.

The historic Bodmin Jail has been given a £40 million upgrade, a huge project which has seen derelict parts of the three-hundred-year-old jail converted into a new and luxurious boutique hotel.

Bodmin Jail has been a popular location for ghost hunters for the last few decades. Teams and members of the public have become familiar with the resident spooks which haunt the jail's exhibitions and historic rooms, but the recent upgrade included a complete overhaul of the existing exhibits, creating a brand-new, immersive audiovisual attraction.

All this is great news for tourists visiting the new, world-class attraction, but understanding exactly how all this work has altered the building can be hard to fathom if you're familiar with the former attraction and its layout.

To find out exactly what has changed and which parts of the old building are still accessible to ghost hunters, I braved two nights in the new luxury hotel - it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.

The main thing to remember when reading this page is that Bodmin Jail now consists of two distinct parts, the hotel and the new dark walk attraction. I also visited the new attraction to get the full picture of the building.

Also for clarity, this isn't a review of Bodmin Jail's 'After Dark' ghost hunting experience or a review of the new attraction - you can find that here, but rather my observations of the changes to the building and how they impact on the paranormal history of the location.

What's Changed At Bodmin Jail?

Here's a quick overview of the main changes at Bodmin Jail that affect the attraction.

Civil Wing - Ground Floor
This area was formerly the attraction's main exhibition space. It no longer forms part of the attraction and now serves as the hotel's main atrium. Objects are said to fly across this wing as if thrown by unseen hands, also murderous screams have been heard here - now it's the hotel's lobby things seem to have calmed down.

This was the location of the infamous incident during an episode of 'Most Haunted' which involved the show's medium, Derek Acorah, becoming possessed by a fictional spirit named Kreed Kafer. It came to light after the broadcast that the name was invented by the show's producers and was in fact an anagram of the phrase "Derek Faker".

Civil Wing - Basement
The subterranean space below the civil wing used to be part of the attraction where guests could see the jail's original heating system. This area is no longer accessible to the public via the attraction or the hotel.

Naval Wing - Basement
The basement of the naval wing has been inaccessible for decades, it now forms part of the attraction replacing the space lost in the civil wing. These are now the only original cells you can visit as part of the attraction.

Administrative Block - Landings
The old stone landings on the edge of the administrative block where the two main wings meet was one of the most characterful and eerie parts of the old attraction. This area is now a core part of the hotel's infrastructure giving guests access to their hotel rooms, but it is no longer part of the attraction.

Administrative Block - Basement
Most of the lower floor beneath the cocktail bar and the tavern is where you'll find the final four rooms of the dark walk, including the paranormal room. This area was already part of the attraction, however it's now been updated and is a little smaller as part of the basement has now been converted into the hotel's gym.

Hospital Wing
The ruinous hospital wing which sat on the southern side of the courtyard was perhaps the most dilapidated building on the site and the one with the least historic interest. The wing has been closed to visitors for decades and was demolished as part of the jail's upgrade. A new purpose-built structure that houses the bulk of the new attraction sits on this site, as well as spilling over into what was a small carpark on part of the courtyard.
I should start by saying that my two-night stay in Bodmin Jail Hotel did not disappoint. Although pricy, it felt like a real treat and an honour to spend the night in such a historic building, especially since the two hotel wings had been in ruins just a few years previously.

The scale of the restoration project is very impressive and carried out beautifully, the new hotel really is a stunning building inside and out. The renovation of a heritage building to this standard simply wouldn't have been possible without investment as a hotel, and this investment has ensured that Bodmin Jail, which was at risk, will survive for many more years.

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Bodmin Jail Hotel & Attraction, Cornwall

The hotel's 70 guest rooms are housed over four floors in the jail's two wings, what was the civil wing and naval wing. Both of these buildings were open to the elements, the roof long gone and the floors rotted away. Now the two wings have been restored and topped with brand new glass roofs.

The spacious bedrooms consist of three cells knocked together. Now fitted with underfloor heating, a comfy bed and a huge television, the cells are a world away from their original use, but each is still true to its origins and retains much of its history with the original weathered stone walls and ceilings still visible and the small barred prison windows still in place.

The rooms are complete with old cell doors, although not original to Bodmin they have been salvaged and refurbished from Wandsworth Prison and look convincing and fitting.
Bodmin Jail Hotel, Cornwall

The bulk of the hotel sits within parts of the building which weren't previously open to the public, but it does eat into some of the areas that were previously part of the attraction. The former ticket office has been stripped back to the original stone walls and is now a posh cocktail and gin bar. The old chapel above the bar, which until the renovation was a restaurant known as the Governor's Hall, now has state-of-the-art projection mapping on the walls and ceiling and serves as the hotel's Chapel Restaurant and breakfast room.

It's in the chapel that the ghostly figure of a priest has been seen many times and guests have reported feelings of utter depression. Of course this was before the chapel became a calm and welcoming restaurant. The only cause of depression here now is during the chaos of breakfast time.
Bodmin Jail Hotel, Cornwall

The hotel's lobby occupies the civil wing's ground floor, a space which until work began was part of the jail's attraction and its main exhibition space. A false ceiling used to separate the ground floor from the derelict floors above that were open to the elements. Below this floor was a basement, which was also accessible as part of the attraction.

The main vertical core of the jail where the two wings intersect is also now part of the hotel and not accessible on the tours. This area is fairly small but housed the old staircases and landings that allowed visitors to travel between exhibition floors.

The adjoining administrative block which houses the Chapel Restaurant and the Jolly Hangman Tavern also has a basement. This basement area was and still is part of the attraction, but some of it is now occupied by the 'Exercise Yard' - the hotel's gym. A new door has been opened up on the northern wall which loops guests of the attraction back towards the courtyard exit.

Although these areas are no longer accessible to ghost hunters via the attraction, the spaces haven't been lost. They've been cleaned up and restored, the old stone staircases are still in place and can be used by hotel guests, but there's also the option of the new, wider staircase in the civil wing.

The same goes for the ground floor of the civil wing. It hasn't been lost, it's just found a new lease of life as the hotel's lobby, and the Chapel now provides an atmospheric setting for a fine dining experience.

The civil wing's basement however does now seem to have been lost. It's no longer accessible from the attraction and doesn't house any of the public areas of the new hotel.
Bodmin Jail Attraction, Cornwall

That pretty much covers off which areas are no longer part of the attraction, but with an £8.5 million price tag on the newly re-opened attraction, it must have gained something too? Well, yes, but not what you would expect.

There's no denying that the new attraction is impressive, but it's become a little more detached from the history of the former jail as the bulk of it is contained within a completely new building. The exterior of the building is entirely gabion walls, a structure made from steel mesh cages that are filled with rocks - like a sea defence wall. This is presumably so that the new building doesn't fight for attention with the older ones surrounding it.

This new split-level building has been constructed on the site of the old medical wing, a building which has been in a state of disrepair and closed to visitors for some time.

Visitors arriving in the courtyard enter the new attraction building through a new ticket office on the upper floor, before descending into the heart of the attraction. From here guests follow a self-guided dark walk through five different immersive scenes that make the most of impressive audio-visual effects.

Each of the subterranean rooms portray a different part of Cornwall's murky past. The last of these five rooms places you in a court of law, which of course leads us on to the next step in the harsh criminal justice system of this era, Bodmin Jail.

From here the fibreglass walls become the real stone of the original prison walls as you walk from the newly-built exhibit into the basement of the old naval wing. This part of the jail has never been open to the public before and makes up for the loss of the civil wing. The cells have been meticulously restored to the same standard as the hotel above it. The only thing that lets it down is the out-of-place modern ceiling, this is really the only visible part of the restoration that's not in keeping with the building.
Bodmin Jail Attraction, Cornwall

After the old cells you enter the basement of the administrative block and pass through several more rooms which were on the route of the old tour. It's not clear what this area was originally used for, its history has been lost amongst modern exhibits, mostly relating to Cornish mythology, the paranormal and the hauntings of the jail.

From here you exit the building through the new door under the Jolly Hangman Tavern. The attraction ends with a new immersive experience near the original hanging pit, the site where several of the prison's inmates paid the ultimate price for their crimes at the end of a rope. The last hanging at Bodmin Jail was in 1909, this was also the last public hanging in Cornwall.

Upon exiting into the courtyard, you'll find a newly-constructed gift shop, before the renovation the gift shop was situated at one end of the tavern. This allows for a bigger gift shop and a bigger tavern, which now also has a really nice outdoor area with plenty of undercover seating available with heaters.

Conclusion

Bodmin Jail Hotel & Attraction, Cornwall

I really enjoyed my stay in the new hotel, the food in the Chapel Restaurant, and my return to the attraction.

The room was very comfortable, spacious and light, despite the small windows and being contained within three former prison cells. The staff were friendly and welcoming throughout, especially at the Jolly Hangman Tavern where the team went out of their way to make sure customers felt welcome and were happy.

The attraction is now on par with other world-class tourist hotspots like London Dungeon. This trip marked my second visit to the newly reopened attraction and I think I enjoyed it more this time, perhaps because I was over the initial disappointment that so much of the attraction is now in a new building rather than the actual historic jail.

I also did a self-guided tour this time, on my first visit I paid the extra for a 'historic jail and paranormal tour'. This more expensive option doesn't get you into any additional areas of the jail, but you benefit from having a tour guide with you who tells you a little more about the history and hauntings. While this probably appeals to most people, personally I felt it slowed things down and didn't really add much.

It's pretty easy to get a feel for the history of the location as there's plenty of signs and information throughout the attraction. As for the hauntings, the guide only really told us about some of the more recent happenings since the renovation, which I'm sure is of interest to some people, but for me the paranormal is all about ghost stories. I'd have preferred to hear more about the classic hauntings that earned Bodmin Jail the reputation of being one of the most haunted buildings in England.

I didn't do the 'After Dark Experience', which is a six-hour ghost hunting event within the attraction, so I can't comment on that. Although I'm a regular ghost hunter, I'm not sure Bodmin Jail appeals to me as a venue any longer - the attraction is great, but I wished I'd taken the opportunity to investigate there before the works while more of the old jail was accessible from the attraction.

The jail has mostly lost its spooky vibe and dark atmosphere, especially in the hotel and the new attraction building. However, the hotel is stunning and I'd love to go back and stay again at some point. I can't recommend the hotel or the Chapel Restaurant enough, but with a stay costing around £300 a night, this might be a haunted location to save for a special occasion.

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