Behind the Bars of Bodmin Prison

things-to-do-cornwall

Out of the different types of haunted locations out there, there is undeniably something especially spooky about prisons.

Even the concept of prisons is a deeply unsettling one. The idea of being held – powerless to escape – in a dank, dark, filthy cell is a concept that terrifies most, if not all, people. Combine this with the rage, despair and terror that must have been felt within their walls, and the violence, deaths and injustices they must have seen over the centuries, and you have the ultimate recipe for a haunting!

Bodmin Jail, situated in the town of Bodmin, Cornwall, is no exception. In fact, it proudly claims to be one of the most haunted places in England.

Even without its ghostly occupants, Bodmin Jail is a pretty creepy building all on its own.

A huge, imposing mass of crumbling granite, Bodmin Jail looms over the town as a grave warning of the perils of historic wrongdoing. Constructed by prisoners of war back in the 1770’s, this colossal, menacing structure truly must have struck terror in to the hearts of all who saw it.

A milestone in British prison construction, Bodmin jail offered such commodities as segregated floors for male and female prisoners, hot water, a chapel, and individual sleeping cells. During its 150 years of operation, the prison was extended a number of times in an attempt to tackle chronic overcrowding, and was also the site of over 50 gruesome public hangings, the last one taking in place in 1909.

bodmin-jail
Outside the prison

The jail finally closed its doors in 1927, and fast-fowarding to the modern-day, has now been turned in to a historic attraction; unearthing the building’s gory, chilling and ghostly background to the curious public. The museum offers visitors the opportunity to get a taste of prison life back in the 17 and 1800’s, and even, if you are very lucky, catch a glimpse of one of Bodmin Jail’s restless spirits too. Afterall, it’s not called ‘The UK’s Most Haunted Venue’ for nothing.

Over the last few decades the prison has been a hotspot for ghost hunters, lured in by the hair-raising accounts of disembodied voices, ghost sightings and other unexplained occurences. The plethora of investigative teams to visit Bodmin Jail includes the likes of Living TV’s Most Haunted, who filmed an investigation in 2013.  It is notable however that this investigation was the one which arguably outed the shows medium, Derek Acorah, as a fraud, putting its findings under a layer of doubt.

Even so, other investigations have captured unexplained mists, light anomalies and shadow figures on camera, and while not every investigation may be credible, there is undeniably something very spooky going on at Bodmin Jail!

Spread over six floors, the museum recreates the grim and claustrophobic living conditions of its former inmates, residing inside the prison’s gloomy, decaying cells. These individual cells are dedicated to the enthralling tales of Bodmin’s most famous prisoners; who are creepily resurrected in the form of rather ugly plaster mannequins. Which – lets be frank – is pretty nightmarish all on its own!

The tales of this motley bunch range from the tear-jerking to the stomach-churning, and in a couple of cases the plain bizarre!

Typical cases include murderers, arsonists, and thieves. But the more unusual miscreants include teens incarcerated for playing ‘toss the penny’ on a sunday, a witch, and a farmer who was accused of getting a little too, erm, ‘friendly’ with his prize cow.

Even given this weird bunch, the museums most famous – and unsettling – resident has still got to be 28 year old Selina Wedge. An unmarried mother of two, Selina was an impoverished young woman, struggling to survive an existence at the lowest end of the Victorian social spectrum. Selina was hanged in 1878 for murdering her youngest child – a two-year old with physical disabilities – by throwing him down a well.

During her trial she claimed she had committed this horrific act in the understanding that if she killed the toddler, her current lover – a former soldier named John Westwood – would agree to marry her. The man in question adamantly denied that he had ever provided such an ultimatum, and Selina was convicted and sentenced to death – one of only four women to be hung at Bodmin prison.

And she apparently remains here to this very day! Her remorseful, sobbing figure has been witnessed by children on various occasions, who often report her tugging on their clothing or reaching out to them as they pass. It’s also notable that pregnant women often report becoming extremely emotional while visiting the third and fourth floors; believed to be Selina projecting her own emotions of grief and guilt on other mothers-to-be.

The second most notable ghost of Bodmin Jail has to got to be its most bizarre inmate; Anne Jeffries, the aforementioned ‘witch’. Long suspected of being a ‘changeling’ by  locals, she was left to starve following her imprisonment, in a unsuccessful attempt to force a witchcraft confession from her.

However, the puzzling thing is that despite being completely deprived of food, Anne took an astonishing three months to succumb to starvation. During this time she claimed she was having food brough to her by the ‘fairy folk’ she had long been suspected of fraternizing with. In the same fashion as Selina Wedge, she continues to linger long after her death, and is one of the jail’s most frequently witnessed apparitions!

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Anne Jefferies with her fairy friends

But in addition to celebrating its peculiar and spine-chilling side, the museum also holds no punches about revealing the more tragic and shocking side of its history. Namely the heartbreaking interment of children. Some as young as six or seven – many even younger.

Children could find themselves behind the bars of Bodmin Jail for reasons ranging from the cruelly tragic to the disgustingly petty.

The majority of the prison’s youngest children were imprisoned here alongside their mothers, while they awaited the end of their sentence or even execution. There is one incredibly harrowing account of a mother who was dragged to the gallows, her screaming, sobbing children still clutching at her dress.

The future prospects for the children of executed mothers were grim; older children may be eligible to be employed in hard labor, while babies would be sent to the notorious baby farms, where they stood a minimal chance of surviving infancy.

But in addition to those swept up in unfortunate circumstances, there was also a shocking amount of children who were interred in the prison for actual ‘crimes’.The majority were there for crimes like petty theft, begging, harming livestock or vandalism. While in the 21st century such children would be recognised as likely suffering the effects of poverty, neglect, abuse or mental illness, there was no such sympathy or compassion to be found at this time.

The youngest ‘criminal’ on record was just an incredible two years old; the tiny tot being convicted of begging alongside his mother. A truly unbelievable fact, but completely true none the less!

The concept of helpless, terrified children being locked away in this frightening, disease-ridden and violent environment is extremely harrowing, and it’s impossible not to be moved and angered by these appalling acts of historic cruelty.

Moving on to (comparatively) lighter topics, lets not forget the stories of the jail’s more commonplace criminals!

bodmin-jail
Bodmin Jail’s spooky ‘Hall of Fame’!

Examples include 37 year old Sarah Polgreen who was convicted of poisoning her abusive husband, 46 year old quarry manager William Barlett, who strangled his illegitimate daughter to cover up an affair, and brothers William and James Lightfoot, who were both sentenced to death in 1840 for stabbing a man to death. Over 20,000 morbid spectators traveled from near and far to witness their joint hanging – the biggest crowd in the jail’s history!

In addition to the museum’s main building, there is also the opportunity to visit the remains of the prison’s expansive residents wing. Unfortunately the majority of these dilapidated ruins are locked away behind steel gates, but luckily a small section remains where visitors can wander in and soak up its spooky atmosphere!

The residents wing is by far the most atmospheric part of the building. The roof has long since collapsed, exposing the blue sky above – the rib-like wooden planks that jut from the walls the only reminder of where its various floors once stood.

bodmin-jail-ruins
The crumbling ruins of Bodmin Jail’s Residents Wing

It’s an odd experience standing in this looming, empty space; the walls bare and slowly being taken over by greenery, eerily silent except for the rapid beating of wings as pigeons fly overhead. The best way I can think to describe it is like standing inside a skeleton. Whatever life existed inside this hulking shell is long since gone, and the effect is strangely….peaceful.

I didn’t actually manage to witness or photograph anything for myself, but I can certainly imagine how incredibly scary the ruins and museum would be to investigate at night! They do run regular, medium led after dark ghost tours at Bodmin jail, which sound amazing! Not being a local I unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity to join one, but I’m extremely jealous of anyone lucky enough to do so!

Nevertheless, even in the daytime Bodmin Jail is an enthralling and highly spooky attraction, which I would highly recommend! Especially is you have a hankering for the more macabre side of history, or prefer your historic attractions with a side of hauntings!

Visiting Bodmin Jail was my favourite day out while visiting Cornwall, and Bodmin itself is a fantastic town, with lots of other historic spots to peruse and some rather mouth-watering pasty shops to boot!

If you are interested in visiting yourself, or want to find out more about the after dark ghost tours, I have added a link to the museum’s website here, so do take a look!

 

But before I go; is there anyone here who has been lucky enough to try out the after dark ghost tour? Or who maybe even experienced some paranormal activity at Bodmin Jail for themselves?

If so I’d really love to hear your stories, so please do share them in the comments below!

But otherwise, happy travels, and I look forward to joining you again in the next post!

 

Did you enjoy this post? If so you may also enjoy:

Do You Dare Enter Cannock Chase Woods?

Four Spooky and Historic Attractions in Edinburgh You can’t Miss!

10 Things I’ve Learned From Solo Travel

A Glimpse of London’s Roman Past

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