You'll Soon Be Able to Stay in This Former Jail in Cornwall

The new look for Bodmin Jail
The new look for Bodmin Jail | © Twelve Architects

Architecture & Design Editor

While the 18th-century Bodmin Jail in Cornwall has long been a popular tourist attraction, a multimillion-pound project will see its ruins transformed into a 63-bedroom boutique hotel and the museum gain a state-of-the-art immersive visitor experience.

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Bodmin Jail, a Grade-II listed building, was originally built by British engineer John Call in 1779 and, despite now functioning as a museum, much of the structure has been left derelict until very recently.
London-based architecture firm Twelve Architects has begun work on two former cell blocks, installing a brand new hotel run by Interstate Europe Hotels & Resorts, which will sit above an extension of the existing museum.

An aerial view of the Grade-II listed jail

Don’t worry, the new hotel will not be a gimmicky jailhouse-style experience, and you won’t be locked up in a single cell. Each of the 63 en-suite bedrooms are stylishly designed using material finishes inspired by the weathered Cornish stone of the original building. And they’re far from basic. Each room will will be made up of three knocked-through prison cells, featuring all the creature comforts you’d expect to find in a boutique hotel.

Proposal for the new guest suites

However, if you are looking for more of an immersive experience, then you’ll find it in the ‘Dark Walk’ attraction, held within a brand-new 1,200-square-metre building. The space will include a series of themed rooms, projections and films that will give visitors a glimpse into what prison life was like in Bodmin Jail during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Interestingly, and perhaps more disturbingly, the Bodmin Jail is the only UK prison with a working execution pit, which was discovered during renovation works back in 2005. The jail saw 50 public hangings over its 150-year working life before it closed in 1927, and the original noose will still be on display in a new exhibition.

One of the existing derelict atriums

It’s not just guests who will be able to enjoy new accommodation in the jail. A ‘bat bungalow’ will be created for the nine species of bat that were discovered to be living in the derelict ruins of the jail before the building project began.
This proved to be a real challenge for Twelve Architects, as each time they found a bat, they had to leave the restoration work until the animal had finished hibernating, causing huge delays. However, the team has worked closely with local experts to ensure that the bats are left undisturbed until they can be moved into their new home.

An impression of the new entrance lobby

Bats haven’t been the only challenge Twelve Architects has come across, either. It was very difficult to work with the building’s existing structure, as the metre-thick prison walls limited any attempts at changing the layout. In fact, after the jail closed in 1927, attempts to blow it up were unsuccessful due to the structure’s thickness.

Where areas of the building are partially demolished, Twelve Architects have decided to replace the missing walls with rendered brick instead of traditional stone, as the firm wanted to deliberately contrast between the old and the new within Bodmin. A new external lift and core will be clad in distinctive charred timber, adding another aspect to the building’s facade while also improving the functionality of the listed building.

The proposed hotel lobby

Twelve Architects’ founding director Matt Cartwright said of the project: “It’s fantastic to see work starting on site at Bodmin Jail. It is an important project for Bodmin and for Cornwall more widely, bringing an historic asset back into greater use and adding a new dimension to the visitor attractions in the area, as well as providing a valuable educational resource.”
In addition to the museum and hotel, the existing Governor’s Hall will be refurbished and upgraded to provide a restaurant and venue for private hire. Once the work is complete in 2019, the new and improved Bodmin Jail should provide a big boost to Cornwall’s economy.

Looking for more attractions in Cornwall? Here are the most beautiful towns to visit on your trip. Plus, find out what you can see and do while you’re there.

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