Take the kids to … Bodmin Jail, Cornwall

An imposing 18th-century prison brings to life an era of harsh punishments – fun for all the family, if your children like grisly tales and ghost stories

In a nutshell

A former jail on the edge of the town, built in 1779 by prisoners of war. Inside the gloomy and imposing granite building there are six floors of chilly cells, life-size models of inmates, and grim tales of crimes and punishment. Thanks to its grisly past, it claims to be one of the most haunted attractions in the UK, with a resident medium and a cast of ghosts. In short, it’s the perfect attraction if you want to scare your children with some real-life horror stories. The jail is in the midst of a £30m development that will add a 63-bedroom hotel within the two original prison wings, and a new £8.5m attraction and education centre.

Fun fact

As a jail famous for its long-drop execution pit and replete with nasty detail, it’s low on fun facts. But one of the more innocent information boards describes the 43rd rule, which stated that “all prisoners, except debtors, should have a tepid bath once in every three months”.

Bodmin Jail’s After Dark experience, Cornwall
Realistic models bring the past to life. Photograph: Bernie Pettersen

Best thing about it

Depends how much you love gory details and sad stories. It gives a real insight into the squalid conditions and cruelty that prisoners, including children, faced – sometimes for minor misdemeanours like stealing honey.

What about lunch?

The usual suspects of jacket potato (£4.95), soup (£4.25) and sandwiches (from £4) are served in the Tea Room in the gift shop, which also serves “breakfast in jail” – with porridge (of course!) for £1.90, bacon or sausage baps (from £2.50) or a full-fry-up (£6.95). The Governor’s Hall is a full-service restaurant with a menu of classic British fare: slow-cooked mutton with an ox-cheek pie and celeriac puree (£10.50); jail-ale beer-battered fish and chips (£9.95); or vegetarian dishes such as butternut squash risotto (£8.95).

Bodmin Jail, Cornwall
Children under 10 should enjoy some aspects of the attraction, if not all of it. Photograph: Isabel Choat

Exit through the gift shop?

Yes, with a chance to pick up some pilchards or other Cornish delicacies: clotted cream fudge, sea salt, plus T-shirts in convict stripes, and “I braved Bodmin Jail” hoodies and tea towels.

Getting there

Parking is available in the town centre. The jail is a 20-minute walk from Bodmin General station, which is on the Bodmin and Wenford heritage steam railway (you can combine the two attractions in one day). You will need a taxi if you travel from the mainline station, Bodmin Parkway (four miles away), where trains arrive from Penzance, Plymouth and Paddington.

The Governor’s Hall, Bodmin Jail, Cornwall
The Governor’s Hall. Photograph: PR

Opening hours

9.30am-6pm. Restaurant noon-9pm.

Value for money

We rushed through the jail because my son (eight) and niece (seven) were a bit too young for it but it’s good value if you can take your time. Adult (16+) £10, over 65 £8.50, 5-15 years £7.50, family (two adults/two children) £32. After Dark tours (8.45pm-5am) cost £80 and include a three-course meal. Other events include scary film screenings and historical tours. It’s not wheelchair or pushchair-friendly.

Guests on an After Dark tour.
Guests on an After Dark tour. Photograph: Bernie Pettersen

Verdict

7/10. It’s open to children of all ages and younger children will enjoy the ghost stories and discovering what prisoners ate (bread, gruel and sometimes scouse, a mutton stew), but in my opinion it’s better suited to older kids. We whisked the children past the more gruesome tales to avoid having to explain more serious crimes.

bodminjail.org

Contributor

Isabel Choat

The GuardianTramp

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