Contemporary casual

Bodmin Jail Hotel: Cornwall’s Oldest And Newest Hotel Takes You To The Heart Of Dark


The previous guests at Cornwall’s newest hotel opening, didn’t check-in out of choice but, rather, under duress. How times have changed. Bodmin Jail Hotel – as the name suggests – is carved out of  the region’s most notorious prison, and dates back to 1779, with modern-day visitors now willingly being shown to their ‘quarters’.

These quarters have been given a makeover, thanks to Timur Goryaev, a Russian investor based in the UK, and it has taken five years and £71 million for the intricate renovation to take place. The architects – London-based Twelve Architects & Masterplanners – faced a series of construction ‘conundrums’ in order to convert what was once a forbidding building into a warm and welcoming one. What’s more, since the prison had been closed since 1929, it had been thoroughly neglected and was largely in ruins. Metre-thick walls had to be cut through in order to convert the cells into proper rooms, ivy had grown into every part of the walls, and resident bats had to re-homed due to their protected status.

Part of the renovation saw the two previous wings – the Civil and the Naval (the latter for those who had been convicted of crimes at sea) – and which housed 220 cells – now joined to create a seamless L-shape structure. Other major works included the entrance to the hotel – the heart of the old Victorian prison – which is now drenched in light thanks to a huge, glazed roof, which has created an appealing atrium effect. 

As a preserved Grade II-listed building, the cells may have been given a swish makeover, but the heritage of the building is very much in place. The four floors now have modern walkways, but you can’t avoid the fact that this was once unmistakably a prison. But that’s the point. So-called ‘Dark Tourism’ is big business, with many interested in the past lives of those that lived and died in historic buildings.

As a result, you’ll find that the unfinished Cornish-stone walls have been sandblasted to a creamy hue, but they remain bare. You enter your room via the original cell door, and find the old bars at the window (thankfully glass has now been added), and the basic corridor structure of the architecture has remained. 

The interior design, however, is thoughtfully considered and sophisticated. Each of the 70 rooms have been fashioned out of three cells (ask for the corner rooms as you’ll get more space). Contemporary spotlights highlight the rough-hewn aspect of the raw walls, while beds have smart forest-green leather headboards and crisp white linens. In-built black wardrobes and furniture are fairly masculine, but the whole look is softened with taupe linen curtains, emerald-velvet chairs and creamy-white bathrooms, complete with freestanding tubs and Noble Isle toiletries. There’s soft carpet underfoot, top-end finishing with lots of sleek surfaces giving a luxe feel.

Carved out of the old Governor’s Office, the Chapel Bar is a cosy place to start an evening – with velvet chairs and burnished metal details, and a specialist gin menu to tempt you (there are over 100 varieties).

The Gothic chapel is now the site of the two-rosette-awarded Chapel Restaurant. The lofty space plays on the dark history of the building, with black-studded booths and deep purple walls. The restaurant also features a glowing light show and evocative music – installed at a cost of £900,000 – to create an immersive atmosphere as you eat.

The menu lightens the mood with its wide choice of locally-inspired dishes that have seasonal produce at their core. It’s pleasingly inventive with starters including a Cornish Mackerel with Green Apple and Wasabi or Cornish New Potatoes with a Poached Hen’s Egg and Truffle Mayonnaise. Mains include Roasted Turbot with Brown Shrimp or Saffron Crushed Potatoes and Grilled Asparagus Tart with Ricotta and Roasted Shallots. Desserts, meanwhile, are also innovative with the Aerated Dark Chocolate, Pistachio Cake and Raspberry being a stand-out. For something more casual, the Jolly Hangman Tavern offers fresh pasta, stone-baked pizzas and ‘incarcerated’ burgers and is a great pitstop if you are staying with kids or don’t feel like a formal dining experience.

In most of the rooms, a small plaque will tell you a little bit about a former inmate. Josiah Edwards – a 16-year-old – spent some time in Room 2, for instance – before he was sentenced to 14 years transportation to Australia for the stealing of three chickens. His defence? They were to feed his hungry family (an argument that the judge did not accept).

For those interested in more of a deep-dive into the history of the jail, you can ask for a tour of the building, with Stuart, the hotel’s in-house history buff, revealing more of its grisly past. The entrance to the hotel, for instance, was where the prison hangings once took place (the last one happened here in 1909) – a frightful fact made worse by the idea that many people used to flock here to watch these punishments take place. 

Next door to the hotel is the Bodmin Jail Attraction – a separately-run business but one which has also had a recent £8.5m investment – and which further brings the history of the jail to life. Featuring a Dark Walk experience with state-of-the-art special effects, it offers an immersive look at what life was like within the walls of the 18th-century prison. Included is a recreation of a cell block with details of inmates’ lives – how they were treated, what they ate and how they lived.

With the hotel’s location smack bang in the middle of the Cornish peninsula and with Bodmin Moor on the doorstep, there’s much to explore. It is also found on the edge of the Camel Trail, a 18-mile foot and cycle path created from a disused railway line, that links Bodmin Moor, Wadebridge and Padstow – and takes you along the Camel Estuary, looking out towards Rock and Daymer Bay. The hotel is also in a great position for guests to be able to explore both Cornwall’s coastlines – Padstow is a 30 minute drive west, while Mevagissey – another pretty harbour town – is a similar distance south.

Back at the hotel, you can have your morning exercise in the state-of-the-art gym, carved out of the former indoor exercise yard, before you start the day with the ‘Jailhouse Stack’ (pancakes with crispy bacon) or the inevitable ‘Doing Porridge’ (thankfully, it’s a spruced-up version, made with cream and fruit compote).

Meanwhile, there are plans afoot to continue the development of the hotel, with talk of creating a spa and a gin distillery, so that the hotel becomes more of a destination in its own right. First, however, attention is being turned to the two remaining ‘Condemned Cells’ found close to the lobby, which will be turned into a wine cellar, with guests…



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