DISCOVER THE DARK SIDE OF BODMIN THIS HALLOWEEN
PUBLISHED: 15:42 19 October 2015 | UPDATED: 12:57 30 August 2017
Bodmin is best known for its eerie history. Sited on the edge of Cornwall's great moor which boasts its own beast, a world-famous inn where ghosts stalk the corridors and the world famous gaol
Bodmin is often overlooked by our more coastal towns, but it is the only one that boasts five major attractions. Ewen MacDonald heads to the town that was once Cornwall’s capital and the war-time hiding place of the crown jewels...
Bodmin is perhaps best known for its eerie location and history. Sited on the edge of Cornwall’s great moor which boasts its own beast, a world-famous inn where ghosts stalk the corridors and, of course, the world famous gaol which hanged more than 50 people.
Once home to a king of Thailand, you can find out more about him and his family at the delightful Bodmin County Museum, where friendly staff offer a warm welcome, information leaflets and quizzes on their displays which take us through several thousand years of the area’s history from Neolithic finds to the men and women who served in both world wars and a fascinating look at life for Bodmin’s Victorian schoolchildren. Next door is the imposing Shire Hall which houses a unique interactive court – and is the perfect start to your journey through Bodmin’s darker side. In an hour-long session we act as the jury and hear the evidence following the discovery of the body of local girl Charlotte Dymond on the wind-swept slopes of Rough Tor, Bodmin Moor in 1844. But did the accused Matthew Weeks (who was hanged for the crime) actually do it? You decide!
Once you have dealt out justice, Victorian-style head to Bodmin Jail and learn about Cornwall’s more unsavoury former residents. Immerse yourself in the misery of the lives of Cornwall’s poor who found themselves facing everything from hard labour to hours in the stocks for stealing food – as well as the sad stories of more than a century of murder victims and their accused who were hanged at the jail.
There are all kinds of gruesome facts to be discovered – perhaps the most shocking is that hanging used to take up to 25 minutes and required the condemned prisoner’s family and friends to pull on his or her legs to end the agony (hence the term you’re pulling my leg’). But the stories of the people who ended up in the jail – for hard labour on the particularly cruel treadmill or to await a long drop at the end of the rope – are fascinating and well told.
For the brave among you witness Bodmin Jail’s Live Execution. A fascinating talk and demonstration featuring a volunteer from the audience - over 18s only - as the condemned prisoner. Held in the country’s only working Victorian execution shed and working gallows, we witness what people of 1909 couldn’t: the death of the last man to be hanged at the jail – and in Cornwall – William Hampton by the famous Pierrepoint family. The fact that this isn’t a mock-up but was the actual shed that prisoner’s faced in their last few seconds on this earth, adds to the atmosphere and the sense of despair.
Bodmin Jail’s growing exhibition sits across five floors and is constantly undergoing improvement as the owners invest the admission fees in creating a bigger and better display. All that death and despair can work up quite an appetite – so when you’ve fed your imagination head to the Warder’s Room Restaurant for great food. You can also meet some of the tragic characters in ghostly form this Halloween at the jail with their overnight paranormal ghost walk hosted by the jail’s resident medium Mark Rablin. The jail also holds its annual Halloween festival (30 October-1 November) and there are three-course paranormal dining experiences throughout the year. Eat if you dare!
Once sated head into the town centre - watch out for the many cyclists who congregate in the town for the famous 17 mile Camel Trail (cameltrailmap.co.uk) and head to Honey Lane where second hand bookshops, antique dealers and cafes await.
Head out of town to Jamaica Inn - and immerse yourself in the tale of smugglers and the evil ship wreckers who lure ships to rocky coastlines to wreck and plunder them, according to Daphne du Maurier’s famous story. Now under new ownership, the inn has undergone a facelift and makes a fantastic day out feeding the imagination with Cornwall’s darker past and that of the county’s most famous writer in a setting that can’t fail to impress.
Even at the impressive National Trust-owned Lanhydrock nearby, tragedy awaits. It is refurbished as the perfect Victorian family home following a devastating fire in 1881. You’ll step back in time and experience the house as the Agar-Robartes family and their staff would have known it, enjoying the same sights, sounds and smells. Pick a beautiful winter day to visit to enjoy the stunning formal gardens that surround this impressive edifice (Lanhydrock Bodmin PL30 5AD).
Finally, find time to travel back in style on the Bodmin and Wenford Railway and discover the nostalgia of steam travel evocative of a 1950s Steam Branch Line. The First Class Luxury Dining Train offers lunches and dinners. The Cornish Belle Dining coaches are beautifully fitted out with wood panelling, table lamps and curtains, bringing back the style of an age gone by. Dress up and live out your own Agatha Christie fantasy (bodminrailway.co.uk).
Eating and Drinking in Bodmin
The Hole in the Wall
This former Georgian debtors prison is a unique setting to enjoy a drink, with intriguing bits and bobs dotted around and a stuffed lion in the courtyard! Food is also available, along with local ales. Real ale aficionados CAMRA also named it Best Pub in Cornwall earlier this year.
Head to the wild and beautiful Bodmin Moor and the inn made famous by Daphne du Maurier’s book Jamaica Inn, a tale of smugglers, rogue ship wreckers and pirates. it is full of legend, mystery and romance. Food is served all day.
Folly Tea Room
A delightful little tea room at the bottom of Honey Street. Enjoy a cream tea or a traditional pasty.
3 Turf Street, Bodmin
Discover more about Bodmin Jailhere
Discover a great walk across Bodmin Moorhere
More about Jamaica Inn here