The History of Bodmin Jail
When Bodmin Jail was build in 1779, it was one of a kind. Based on the ideas of prison reformer John Howard, it was a huge step forward for prisons in Britain. There were three institutions, a Debtor's Prison, a County Jail for serious offenders and a House of Correction for minor offenders. The buildings were light and airy, there was hot water, a chapel, and an infirmary for the sick, making for a much healthier environment. Products that the prisoners made were sold by the governor, and the prisoners received a wage for this.
When the Napoleonic War of 1815 ended, the was a national crime wave, and the prison saw a surge in occupants. In 1920, all cells were full, housing multiple occupants. Changes in the law resulted in over twenty different classes of prisoners, all of whom had to be housed separately. In 1850, a new 220 cell jail was built, but this was much larger than necessary for Cornwall. The Royal Navy took over part of the prison and in 1887 H.M. Royal Navy Prison was established.
As numbers diminished, the jail finally closed in 1922 and the buildings were sold in 1929.
There were sixty executions during the time that the jail was open, the sites of which were numerous. They were firstly held on Bodmin Common. Between 1802 and 1828, they took place in a field opposite the jail using a drop gallows. From 1834, a new drop over the main gate was used, but this was made illegal as it was not public enough. The drop was then moved to the south wall, enabling spectators a clear view from Asylum Hill. New laws in 1868 meant that hangings had to be privately carried out. Around 1882, the execution shed and pit we see today were built.