JC Stays: Bodmin Jail Hotel, Cornwall

There’s still porridge for breakfast and bars on the windows but these days, guests at Bodmin Jail Hotel arrive voluntarily.


Copyright Matthew Shaw All rights reserved and all moral rights asserted. See licence supplied with this image for full terms & conditions. Copy available at: Not for use by architects, interior designers or other hotel suppliers without permission from Matthew Shaw

It’s not often that you learn all about the hotel guest that stayed in your room before you. But check into the new Bodmin Jail Hotel, and you’ll discover more than you bargained for. 

After a five year renovation project costing £50 million, this once notorious prison, dating back to 1779, has been reimagined as a luxury hotel.

It means that not only do you sleep in the original cells, but that on each of the bare Cornish-stone walls, you’ll find a plaque telling you more about one of the inmates who had previously ‘checked-in’ there. 

In Room Two, I find out about Josiah Edmunds, who was just 16 when he was sent to Bodmin Jail while waiting to be shipped off to Australia. His crime? Stealing three chickens to feed his family.

It’s a sobering read but, luckily, these days you’re guaranteed to receive a warmer welcome than Josiah presumably did. 

As a Grade II listed building, much of the prison structure has had to remain intact, but the architects — Twelve Architects & Masterplanners — have used ingenious ways to convert the difficult and dark spaces.

The lobby area, for instance, is now light-filled with a state-of-the-art glass roof while new walkways have been installed between the four floors, opening up the old Victorian structure. 

Each of the 70 bedrooms has been made from three cells, so they don’t feel cramped or  claustrophobic. And, while some of the original features remain — such as the grey cell doors, the rough-hewn walls and the bars on the windows — these somehow feel like interesting architectural features and are somewhat softened with layers of modern-day luxuries. 

There’s soft carpet underfoot and crisp Egyptian cotton sheets on the beds. Bathrooms have stand-alone tubs, walk in showers and Noble Isle toiletries. Décor is sophisticated and sleek: bottle-green leather headboards, black built-in wardrobes and burnished-metal lighting.

Dining is a highlight with a Two Rosette restaurant found in the prison’s Gothic chapel. The lofty space plays on the building’s dark past with its plum walls and black leather booths. 

While you eat a menu which celebrates Cornish produce — veggie options include grilled asparagus tart with ricotta and roasted shallots — a subtle (yet slightly eerie) music and light show takes place lighting up the walls and stained-glass windows, installed at the cost of £900,000.

Next door the bar — carved out of the original governor’s office — is cosy and welcoming with silvery crushed-velvet banquettes, gold metal details and a 100-strong specialist gin menu.

The Jolly Hangman Tavern, meanwhile, offers more of a brasserie-style restaurant, with crowd-pleasing dishes, such as pizzas, pastas and pasties, and a good choice of vegetarian options, including the ‘Convicted Vegan Cheeseburger’ and the ‘Sing Sing Salad’.

Guests can ask for a tour of the hotel to discover more of the original features of the building, as well as hearing some of the grim stories from its past. For those with a sensitive disposition, it’s worth avoiding Room 311, said to be haunted by a woman who murdered her husband and children. 

For a deeper dive into the history, however, it’s worth booking the Bodmin Jail Attraction next door, which takes you on an immersive journey into how the prison worked. You’ll follow stories of inmates, from crime to punishment, and can see installations of original cells.

For some light relief, Bodmin is also a great place to dive into the Cornwall of the present: on the doorstep is the start of the 18-mile Camel Trail cycle and footpath, running along a disused railway line. Many of Cornwall’s pretty harbour towns are in reach within a half hour drive too.

With plans for a day spa and gin distillery at the hotel, it’s set to become a destination in its own right rather than an overnight stop-off. First up though is the conversion of the last two empty cells found near the lobby. 

These white-washed ‘condemned cells’ were where prisoners were held on their last night before being taken to the gallows, now set to be turned into a wine cellar for tastings. Bad taste or not? You can be the judge…


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