Bodmin Jail – Bodmin, England - Atlas Obscura

Bodmin Jail

Bodmin, England

This antique prison is a tourist attraction with a sordid past. 


Bodmin Gaol is a former prison turned tourist attraction in England.

The prison was designed by Sir John Call in 1779. It was built using the labor of French prisoners of war, and was used for 150 years. Despite its inglorious origins, the building was actually quite innovative. It was the first British prison to hold prisoners in individual cells.

The prison’s inmate population shifted over the years, often reflecting the needs and larger interests of society as a whole. It was used largely as a debtor’s prison for many years, but in 1869 imprisonment for debt was abolished. The reason behind this was less noble than it may appear, however, as it was mostly banned to free up space for naval prisoners.

Ultimately, a Naval prison occupied an entire wing of the Bodmin Gaol, and it stayed that way until the naval wing was closed in 1922. The entire prison itself closed just a few years later in 1927. 

Once a dark and grim place, the prison has long since fallen into disrepair, and now sits with several sections in ruin. But in its decaying state it has also become a tourist attraction, with visitors touring the ruins and throwing back beers in the once-rowdy prison yard.

Know Before You Go

Turn off A389 (Dennison Road)

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