Located in Cornwall on the fringes of Bodmin Moor, the historic 18th century prison has been transformed into a luxurious hotel for 21st century guests
Words: Angelina Villa-Clarke
The grey cell door slams shut behind me, and, through the bars at the windows, beams of sunlight are finding a way to light up the room. This is Bodmin Jail Hotel, a once-notorious prison now reimagined as a luxury hotel – not your average place to stay.
Despite a £50 million makeover and a five-year renovation, some things at the hotel remain the same since it first opened as a prison in 1779. Thankfully, its recent reincarnation as a luxury hotel has meant that it is only the architectural features that have been preserved – in other words, you are guaranteed a much warmer welcome than the original inmates.
London-based Twelve Architects & Masterplanners oversaw the conversion from Grade II-listed derelict prison to swish hotel. The original 220 cells have now been converted into 70 bedrooms – with builders having to carve through metre-foot walls to do so. These are found across the two original wings – the Naval and the Civil Wings – and over four floors. A state-of-the-art glazed roof has replaced the original, creating a stunning atrium effect in the lobby area and flooding the interiors with light. Meanwhile, walkways running the length of each floor give a nod to the original structure of the Victorian prison.
Inside each of the bedrooms, features – such as the original cell doors, window bars and weathered Cornish stone walls – give a reminder of the building’s grisly heritage, but there are plenty of modern-day touches to warm the spaces up. The design is pared-back and fairly minimal, but distinctive in style – think: forest-green leather headboards, emerald velvet chairs and soft carpets underfoot. Flat-screen TVS, black wooden furniture and burnished-metal lighting add a layer of sleekness. In the bathrooms, freestanding tubs, thick towels and Noble Isle toiletries also add to the luxury feel.
The conversion is a sympathetic one, so you feel like there is a sense of intrigue and mystery woven throughout – rather than anything more sinister. Many rooms have plaques detailing the stories of former inmates and for those interested in the history of the building, you can ask for a tour of the property. Look out for notorious cells, such as Room 311, said to be haunted by a woman who murdered her husband and children.
For a deeper-dive into the history of Bodmin Jail, it’s worth booking tickets to the Bodmin Jail Attraction – found adjacent to the hotel and which has also had a £8.5m investment (although it is a separate business). It offers an immersive look at what prison life was like back in the 18th-century, with conditions recreated and a ‘retelling’ of the trials of some of the inmates.
It’s not all about the building’s ‘dark’ past here, though, for there’s plenty on offer to please the modern-day holidaymaker. Found on the edge of Bodmin Moor, the hotel is in prime position to explore both the north and south coasts of Cornwall, with Padstow, St Ives and Sennen on one side, and Fowey and Mevagissey on the other. With Bodmin Moor – an Area of Outstanding Beauty – on the doorstep, the location is also perfect for bracing windswept walks, past ancient standing stones and craggy peaks. The Copper Trail – which is 60 miles in total – is good to dip into, taking you past disused copper mines, wooded valleys and high moorland. The hotel also offers a Governor’s Sparkling Hamper, packed with local delicacies for you to enjoy en-route.
After a day exploring, you can celebrate more of Cornwall’s riches at the hotel’s signature The Chapel restaurant, found in the prison’s Gothic chapel. Brooding décor – purple walls, stained glass windows and cosy booths – and a shadowy light and eerie music show as you eat – set the mood. The menu is all about celebrating Cornish produce – from new potatoes with a poached hen’s egg and truffle mayonnaise to roasted turbot with brown shrimp and saffron crushed potatoes.
Next door, The Chapel Bar – carved out of the original Governor’s office – is a glamorous hideaway and features a speciality gin menu – ideal for a nightcap. For something more laid-back, there’s also The Jolly Hangman Tavern, which offers a brasserie-style menu with crowd-pleasing dishes featuring rather imaginative names, which will no doubt make the kids smirk, such as Hot ‘n’ Kicking Jail House Wings, Incarcerated Crab Cakes and Convicted Vegan Cheeseburger. On a summer’s day, there are tables outside in a courtyard area.
Looking ahead, the hotel is planning to open a subterranean day spa and gin distillery – slated to launch next year. More imminently, two of the last remaining cells – which were originally used as the ‘condemned cells’ before inmates were taken to the gallows – are to be converted into a wine cellar. Ideal for raising a glass to the past.
Room rates start from £245 (subject to availability) per night on a B&B basis. For more information visit: bodminjailhotel.com