The New, Purpose-Built House Of Correction…
Bodmin Jail was built by prisoners of war and remains notorious for the many tales of woe and dramatic executions both inside and beyond its imposing granite walls.. Despite the dreadful conditions, the purpose-built house of correction, completed in the Cornish town of Bodmin in 1779, was a state of the art prison and was designed on principles propagated by the great prison reformer John Howard.. In keeping with his views, it housed 100 inmates in individual, light and airy cells.. Males and females were segregated, different areas were established for felons, misdemeanants and debtors, and the building boasted a chapel, an infirmary and even hot water.. In subsequent decades it required rebuilding and expansion to cope with peaks in demand, such as the increased level of committals after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.. Work began on a new 220-cell jail in 1856 after the original building, struggling to meet the demands for confinement set out by new prison legislation, was inspected and declared unfit for purpose.
When the Debtor’s Act of 1869 abolished imprisonment for debt, the buildings housing the Debtor’s Prison and the under-populated Women’s Prison were given to the Admiralty and in 1887 an HM Naval Prison was established.
Before the doors of Bodmin’s civil and naval prisons were closed for the last time and the jail’s buildings were sold off in 1929, one of Britain’s finest treasures was temporarily housed within its walls.. The Domesday Book was among more than 19,000 items relocated from the Public Record Office to Bodmin Jail for safekeeping during the First World War.
Some areas of the former prison would eventually enjoy new leases of life after the closure of the prison, including the former Administration block which witnessed happier times as a club and casino in later decades.. In 2004 the building was bought for development and is now managed as a tourist attraction.
( Extract from an article by Claire Saul, October 2015 )
Life Behind Bars Inside Bodmin Jail…
Early prisoners worked inside Bodmin Jail, men occupied with activities such as shoemaking or cutting and polishing stone and slate, while women would knit, weave and spin, all producing goods that would be sold for profit.. The early 19th century philosophy that unproductive labour would be more of a deterrent against reoffending, saw the arrival of two treadwheel and other hard-labour machines at Bodmin.. In later decades picking oakum was also introduced, requiring prisoners to spend hours unraveling the strands of old pieces of rope down to their individual fibres, which would then be sold to ship builders for use in the caulking of wooden craft.. A return to earlier prison labour philosophy came in 1898 when the Prisons Act decreed that work should have a constructive purpose.
Daily rations of bread were handed out to Bodmin’s early inmates, with those attending divine service on a Saturday being allocated an additional half pound of meat made into broth for their Sunday dinner.. The Gaol Act of 1823 aimed to improve prison diets with the addition of items such as cheese and suet although this initiative was ignored for most of the next decade, as it was in many prisons.
From the mid 1870s, food was allocated according to the length of sentence.. Those incarcerated for less than two weeks had a daily ration of bread and gruel while men and women committed to hard labour for over six months were given additional portions of meat, soup and potatoes.. More variety would not be added to the diet for almost another 40 years.
( Claire Saul, October 2015 )