Day 6. Truro & a visit to Bodmin Jail, Cornwall

The time had flown by and before we knew it, we had already reached the halfway point of our 10 day Cornish road trip.  After enjoying a final breakfast in the bar of the John Francis Basset Hotel where we had been staying, we packed up the car and were soon on our way to Truro.

Truro city centre
Truro city centre

Truro is Britain’s most southerly city and the county town of Cornwall.  It was a dull morning but the drizzle didn’t damper our spirits as we parked the car and set off to find out what the city had to offer.  As we walked into the centre, we passed under a viaduct carrying trains between London and Penzance.  Truro is very accessible as it is on the main line connecting with all parts of the country and the city is also the starting point for the Maritime branch line to Falmouth.

Victoria Gardens, Truro
Viaduct carrying main line trains through Cornwall

We had booked a timed entrance slot for the Royal Cornwall Museum and visited there first.  Despite being early, we were able to look around straightaway.  The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday and offers free admission.

Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro
The Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro

It occupies the former buildings of the Truro Savings Bank and the Truro Baptist Chapel which are both of neoclassical design.  The exhibition areas are arranged over two floors centred around an impressive galleried hall.  There’s a diverse range of artefacts documenting Cornwall’s heritage and its links to the wider world.

Royal Cornwall Museum main hall
The main exhibition hall in the museum

A centrepiece in the main hall is a luxurious 300 year old coach that belonged to the Spanish ambassador in London.  When the family returned to Cornwall in 1750, it’s hard to believe that the journey would have taken almost a week compared to today when it can be completed in around five hours.

Narrow streets of Truro city centre
Narrow, winding streets in the city centre

After leaving the museum we dodged the showers looking around the shops.  Despite the poor weather, we found Truro to be a likeable small city with a prosperous feel.  Along with the main shopping streets radiating out from the cathedral, there are several narrow alleyways lined with interesting small independent shops and cafes.  Seasalt, selling clothes and accessories is a favourite of mine and as there was a branch in Truro, I felt duty bound to take a look.  It’s pleasing to find that they have now expanded and are to be found in other towns up and down the country.

Truro Cathedral
Truro Cathedral

The three spires of Truro Cathedral dominate the city’s skyline and the church is to be found in the heart of the city overlooking the cobbled square known as High Cross.  The cathedral was designed by John Loughborough Pearson who is credited for his reintroduction of the medieval art of vaulting.  Construction was completed in 1910 and it is one of only three cathedrals in the country to have three spires.

The interior of Truro Cathedral
The cathedral’s stunning vaulted interior

There is no charge to visit the cathedral and as we were walking around, a retired member of the church clergy came over to introduce himself.  It’s a small world as he told us that many years ago, he had been vicar of a church three miles from where we live, which is a long way from Cornwall.  He explained to us that the building sits on the site of the 16th century Church of St. Mary and that the south aisle of the former church was incorporated into the cathedral’s south east corner.

Choir stalls and stained glass windows, Truro Cathedral
Choir stalls and stained glass windows, Truro Cathedral

After looking around a little more ourselves and admiring the Cathedral’s exquisite stained glass windows and high altar we ventured back outside and as it was still raining decided to find somewhere for lunch.

Lemon Quay, Truro
Lemon Quay, Truro

Lemon Quay seemed to be the hub of activity with a market taking place in the centre of the plaza surrounded by an assortment of shops, bars and cafes.  We enjoyed a bite to eat in the cosy Tny Dowr pub.  We were intrigued by its unusual name which we discovered is Cornish for ‘three rivers’ as Truro stands on the Kenwyn, Allen and Glasteinan rivers.  We then walked off our lunch with a short stroll by the riverside which we accessed from Lemon Quay via an underpass quite close to a large supermarket.  Along here there were some lovely views of the city and its spires.

The Kenwyn RIver, Truro
Walking along the Kenwyn River

We then returned to the car through the Victoria Gardens which were built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897.  They are are laid out on a south facing slope leading down to the river.  The water supplying the park’s fountain, pond and waterfall is fed from a Victorian water pump which raises water from a millstream.

Victoria Gardens, Truro
The Victoria Gardens

Back in the car, we continued on to Bodmin which was to be our base for the next four nights.  We’d reserved a room at the Premier Inn on the outskirts of the town, so we checked in there, made ourselves a quick cup of tea and then set off to discover what life was like in a Victorian prison.

Entrance to Bodmin Jail Cornwall
The entrance to Bodmin Jail

The Bodmin Jail Experience is a newly opened visitor attraction in the former Victorian prison built in 1779 for King George III as part of the prison reform.  It’s located on the edge of the wild and rugged Bodmin Moor, a place that was thought to be so secure that it safeguarded the Crown Jewels, the Domesday Book and state papers during the First World War.

Bodmin Jail Experience, Cornwall
Bodmin Jail Experience courtyard

The prison set a new standard in design with its individual cells, hot water and segregated male and female areas Bodmin began to form the new ideal for prisons throughout the country.  For most of its life it was used as a debtor’s prison until 1869 when imprisonment for debt was abolished.  The Royal Navy then occupied an entire wing of the prison and we were eager to discover more about its dark history during the period until it slammed its doors shut for the final time in 1927.

Punishment treadmill, Bodmin Jail
Punishment treadmill, Bodmin Jail

We’d pre-arranged a timed entry slot of 4.00 p.m. and joined four other people for the interactive part of the tour.  We were led into the Dark Walk, transporting visitors back to Cornwall’s murky past through a series of theatrical special effects spaces.  Here we learnt of what life would have been like in the 18th and 19th century for Cornwall’s poorest.  There were tales from characters including highway robbers, smugglers and warders.  Visual effects have been imaginatively designed to create an immersive experience suitable for all ages and with a real life judge it almost felt as if we were in the courtroom ourselves.

Prison office, Bodmin Jail
Prison Office, Bodmin Jail

After completing this part of the tour we were then able to proceed at our own pace through the prison’s original Naval Wing.  Peering into the cells, we witnessed the gruelling conditions and harsh treatments the prisoners endured.

Prison cell, Bodmin Jail
Prison cell, Bodmin Jail

Next, we explored the Administrative Block where we delved into the history of those who worked and lived at the jail.  The tour ends with a visit to the execution chamber where 55 hangings took place within its formidable walls, the last one in 1909.  Some of the executions took place for what today we would call petty offences whilst others were for crimes such as murder and theft.

The Execution Chamber, Bodmin Jail Experience
The execution chamber

Work is nearing completion on a luxury hotel in the main prison block which is scheduled to open in May 2021 breathing new life into a derelict building yet retaining many of its original features.

Chapel an Gansblydhen (JD Wetherspoons) Truro Cornwall
The converted Chapel an Gansblydhen, now a JD Wetherspoons pub

During the evening we ate out in a former Wesleyan chapel on Bodmin’s main street.  It was named the centenary chapel (Chapel an Gansblydhen in Cornish) as it was built in 1840 to celebrate 100 years of Methodism.  Since the church moved to new premises down the road, it has been tastefully transformed into a cosy pub with a real log fire alongside the original church organ.


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Truro & Bodmin Jail



51 thoughts on “Day 6. Truro & a visit to Bodmin Jail, Cornwall

  1. jasonlikestotravel

    Lovely to see a bit of Truro. The Bodmin Jail tour looks like a lot of fun too, definitely going to have to make my way down there at some point and experience it 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Day 10. Fowey & Lanhydrock Estate, Cornwall – Love Travelling Blog

  3. Pingback: On our way to Truro – Outosego @scroll

  4. Today’s jails are like hotels compared to the rigors of a prisoner of those times. Was interested in the ambassador’s coach. My ancestors on my father’s side were carriage builders in London before migrating and setting up a carriage building business here. When motor vehicles took over they went into manufacture of household items like cooking stoves.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. What interesting ancestors you have Ian. Quite topical here as its Census Day here so amongst other uses people will be able to learn more about us in years to come! Truro, despite the poor weather, was a charming county town and we enjoyed looking around. Marion

      Liked by 2 people

  5. A food writer friend in Surrey just interviewed one of the country’s celebrity chef online. Too bad he can’t be in Delft to taste what he cooked. After a year of no writing inspiration, I managed to write one the other day and it was about the celebrity chef! Very cold weekend here and I wish you a good one too. Jane

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Truro, isn’t that the name of the town where Demelza & Ross lived in Poldark? Btw, a beautiful place. When you can travel to The Netherlands again, come to Delft. Greetings from here.- Jane

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Bodmin Jail was an extremely interesting place to visit and I believe its important that institutions such as these are preserved for generations to come so that we can all reflect on how times have changed and the ways in which people are treated. Thank you for taking an interest in this post and for your welcome thoughts.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. A tidy piece on a place I knew very little about. Truro looks quaint, especially more so in better weather I’d imagine. I find myself drawn to the jail and the chapel, worth the trip alone in my book. More great work Marion!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for your positive thoughts Leighton, they are much appreciated. The dreary weather in Truro didn’t help but it was par for the course in late October over here. Visiting the jail was just as interesting as touring a museum, delving into our dark past now preserved for future generations to see.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Looks to be a dreary day, but still a beautiful part of Cornwall! Visiting prisons like Bodmin Jail are a bit off-the-beaten path, but just as enriching as any museum or other historical site could otherwise. Seeing such places can remind you of a darker history in humanity, but all the more important to acknowledge it for the future. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Despite the dreary skies Truro lifted our spirits with its pleasing town centre and buildings. I agree that touring a former prison is just as rewarding as visiting a museum as it does indeed remind us of our past and the ways people behaved and were treated. Thanks for commenting and have a good weekend Rebecca.

      Liked by 3 people

  9. winteroseca

    Old prisons are amazing! I definitely went through a phase where I just loved places like that when I was living in England. It’s truly the place to be if you like that stuff

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Too bad about the drizzle Marion, but Truro looks worth a visit. The narrow streets remind me a bit of York. There is nothing like a tour of a jail to make you glad to be a law abiding citizen. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 3 people

  11. So enjoyed this post. Just happen to be reading book 2 of the Poldark series right now and a character is sent to Bodmin jail but it is 1788 and described as a dire, hellish place so must be prior to the “modernizing”. Truro figures prominently in the book so fun to get a look at it through your post.

    Liked by 3 people

            1. I discovered on Ancestry that a distant ancestor of mine was held there so I’ve been intrigued to visit and although I’ve visited Australia numerous times I’ve not been to WA. When I eventually do we can perhaps meet up for a glass of wine, that would be nice to look forward to,

              Liked by 3 people

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