If you ever heard that a prison building and site, known for 55 sure executions (eight of which were women), have been converted into a hotel and tourist center, would you be interested in visiting? Would you take up lodging in the hotel accommodation? Or would you feel like a “prisoner” in the hotel room?
Well, there is one such building located in Bodmin, Cornwall, England, called Bodmin Jail Hotel and Visitor Attraction. Formerly known as Bodmin Jail, this building is an 18th-century prison building that once housed hundreds of prisoners in the 1800s.
During the reign of King George III in 1779, Bodmin Jail was originally built as part of the Prison Reform by military engineer Sir John Call. It was one of the first modern prisons in the UK with individual cells, segregated male and female areas, hot water, and light and airy areas for prisoners to live and work.
The building had fallen to ruins after all prisoners were evacuated and decommissioned in 1927. The building was later sold off in 1929 to demolition men.
Since 1929, Bodmin Jail has been repurposed from a casino into a pub, a nightclub, a restaurant, informative exhibitions, and an attraction for mock executions. After failed attempts at blowing up the building in the 1930s and 1940s for some deconstruction, the building was left on its own until 2004, when a local family purchased the building and did some sectional restoration works on it. This immediately became a tourist attraction.
In 2015, a tourist became interested in the building’s history and wanted to help in its preservation. Twelve Architects ltd (a UK-based architectural firm) was appointed to re-design, restore, and renovate these ruins into a delectable tourist masterpiece.
In an area of 7,500 sqm, set over four storeys, with 70 boutique rooms and part museum, each with its own story to tell, the Bodmin Jail Hotel is a new full sensory accommodation experience that intertwines the imposing original architecture of the three-hundred-year-old jail with creative, contemporary design, which retains 85% of the original fabric, and enhances the unique atmosphere and sense of history that existed in ruins.
Due to its former use, the planning of the Bodmin Jail Hotel involved a significant amount of research and careful consideration of various factors. Studies were carried out on the feasibility of such a huge venture of turning a jail building into a hotel building, accessing the conditions of the ruins, and what renovation strategies were suitable for the building.
After these, measured drawings (taken mostly from photos) were produced, and design plans were made, an activity involving Architects, Designers, Planners, Engineers, Consultants, and Contractors. The planning also involved the development of a marketing strategy and branding strategy to sell and make the idea appealing to the target public, from the hotel name, logo, visual identity, website, and social media presence.
Plans were also made considering the logistics of operating a hotel, staffing, food, beverage, convenience store, and housekeeping. A complex and multifaceted process that involved a great deal of collaboration and coordination between various teams and experts created a unique and successful hotel that has become a popular tourist destination in Cornwall.
The need to preserve the historic character of the building with the requirements of a modern hotel informed and guided the design solutions proffered in Bodmin Jail Hotel design. Incorporating modern amenities into the fabric of the building was challenging; for example, modern lighting and electrical systems were incorporated into the building while still being hidden from view to maintain the character of the building. This was achieved through the choice of materials and design elements seamlessly blending the two architectures of different times.
To create a hotel room, 3 jail cells were joined together. One cell hosts the bed area, one cell hosts the living area, and one cell hosts the bathroom. The rooms required custom-made vintage furniture, deco, fixtures, historical artefacts, and artworks that fit the building’s character. The rooms were well-insulated and soundproofed to create a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere for guests. The design utilised the existing plumbing route, maintaining existing window positions.
Care was taken to make common spaces welcoming and comfortable, allowing the balconies to be purposely narrow to tell the stories of the building’s past history. These common areas, such as the hotel’s restaurant and lounge, would encourage guests to relax and socialise.
The Twelve Architects’ design philosophy was to create a series of diverse spaces aimed at heightening the unique qualities of the building while creating an immersive visitor experience at every touchpoint.
Building Material and Construction
The building was initially constructed with granite, a hard, durable natural stone prevalent in the region. The granite was quarried locally and was chosen for its strength and resistance to harsh coastal weather. In the restoration process, materials like steel, glass, concrete, and timber were added. Steel was used on the balconies, and a skylight was added to the roof to throw in natural light for the balconies.
Over the years, the hotel has taken measures to reduce its environmental impact and improve on being eco-friendly. One major way Bodmin Jail hotel has been doing this is by using renewable energy. It has solar panels installed on its roof, generating electricity and reducing the building’s dependency on fossil fuels. The building also reduces energy consumption by using energy-efficient lighting features and appliances.
Using low-flow showerheads and toilet bowls that flush easily helps water conservation during drought seasons. Also, drought-resistant greenery was used in the hotel gardens to reduce watering needs. Excess meals are donated through local organisations working with the hotel rather than sending them to landfills. Waste management involves a comprehensive recycling program that separates recyclable materials from decomposable ones.
Bodmin Jail Hotel promotes a sustainable tourism practice, operating in a responsible and eco-friendly manner and providing spaces for local vendors, local businesses, and the sale of locally grown foods.
If you are ever in England for vacation, this might be the perfect site for you to visit.
12 (2023). Bodmin Jail Hotel & Visitor Attraction. [online]. Available at: https://twelvearchitects.com/project/bodmin-jail/ [Accessed 7th January 2023].
ARUP (2023). Bodmin Jail Hotel: transforming a derelict historic jail into a luxury hotel and visitor attraction. [online]. Available at: https://www.arup.com/projects/bodmin-jail-hotel [Accessed 7th January 2023].
Bodmin Jail (2022). History of Bodmin Jail. [online]. Available at: https://www.bodminjail.org/discover/about-bodmin-jail/history/ [Accessed 7th January 2023].
Dezeen (2023). Twelve Architects to turn the ruins of Bodmin Jail into a hotel. [online]. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2018/05/01/twelve-architects-are-turning-ruins-of-bodmin-jail-into-a-hotel/ [Accessed 7th January 2023].
Rebekah Killigrew (2022). Bodmin Jail by Twelve Architects. [online]. Available at: https://architecturemagazine.co.uk/2022/02/03/case-study-bodmin-jail-by-twelve-architects/ [Accessed 7th January 2023].