When is a chateau, not a chateau? When it's Bodmin Jail. The rather delicate frontage to this building would have you believe you are stepping into a grand French country house. The construction of the gatehouse, and jail, began in 1778, using Napoleonic prisoners as a workforce. A monumental building, on many floors, the prison dominates Bodmin, even in its crumbling state.
Murder, misery and the misguided: A tall, and very ugly, tower can be seen from miles around, and must have struck fear into the people of the moors, as far as the eye could see. There is nothing romantic, or appealing to this bastion of law and punishment. 55 executions have taken place within the walls, for crimes such as rape, murder and stealing. 51 of these executions were open to the public, and thousands would travel specially to witness the event. 20,000 people squeezed into Bodmin, in 1844, to watch the noose lowered over the head of Mathew Weeks, and then see his final plunge through the trap door, and hear the snap of his neck. He was publicly executed for the murder of Charlotte Dymond, his girlfriend at the time.
Of further note, the last public hanging took place at Bodmin Jail, in 1909. Once again, thousands of onlookers travelled (on specially commissioned trains) to view this horrifying event. We find it baffling, in our time, to think on the bloodthirsty appetites of our forefathers.
The poor wretches, imprisoned within the cells, will have experienced untold misery and suffering. Bodmin was the first jail to feature separate "cells", and each small chamber may well have a nasty story to tell. Well-known prisoners included: Weeks, mentioned above. Anne Jefferies, thought to be a witch, was starved to death. Lastly, Selina Wadge was publicly executed for the murder of her bastard son. With such graphic tales of hate, pain and loss, it is hardly surprising that Bodmin has become known as a haunted hotspot.
Doomsday, jewels and excavations: As well as keeping the counties criminals far from sight, the jail has also been used for other, less gruesome, functions. The last prisoner waved goodbye to Bodmin in 1927, but since then the building has performed services during the Second World War. The Doomsday Book, official state papers and, most intriguingly, the Crown Jewels are thought to have been stored inside Bodmin's thick, impenetrable walls.
The fog clears, and Bodmin Jail looms into view: Like Jamaica
Inn, Bodmin Jail is a favourite haunt for the 21st Century ghosthunter.
Recent months have seen many paranormal groups pass through the public
bar (which fronts the building)), and descend into the cells below.
We are no exception, so a foggy winters day finds us stood outside the
frightful building, wondering what we may find deep within its damp
structure. Joining me today, is Matt (official cameraman for the next
few hours) and Francis (our newest medium). They are raring to go, but
a doubt is forming in my mind.
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I should admit, that I have my suspicions regarding Bodmin Jail's sudden
rise to fame. It was recently featured on Living TV's MostHaunted, and
been the subject of well-reported ghosthunts by the BBC. I believe I
am right in thinking that the building has recently acquired new owners,
and I find the increased awareness of the ghost stories, and paranormal
activity, just a little suspicious. Ghosts are good for bank balances
(see also Jamaica Inn, a few miles up
the road), and tourists love them! The jail is open, all year round,
and also offers all-night ghosthunts, for a price. I don't like to think
of myself as gullible, but it does cross my mind at times like this.
While standing in the pub, that serves as the entrance and ticket booth,
I wonder how many of my fellow visitors are here for the ghosts, and
the ghosts alone. 2005's official leaflet, published by the owners,
can be found all over Cornwall, and promises "as seen on TV's MostHaunted".
The emphasis on spookiness far outweighs the history, but I shall keep
an open mind, and allow Matt and Francis to make their own impressions.
This can begin immediately, as within minutes of leaving the pub we
are surrounded by crumbling stone, and the dark passageways of the Bodmin
Jail. It begins.
Investigation: December 2th, from noon to 4pm.
No expense spared: Unlike many large tourist worthy sites, Bodmin is literally crumbling away. The lighting is dim, and in some places non-existent, which adds gloominess to an already frightful location. The upper levels seem treacherous, and it is here that Francis first points out the presence around us:
"It's not unpleasant. I don't sense hostility, but there is definitely a group nearby. Children I think. Yes. Definitely children. Two boys, maybe brothers, and a girl. She is older than the boys. She's most likely to communicate with us. I feel she is used to seeing visitors, and doesn't dislike our presence here. Quite the opposite, in fact. She welcomes us."
I ask for a name, and Francis feels "Elizabeth" or "Eliza" may be "appropriate". I ask why it would be "appropriate", and Francis goes onto say (to what appears to be no-one in particular):
"I can't see a name flashing in my head, you know! It's a feeling, and an instinct."
Francis repeats the names, and touches areas of the wall. A large cell, or room, is located to our right, with views over the main buildings. Pigeons flutter in and out of the disused cells. I make a sweep of the area with my EMF meter and also my handheld compass. Neither show anything surprising, but Francis believes the lower levels will be more active:
"I am sensing worry, and apprehension from the children. They don't want us to go further. It's not an aggressive sensation. More a fear for our safety.... or sanity!".
This sounds more like it! Without further ado, we make our way down the stairs. Francis appears agitated upon entering the stairwell:
"Eliza is still with us. She's very active here, and has such independence! I don't think she is grounded to one spot in the building, and likes to wander. No. Not 'like', she feels obliged to wander. The two boys are looked after. By Eliza. She feels sorry for them, and does what she can."
While descending, I ask if Eliza was a prisoner in the jail, but Francis shakes her head. She 'feels' the child was a guest, or visitor to the location. She may well have come here with an adult, or someone who worked in the jail.
As empty as it was silent: The first of the lower levels has dummies, and information boards, illustrating the jails nasty past. This is very frustrating, as Francis is able to learn a great deal about the location, and its many 'guests', without much effort. Matt appears to read my mind, or come to the same conclusion, as he steps in front of the various panels as we explore. It's certainly not an ideal solution, but better than nothing. Thankfully, Francis doesn't seem remotely interested in the 'spoilers' all around us, and has something new to add:
"She likes you, and Matt. Be prepared for bodily contact".
Prepared!? I've never been more prepared in my life. Or so I thought. While making a sweep on this level with the EMF meter, my left hand was tugged by the index finger. I've heard of this phenomenon before, and believe it to be quite common, but it was still quite startling. It was more than a simple sensation, or imagined touch, the pressure around my finger was quite obvious. The actual pull was enough for me to rebalance myself. Matt noticed my reaction, but I said nothing. Francis had already suggested too much. The area to my left revealed only a slight variation on the EMF Meter, from 0 to 1.5 milligauss. This lasted for 2 seconds, and then returned to 0. This event did not unnerve me, but it was a little surprising.
We were lucky to have the jail to ourselves for most of the investigation. A few couples came and went, but the expected bustle of tourists and ghosthunters was absent. For many minutes, the rooms were deserted and silent. One such room, which displayed shameful dummies around a gibbet, was the setting for a startling event. While Francis closed her eyes, and Matt took photos, a loud bang startled us all. Upon investigation, we found a small rock at the base of a column. Above, an information board was the only surface which could have made such a din. Did someone throw the stone? We were alone in the room, and the position of the entrance would not allow someone to hit this column if the rock was thrown from outside. Obviously, we could have located the wrong stone, and a perfectly ordinary explanation could be found. Even so, I feel it was worth mentioning.
A stab in the back: Matt began to complain of back ache, at around 1pm. We were currently making our way to the stairway. Francis had picked up on the essence of another wandering spirit, who she believed to be that of a jailer. I found this very exciting, as I presumed mediums would focus on the prisoners, rather than the employees. She described the man as jovial, and kind hearted. I scoffed at this. A kind hearted prison guard?! Francis gave me a very severe look, and pointed out:
"He may be dead, but he does have feelings. This man helped people. He may have been their jailer, but he certainly wasn't sadistic. Some were, but not this man. Show some respect."
Well, that told me, as you can imagine. Finding a more sympathetic voice, I asked whether the man had a name, or a time period she could comment on. Francis nodded her head slowly, again, and said:
"Oliver, and 1883. He's very specific about the date". I proceeded to ask whether this date is when he arrived at the jail, or left, or died, and Francis added "None of those. He remembers that year. It is part of his being. A thread. Something happened that year. I can see an animal. A hare. Oliver remembers this animal, from 1883. He wishes me to know this. He also wishes to join us on our walk."
Utterly baffled, I felt obliged to ask more questions, but was distracted by Matt who has heard a sound behind us. The stairway is somewhere in the same direction, and I suspect our time alone has come to a close. A thorough sweep is made with the EMF Meter among the arches, and rooms. A noticeable jump to 3 milligauss was noted by the column, where we had stopped to look for the stone. Apart from that, light fittings and cables were the only detectable sources of electromagnetic energy. Nothing surprising. Approaching the stairway, Matt and I are puzzled to find no-one there. It had, quite honestly, sounded like new arrivals. The jail is large, but not that large. Francis seems totally unfazed by this new development, and just smiles enigmatically. "Shall we go further down?" she asks.
The final flight, and a fearsome fright: A rather silly sign announces that we are about to enter the nastiest area of Bodmin Jail. Do we really need this pointing out to us? Never the less, Matt finds it amusing, and we proceed into the depths. Francis pauses on the stairs, and suddenly lets out a gasp:
"No! We must wait for the others!"
For a few moments, both Matt and I stand there, on the stairs, waiting for someone to join us. It took more than a little effort to ask: "Who? Who are we waiting for?". As soon as the words had departed from my lips, I knew what the answer would be. "Eliza and Oliver were going to join us". Feeling slightly ridiculous, I ask "Can you actually see them, or is it a mental image?". Francis seems not in the least bit patronised by my obvious question, and says "Not with my eyes, no. With my mind, and my soul. Proximity to other souls is far more potent than, say, residual energy or objects. There's a personality, which remains intact. Both of these souls are free to leave whenever they wish. Nothing is keeping them here". I am puzzled, again, if I were a ghost/phantom/wandering soul I would choose somewhere a little more picturesque to spend my afterlife, but Francis is quick to point out:
"They do visit other places, this isn't a favourite. They are far stronger in other locations too. There is far too much negative energy here. They have beautiful places to see, and wonderful things to do. Do not be sad for these people".
That last comment was like an emotional slap round the face. I had been feeling sorry for the now dead inhabitants of this ghastly place. I must admit to being quite moved, standing there on the stairs. I made an effort to move past Matt and Francis, so they would not see my upset. I felt depressed, alone and strangely paranoid. An audible sob, from above us, startled all three present. We stood there for sometime, I took a couple of photographs, and thought upon the person who made the sound. What horrible experience could have taken place, to generate such a wretched sound. Francis broke the quiet with the news that "Eliza" and "Oliver" would not be joining us in the lower levels.
End of all things decent: The bottom of the stairway was reached in silence, and we stood for a moment taking in the atmosphere. We were a million miles from anything normal, or likeable. The lower cells of the Bodmin Jail are vile, and should be approached with care. Francis began to show the first sign of nerves, which I managed to calm by pointing out the primitive plants around us. Moss and small weeds were growing around the bulkhead style lamps.
"Even in the darkest of corners, life finds a way. An ugly place like this cannot stand forever, and all shall be returned to the ground" were the words, which left my mouth, or words to that effect. I have no idea why I uttered them. The plan was to steady Francis, who was apprehensive about entering the cellblock. The attempt at frilliness was unintentional, but it worked for Francis, who exclaimed "let's do it!".
A dark, wide corridor runs down the centre of the room, with small cells off to the sides. The atmosphere is utterly revolting.
"There's a nasty few down here. More than 3, but no more than 6. They are guilty of their crimes. There are others, who are innocent, but they have found their peace. This group are not interested, they want no peace. They don't want to leave. They enjoy scaring people. They enjoy the attention it gives them. Oh, I see!"
Francis is drawn to one cell in particular, on the right. It is similar to the other cells, and exhibits no outward difference. Matt begins to photograph the location, using all 3 of our digital cameras. I feel it would be sensible to activate the EMF Meter. A sharp increase indicates that the meter is functioning, and then the gauge drops to below zero.
"I understand now. They don't want to leave this place. This is the most power and status they have ever had. Why would they want to give it up? It is our belief…our thoughts which feed them, and keep them here. Why would they want to loose that?! It's the best thing. The most important act they have ever performed."
The EMF Meter shows an increase to 1.5 milligaus.
Matt lets out a cry, from the other side of the chamber, something has hit him in the back. I leave Francis, and inspect Matt. Sure enough, a red mark is clearly visible, 3 inches from the base of his spine. It looks less like the impact of a rock, or solid object, and more like a scratch. He is ok, just a little shaken. He was standing in free space when the event occurred, and his back ache is worsening.
"They are enjoying this. There is a game being played. They are daring each other to do things."
Excellent! After seeing the slight injury to Matt, I am ready for an argument. I begin to talk to the air, and wish those watching to commit further acts. My intention was to capture a flying object, or a breaking light bulb. It did not occur to me that they only wished to harm the living beings present.
"Come on. Do something. Throw a stone. Break a light. There are lots of objects down here. Move something. Break something. Show us what you can do. I don't believe you can. Show me I am wrong."
" You can't do anything. Cowards". I feel the investigation is slipping away from us. Either my sudden desire to taunt ghosts, or Matt's uneasiness results in Francis losing her temper.
"Don't threaten them. That'll be a big mistake. They are able to harm us, but only while they are given the opportunity. Imagine yourself bathed in white light, and do not step from it."
Whether this was proactive or not, we shall never know, but as I began to imagine a bright light around me, I felt a nasty scrape down my forearm. Imagine the sensation of brambles catching your skin, and tugging in that nasty way that they can. My surprise was obvious, as the loud "ouch!" made both the medium and Matt jump. A glance, at my arm, revealed three or four definite scratches on the softer under flesh. I wished to show off my war wounds, but Francis was adamant:
"Do not look at it. Leave your arm alone. If you look, they will be pleased. They will have their reward. Ignore it, and focus on your light".
I began to feel sick. Very sick. I am not referring to a nauseous sensation. That would be too slight. A cold sweat had broken on my forehead, and the room was suddenly very dark to my eyes. Matt noticed my unease, and my arm held close to my chest. He came to a conclusion, and stated it was time for us to leave. I did not have the energy to complain, and was happily led from the corridor, and back to the stairs. I do not recall much of our climb to the upper levels, and I'm ashamed to admit that I was deeply unsettled. I have encountered mild physical interactions before, but nothing so obvious. I hope to never feel that unsettled again.
A lesson to be learnt: Entering the pub, on the entry level, we all find the pub welcoming and offering much needed normality. I had a glass of water, and began to settle. My first instinct was to return to the basement, and confront the entities in the lower cells. Francis knew better, and warned against such an aggressive show. Matt also had no desire to return, and was uncharacteristically quiet. Stepping out into the daylight, the cells seemed like a bad memory. An unpleasant taste was present on my tongue, and the back of my throat was dry. Both Francis and Matt were also experiencing the same sensation. The damp atmosphere and dusty rooms could explain this, but I am not convinced. Bodmin Jail had offered my first bodily contact with something unexplainable, and I am convinced that many nasty encounters await further teams of investigators and ghosthunters. One final word, prompted by Francis, please be very careful, and remember to stay in the light.
In retrospect: An unpleasant, but memorable investigation. The photographs from that day show occasional mists, trails and orbs. Some are displayed on this page, and are indicated by the white hand icon. I am still unsure about the entities, sensed by Francis, on the upper levels. Could she really communicate with the ghosts of "Eliza" and "Oliver", and also the two boys? It's a tricky situation for any paranormal investigator, as too many questions may suggest we feel the medium is lying. I do not think she was creating these entities, but may simply imagine them. I will attempt to trace the names, and any connections they had to the jail. It is the least I can do.
The scratches on my arm, and the mark that appeared on Matt's spine are beyond doubt. Both injuries were received in the jail environment, and not earlier in the day. There was a definite, and physical pain to accompany the injuries, which I find very frightening. By searching for the existence of ghosts we had, unwittingly, placed ourselves in danger, and suffered physical harm.
Introspective: I feel I have made a few too many mistakes, during this investigation. I expected a cheery, almost camp, atmosphere like Jamaica Inn. This is due to the profile, and public awareness of the site. This led me to believe the investigation would be rather bland. It wasn't camp, or cheery, it was nothing short of nasty.
Also, and with no disrespect to the medium, it was foolhardy to stroll into a potentially dangerous investigation with an unfamiliar medium. Francis and I have had many conversations since, which have included discussions regarding Bodmin Jail. I have learnt that it is essential to have a good working relationship with your medium, and develop a level of trust. This cannot be rushed, and certainly not bluffed. A better course of action would have seen the three of us (I am including Matt), travelling to the Carnglaze Caverns to find a level, or centre, from which to work. Too much unfamiliarity bred paranoia, and distrust within the group, when under attack from the forces who dwell in the unknown. The bottom line is this: you cannot start arguments with the dead, and expect to walk away unscathed. I was warned, and thought nothing of it. I do live to fight another day, and look forward to something a little more pastoral for the next investigation.
We will be returning to Bodmin Jail. I would be a fool not to. Next time, I will have learnt how to use the 'light', as I don’t wish to be harmed again.
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