Site Specific Bodmin Prison initial ideas

Bodmin Prison

After my visit to Bodmin Prison during the summer I have become more and more fascinated with it. Whilst there I bought the following books:

The History of Bodmin Jail – Bill Johnson

A Guide to Bodmin Jail – Bill Johnson

Executions at Olde Bodmin Gaol – Gary Ewert and Brigitte Ho-Tong

Each of these books are fascinating but particularly the first, which is a very thorough look at it’s history but also the social history of the prison too.

bodmin womens section

The women’s section is a really amazing and eerie space with an almost palpable sense of the history. After reading the books I learnt that 9 women were hung at Bodmin.

  1. 1742 Alice Warne – Murder Male Bastard Child
  2. 1746 Margaret Lukey – Murder Alexander Mellows
  3. 1755 Grace Smith – Murder female infant
  4. 1771 Anne Chapman – Murder female bastard child
  5. 1813 Elizabeth Osborne – Setting fire to a cornstack
  6. Sarah Polgreen- Poisoned her husband with arsenic laced butter
  7. 1828 Elizabeth Cummins – Murder male child
  8. 1878 Selina Wadge – Murder of a child
  9. 1901 Valeri Giovanni – Murder on high seas

Prisoners were expected to work during their time at the prison and one of the jobs that almost everyone had to do was ‘Oakum Picking’. This consisted of unravelling pieces of old rope from shipping yards into individual filaments, these were then sold back to the ship-yards where it was mixed with tar and used for caulking wooden ships to make them watertight. Oakum Picking was hard work and was particularly tough on hands. It was something all prisoners had to do in their cells, including children.

Oakum Picking Bodmin Jail

Oakum Picking Bodmin Jail

What has particularly interested me with all of this information is rope:

  • Used for Hanging
  • Used as work / punishment ‘Oakum Picking’
  • Used to Caulk Ships – ships used for transportation (an alternative sentence to hanging for severe punishment)

After a hanging, the noose was usually kept around the neck, but executioners would often sell sections from the rest of the rope as good luck charms.


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