Serving Time

For most people, spending the night in jail is their idea of a nightmare. For us, it was a dream come true.Bodmin Jail

Back in February, we decided to finally make a start on a book we’ve been thinking about for a couple of years – a non-fiction ghost book. We always work on numerous projects at one time and our therapist, Jennifer, suggested trying something different. We told her our idea of the book. But we didn’t want it to be like the other ghost books, so she suggested we write one based on our Calamityville adventures. Bodmin JailWe actually spend some sessions discussing paranormal occurrences and debunking methods. Yes, this still counts as therapy. We already had most of the research from our visits and from the articles we write for Haunted Digital Magazine, so we were halfway there. We began by contacting all the places we’d visited for the four seasons of Calamityville, to get staff experiences and see if they’d let us do an overnight investigation for our book. Most didn’t reply. Some gave us the standard price of £600. But Mark Rabin, the resident medium of Bodmin Jail invited us to spend the night.

That was last night.

He’d said in his email back in February that he’d phone us to make sure we were decent people. When he rang, he said “no interviewing sheep or mannequins. And you might want to dress warmer. It gets really cold overnight.” Lynx “You’ve seen the show, haven’t you?” He watched our Bodmin Jail/Bodmin Moor episodes from S2 to see what we were like. And he still let us have the jail. He’s a brave man.

The Museum of WitchcraftLaura Dixon from Jack and Laura’s Ghost Series joined us, along with Neen’s mum, Elaine. You may remember her from our Redcliffe Caves episode. Neen was working so she and Elaine weren’t leaving Cardiff until 6 p.m. We wanted to spend some time in Cornwall so we picked Laura up at 1 p.m. Our route down was peppered with “so glad we’re not on that side of the road.” “Pass the Red Bull.” and “Is that guy peeing in the bushes?” We arrived at 4ish and headed for our first stop – The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle. We went there three years ago on our ghost hunting holiday but as the book we’re working on now (The Devil’s Servants) is about the witch trials, we wanted to go again. The last time we went, Cat was robbed of 5p by the pay and display machine and had an argument with it, and Lynx ended up drowning in sun cream. This time, we left the car park with our dignity still intact. We wandered over to the public toilets, only to find we had to pay 20p to use them. Ok, it was to contribute to the upkeep of the toilets, but we still felt aggrieved at having to pay for a basic human right. We decided to hang on until we reached Jamaica Inn. If we’d used our common sense, we would’ve gone in the pub opposite, but common sense divorced us years ago and we’re beyond reconciliation.

The Museum of WitchcraftAs we reached the doors, a family debated about going in. The kids took one look at us and seemed to think we were scarier than the museum and almost backed out, until their parents persuaded them to stay. That and we were behind them, kettling them in, It’s a fascinating place and well worth a visit. There are displays from the early years of witchcraft, such as the Pendle witch trials, all the way up to modern Wicca and even how witches have been portrayed in literature and art. And there are human skulls in cases. Win win. We’d forgotten to bring our Weeja board to the jail, so were tempted to take one off the museum’s walls, but the displays are alarmed and we didn’t fancy our chances of getting away.

Jamaica InnThe next place on our list is perfect for hungry, travelling ghost hunters: Jamaica Inn. We’ve only just starting putting our trust into SatNav and after only a few attempts at this new relationship, SatNav betrayed us. We knew it would happen this way – no signal means no SatNav. That’s why we’ve never trusted them. We had to find our way to Jamaica Inn using our memories and a map. Considering our memories are so bad that when people ask us what we’ve done in the week, we’re unable to answer them, we only made a couple of wrong turns and they weren’t as disastrous as they usually are. We arrived at Jamaica Inn with over two hours to spare until Neen and Elaine were due to arrive. We spent it wisely – having a drink and food. Our chips arrived covered in green stuff. Laura thought they were herbs. Lynx suspected it was grass cuttings, but we were brave and tried them anyway. Luckily whatever the green stuff was, had no smell, taste and was invisible, so it was allowed to stay. It would’ve been a pain to scrape it off. This counts as trying new food, because we never have anything on our chips – no salt, vinegar or ketchup. They are as naked as nature intended.

Jamaica Inn

stocking fillers

With an hour to kill, we visited the Daphne Du Maurier Museum. We wanted to visit the gift shop, but it was closed. It was creepy being the only ones in there, especially as the ceiling was creaking with people walking in the rooms above. We heard a door opening to the toilets then the sound of a toilet lid being lifted. Was this a visitor? Or a toilet ghost? If any show was going to discover a toilet ghost, it would be Calamityville Horror. We then made our way to Joss’s bar to have photo fun with the mannequins and chat to some of the locals about Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. By the time we finished, Neen and Elaine had arrived.

Bodmin JailAs darkness drew in, we left Jamaica Inn and skirted around the moors to Bodmin Jail. To discover the bar was still open and someone was having a disco in the old chapel. We’d been told we’d have the jail from 10 p.m. til 6 a.m. but this disco showed no signs of dying. In hindsight, we should’ve gatecrashed and busted classic Calamityville moves. That would’ve cleared the dance floor. We headed inside and the guy behind the bar guessed we were there for a paranormal investigation. Was it the cameras that gave it away or the crazed-eyes, drool wiping excitement emanating from our every pore? He led us down to meet the medium, Sonia Richards. Mark was away in Essex so couldn’t meet us. Sonia took us in to the crew room, where the old jail kitchens used to be then we headed back outside to get our gear. She said it was ok for us to sleep there so luckily we’d brought our sleeping bags and camping mats just in case. Plus, we didn’t have a backup location, so it was either the jail, our cars or the Moors. We kinda hoped for the Moors. We could get a bit of Beast spotting in. It would be undeniable footage if it were to drag us off in our sleeping bags.

Bodmin JailSonia was lovely and took us on a tour of the jail. It’s changed since we were there three years ago. There are different mannequins, the set ups in the cells are different and some areas have opened up whereas others have closed. The mannequins were like a Tantalus, smirking smugly inside their cells, knowing we couldn’t get to them. Like someone in Witness Protection hiding from the Mob. We were gutted. Molesting mannequins is what we’re best known for! That and getting lost. And being the Worst. Ghost hunters. Ever. Each cell we passed seemed to mock us further, their creepy faces leering at us as they committed their crimes unashamedly before our eyes. We’ll find you in your dreams, mannequins.

execution shed

execution shed

In 1778, an Act allowed the local Justices to build three penal institutions on a new site in Bodmin. Another County Jail, a Debtors’ Jail and a House of Correction. Sir John Call Bart, JP, MP designed them, based on ideals of prison reformer John Howard. Bodmin Gaol was a pioneer in design: light and airy with isolated areas for debtors, felons and those who committed misdemeanors. Men and women were kept separate. The gaol had hot water, under floor heating, a chapel, infirmary and individual sleeping cells. Prisoners were paid for work from profits of the products the governor sold.

Bodmin Jail

Naval Wing

Prison population was low until 1815, the end of the Napoleonic Wars, then cells became occupied by multiple prisoners. After 1820, numbers dropped again until the gaol’s closure. Old buildings were extended and new buildings added until 1850, when they were deemed unfit. Several Acts of Parliament demanded segregation based on prisoners’ offences and gender, resulting in over 20 classes of prisoners who had to be kept separate. In 1850s, a new 220 cell gaol was built, which was too large for the number of prisoners in Cornwall. In 1887, parts of it were transferred to the Royal Navy, becoming HM Royal Navy Prison Bodmin. In 1911, the female prison closed. The male civil gaol wasn’t used after 1916 as prisoners and staff went to war. The Naval prison closed in 1922 and was sold seven years later.

Bodmin Jail

the basement

60 executions took place between 1735 and 1909. Eight were women. Thirty five were murderers. Earlier executions took place on Bodmin Common. Between 1802-1828, a drop gallows was used in the field outside the front of the gaol. Between 1834-1856, a new drop gallows over the main gate was used. When the new gaol was built, the drop was over the main gate, but this was deemed illegal by the Inspector of Prisons, as it wasn’t public enough. The drop was then placed over the south wall, where the crowds could watch the executions from Asylum Hill, otherwise known as Bodmin Highlands. In 1868, a new law was passed demanding executions take place in private. Hangings in 1878 & 1882 took place on the same site, but a canvas shield blocked people’s view. In 1897, an execution shed was constructed in one of the prison yards, which was used for the last two hangings in Cornwall in 1901 and 1909, which were the only actual private ones inside the jail. It’s the only workable example of a Victorian execution shed and gallows in Britain. Sonia told us they have an executioner, Gary, give demonstrations on how the drop gallows work and he even hangs the dummy. We were gutted he wasn’t there last night.

The prison that exists today was built by the prisoners, using granite from Bodmin’s Cuckoo Quarry. But as well as holding prisoners, the jail has also guarded the Crown Jewels. During the First World War, it protected the Doomsday Book and state papers. It closed its doors for good in 1927.Bodmin Jail

Ghost hunters report the most active part as the boiler room in the basement. Really? An old boiler room? Is Freddy Krueger down there? We told Sonia last time we were there, there was a repulsive stench in the basement. It made us feel sick and we nearly had to leave. She said a lot of ghost hunters have reported that same smell. They describe a tramp being down there. We just thought maybe there were sewers nearby. We had no idea the smell was associated with anything potentially paranormal. Typical Calamityville, missing stuff.

Bodmin JailWe reached the chapel where the disco was and Uptown Funk was playing. This is one of our favourite Zumba dances. Neen and Cat broke into simultaneous Uptown Funk dancing outside the cells. Sadly it was the only dancing we did all night. We told Sonia about our crappy super power of being spirit blockers. She was surprised that being Goths, we’re sceptical of the paranormal. We’ve always loved ghosts but we’ve never believed in them. She thought our scepticism might be blocking the spirits, acting as a negative barrier. We know believers are more likely to experience paranormal phenomena, but we attribute this to believers automatically suspecting it’s paranormal whereas sceptics will find a way to debunk it. She suggested we try meditating. Neen still insists we’re dead on the inside and all the Red Bull we drink has caused this, but we don’t listen to her blasphemy.

The disco finally ended at midnight but it was half midnight by the time all the staff left and we had the place to ourselves. By then, we were all tired after our journeys. We began with a walk round with the cameras and K2 while Lynx read some of the jail’s history. Then we decided to try meditating to see if it would work. We used the techniques our multi conversion therapist taught us. We’ve been neglecting her therapy recently but were still able to use our code words to help us relax.

Bodmin Jail

Naval Wing

Then we headed outside to the naval wing. This wing is abandoned and crumbling, with bats hiding among the ivy roof. There are no floors. It’s beautifully creepy. We had our new IR floodlight with us and it made a massive difference to our full spectrum camera, which struggles to see far in the dark. Well worth the £30 we spent on it. And the £5 battery pack. We do ghost hunting on a budget.  We moved into a cell and stood in a circle to do calling out, with Lynx pointing the full spectrum camera out into the main wing. We kept hearing murmured voices but the jail overlooks the town and this wing has open windows so it was probably voices from the town. We also kept hearing stones dropping and rustling so we moved out while Neen, Laura and Elaine stayed in the cell. We couldn’t see anything, but due to the wing being exposed to the elements, we’re putting this down as natural phenomena. There are bats living there. We then separated and took a cell each until Neen legged it out of her cell. She thought she saw a shadowy figure standing in the cell with her and sensed it wanted her to leave. So she did, quickly. Cat, Elaine and Laura entered her cell but they didn’t sense anything. The Naval Wing is haunted by a gay prison officer who apparently used to abuse the prisoners. It’s said he pushes women out of the way and tries to drag men into a cell. We gutted that our two ghost hunting guys (Jack and Tom) couldn’t make it. We’d planned for them to be bait. We hadn’t told them this, as we’d wanted it to be a surprise. Men who appear on our show get special treatment.

Bodmin Jail

Naval Wing

Neen and Elaine headed back inside as they were cold but us and Laura stayed out to try and summon the demon that apparently lurks there. He was created by a coven of witches to stop locals trespassing the gaol. He’s harmless but feeds on your fear to grow stronger. Like Popeye with spinach, only more Hell-bound. He sadly didn’t make an appearance. We’ve never had a demon on the show and were looking forwards to adding him under our ‘special guest’ heading in our end credits. Plus, you never know when a demon might come in handy – hexing your enemies, getting you a throne in a palace downstairs, filing your tax returns…

Cat saw like a torch light on the old steps at the far end, but this could have been a reflection. We returned inside and tracked Neen and Elaine to the third floor, where a bat had fled one of the cells, straight over Neen’s head before disappearing. We ventured up to the top floor where creepy child mannequins loiter in the cells. Elaine threw a stone for a child to throw back but they refused to join in. We asked for any child spirits to trigger our motion sensor lights but again, nothing happened. Laura felt something tickling her hand.

Bodmin JailWe then moved down to the basement and did calling out. There were two mannequins being hanged for crimes against impersonating a human being. We set our motion sensor lights down but again, the spirits refused to co-operate. We demanded rope burn imprints round our necks but they obviously decided we had enough necklaces without them adding to our collection. Neen thought she saw a grey figure in the doorway, but wasn’t sure if it was her imagination. We invited it in to stand by her, stroke her face and caress her hair. She moved. Elaine and Laura’s stomachs participated enthusiastically so we retreated to basecamp for sustenance.

Bodmin Jail

Selina Wadge

Next we went to level three to try and contact Selina Wadge. Selina was twenty eight, unmarried, with two children, Henry (often called Harry) who was two, and John, who was six. She was often forced to enter Launceston Workhouse when she couldn’t find work. Henry was partially crippled, so he couldn’t walk, but her children were cared for. In 1878, she and her children left the workhouse to visit her mother in Altarnum. She claimed to be having a relationship with James Westwood, a solider. He wrote to Selina, asking to meet her in Launceston on Saturday, June 22nd, but later wrote to say he was working. On Friday the 21st, Selina and her children hitched a ride to Launceston with William Holman, a local farmer. She told him she was going to meet her boyfriend. On Saturday, she was seen near Mowbray Park. By midday, she was back at the workhouse, but only had John with her. In front of the workhouse master, Mr Downing, she told her sister, (who was also an inmate) that Henry had died in Altarnum. That night, John told the nurses Selina had put Henry into a pit.

Selina claimed James Westwood had drowned Henry in a well on Friday and threatened to kill her and John. Mr Downing called the police. Superintendent Barrett from Launceston arrived to question Selina. She gave him the same story. Henry’s body was found in three feet of water at the bottom of a well in Mowbray Park. The top of the well was covered, ruling out Henry falling in by accident. There were no signs of violence on his body. Selina was left in Mrs Downing’s care and confessed that she had acted alone, with only John present. When Selina was arrested and taken to Launceston police station, she told a constable that Westwood had promised to marry her if she killed Henry. Her trial began on 27th July 1878, presided over by Mr Justice Denman. The jury took 45 minutes to find her guilty, but asked for mercy because of the way she had previously treated the children, and because there was no evidence of premeditation. She was sentenced to death.Bodmin Jail

She was executed 8 a.m. on Thursday, 15th August 1878. Hers was the first private execution to be held at Bodmin and the first to use the measured drop. There is a mannequin scene in the condemned cell showing her crime and she was executed via the old site only a few feet away. Pregnant woman report experiencing her remorse and often feel emotional on the third and fourth floors. Children have been known to ask who the crying woman is. She is seen as a full torso manifestation. Our cuddly executioner, Ketch, served as a trigger object. Selena didn’t show so we crowded around the execution site and pretended to be hanging for photos before returning to the basement and the boiler room.

Bodmin Jail

Anne Jeffries

Another prisoner said to haunt the jail is Anne Jeffries, who was accused of being a witch. When she denied it, she was apparently left to starve to death. It took her three months to die.

In the old boiler room, Lynx fell down the step, much to everyone’s delight. Yes, Cat was filming her at the time. Again we set out the motion sensor lights, along with our old keys as trigger objects. Lynx moved to the far end of the corridor to encourage the spirits to come to her. After a while, Cat claimed another doorway. Unfortunately, the basement was as active as a sleep clinic, so we retreated upstairs and asked Sonia to do some glass divination with us, to see if she could get the spirits to interact with us.

Bodmin Jail

execution door

We took a table and glass into the long room with the cells and gathered around. Sonia stood a few feet away and called out to the spirits. At times it felt like the glass moved slightly, but none of us could keep still, so our fingers were slipping all over the glass, which could have moved it. We tried for half an hour, but got nothing other than slight vibrations and all of us feeling like we were swaying, which can be explained by the fact it was 4 a.m. and we were all knackered.

We called it a night and bunked down in the crew room for two hours. It’s surprising how comfy a jail floor can be when you’ve been awake most of the night. We napped in services car parks on the way home. like rock stars. Or tramps. Due to the party and needing to sleep, we only had three and a half hours investigation time, which wasn’t long enough in a location that size. We didn’t have time to separate and do paired or lone vigils, as we wanted to explore every area. There’s only one thing for it – we’ll have to get ourselves locked up again.Bodmin Jail

4 Comments

  1. You could have easily messed with the partygoers into thinking there was a spirit bent on revenge and have them running out of there terrified. You’d have had the whole place to yourselves then 🙂

    The book sounds pretty cool, looking forward to hearing more about it 🙂

    • Damn it, why did we not think of this? Damn partygoers, having fun in our Jail on our time!

      We’re quite excited about the book. We’ve never done a non fiction book so it’s interesting to try something new.

  2. Reblogged this on Paranormal Society of Bradenton, FL.


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