How an 18th-Century Prison Was Transformed Into Cornwall’s Newest Luxury Hotel

Forget Hotel California; in some hotels’ former lives, they truly were places you checked in, and couldn’t leave—because they were prisons.

The footprint of a jail, of course, is ideal for a hotel, but it was only in the 1990s when this trend kickstarted, arguably via the Four Seasons in Istanbul. It commandeered the elaborate, neoclassical Sultanahmet Prison which had closed in 1969, and cheekily converting it into an ultra-luxury hotel. More followed, like the aptly named Liberty in Boston, which opened in 2001, and the Oxford site for British boutique chain Malmaison five years later. Its building dates back to the 11th century, and was converted into a prison three hundred years ago. The newest option is also in Britainthe just-opened Bodmin Jail, which  shared images of the extraordinary conversion exclusively stateside with Robb Report.

Bodmin Jail

Bodmin Jail Photo: Courtesy of Bodmin Jail 

The four-story, 70-room luxury property was initially built in 1779 during the reign of George III, made famous by the movie about his long term mental illness. The site was a cutting-edge design statement back then, with hot water, and well-ventilated living quarters for the inmates, who ranged from petty criminals to a special section reserved for sailors convicted of crimes. It wasn’t a soft option, though: 55 hangings took place on the gibbets here.

This £50 million, six-year makeover was a mammoth undertaking by London-based firm Twelve Architects, as the property had fallen into ruin after the jail closed in the 1920s. Attempts to demolish it with dynamite had failed, so thick were the walls, but the roof had collapsed and interior features had fallen away. It was up to Matt Cartwright, the lead architect, to reimagine the rubble-strewn site as a luxury hotel. For each suite-style room, he combined three cells; even cutting through the interior walls was difficult.

Bodmin Jail

A room in Bodmin Jail hotel. Photo: Courtesy of Bodmin Jail 

“They’re 60cm [around 24”] thick, and filled with loose rubble, so as soon as you cut a hole in one, the rubble falls out,” he explains, “And there were so many bats, which you couldn’t remove without a permit for certain months of the year, otherwise they might have been mating.”  Cartwright deliberately retained much of the rough-hewn textures of these walls and other historic details during the luxury fit out, keen to evoke their past for voluntary overnighters. Rates for each of these suites start at £200 including breakfast; the property is also available on a full buyout basis (POA).

Cartwright turned the onsite chapel into the main bar-restaurant—the upper level, where there’s now a grand piano—was where the wardens and staff used to sit for worship, looking down over their inmates. As for the condemned cell, where those 50 plus prisoners would have spent the last night before their execution and received their last rites? It’s located in the prison’s former office wing, the sole part of the site that had remained in use and so was in superior condition. “It’s the only cell that hasn’t been converted into a bedroom,” he says, mutedly.

Bodmin Jail

Bodmin Jail’s chapel was converted into a bar-restaurant. Photo: Courtesy of Bodmin Jail 

This corner of the UK, of course, hosts hosts the G7 summit this weekend. Perhaps any leaders that need chiding will be booked a suite here. President Putin, check your itinerary.

From Robb Report USA

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