Bodmin Jail and Bridewell

Arms of the Duchy of Cornwall

The Bodmin Bridewell

Written & adapted for television by David Freeman for SECRET BRITAIN

The Story, History and Images of Bodmin Gaol

formerly HM Prison Bodmin Jail


An interesting historical over view of the unique history of Bodmin Jail adapted from his TV series with photographs by celebrated Cornwall Photographer Jackie Freeman









Bodmin Witch Hunt

Bodmin Witches


The fighting fairy woman of Bodmin

Anne Jefferies & the Bodmin Witch hunt.

Ghosts of Bodmin Jail
The Warden Ghost of Bodmin Jail

The ghost of Matthew Weeks.

The public execution & ghost of Selina Wadge


   Witches of one sort or another around Bodmin and the surrounding moor stirred up serious fear amongst the over superstitious community, with many an innocent woman being flogged or worse, condemned as a witch and executed in horrendous ways.


 One such rather odd tale is the story of Anne Jefferies from the neighbouring village of St Teath, which is quite near to Bodmin in Cornwall. Although seemingly a well adjusted young lady, Anne Jefferies grew to be somewhat prone to fits, possibly epilepsy and had made wild claims that she was often visited by Cornish fairies who transported her to wonderful places. It was a common sight for locals to see her dancing in the Cornish woodlands which today would have labelled her as a bit of a wild child! However, Anne Jefferies also seemed to possess clairvoyant and healing talents which, believed by the community were attributable to witchcraft, was going to get her into trouble.  In order to prove a particular point, Anne refused either food or nourishment whilst working in service to the Pitt family, presumably to reinforce the fact that she was being sustained and fed by the magical powers of the fairies! Although today we's probably put this down to either a physical, a mental or psychological issue, accompanied perhaps by extreme Anorexia nervosa, (some commentators of the time agreeing that it was Distemper) But in the ancient days of the witch hunt, Bodmin saw it as a different thing altogether.  

  In 1646 with Bodmin in the midst of the Civil War with the town recently taken by Lord Fairfax, the poor twenty year old Anne Jefferies was reported to the Cornwall's Justice of the Peace who charged her with communicating with evil spirits and she was ordered to be confined in the house of the new Mayor of Bodmin literally under house arrest. It was here, in his house & whilst in his custody, that she was starved without food or water to see if she could uphold her claim that she'd be protected by the fairies! Incredibly and no one to this day knows why or how, she survived the ordeal still claiming that she was being fed by the fairies and was released living on in Cornwall till the ripe old age of seventy. Now, contrary to the popular belief of many British Ghost Hunters converging on Bodmin, Ann Jefferies was not thrown into the great Bodmin Jail. Remember, it was neither built nor opened till thirty four years later in 1780. So any claims that Bodmin Jail is haunted by the ghost of Anne Jefferies who was cast in there as a witch and starved to death as her punishment, is actually a myth.  


 It's also a little bit suspicious upon reflection that the ghost of young Anne Jefferies decided to spend eternity haunting a place that hadn't been built yet and that was a mile and a half away from where she didn't die!






Witches cauldrons and coverns Bodmin



 The tales and the mysteries surrounding Cornish witches, literally flew around the county in these times with the witches reputations becoming more and more exaggerated and impressive as the great Cornish whisper evolved.


 The Cornish whisper is much like Chinese whispers excepting that not only was the embroidery more fanciful but the accuracy of the story lacked a certain amount of finesse! So if someone held a grudge, a jealous streak or a suspicious mind and most had as Bodminites were being encouraged to be prudent in pin pointing prospective troublemakers and criminals and turn them in for the sheriff's purse, it was deep water of the wrong sort for many of Bodmin’s possible witches.


 Sadly as the records show, most accusations of witchcraft flying around Cornwall were made by women against women, particularly young women against older women.

It was inevitable that the effectiveness of natural herbs and the disinfectant properties of certain wells and water courses on the human body would lead to terrible concerns and stories of local witchery in Bodmin if a healer gave you a potion from its source all wrapped up pretty with feathers, shells and wild flowers!

 In the summer of 1682, just over the border in Devon, three so called witches from Bideford,  Temperance Lloyd, Susanna Edwards and Mary Trembles had been hanged  at Exeter, so a careful and ever witchful eye was centred on any woman in Bodmin who vaguely resembled a witch.

Cornish witch, Tammy Blee, just down the road from Bodmin in Helson, old Granny Boswell a Romany witch and another Helston witch are prime itchy - witchy examples. There was Cornish witch Dolly Pentreath, the fish-wife of Mousehole and these were all feared and revered in  the tales of the times in Bodmin.

 Madge Figgey a witch from Burian, the Trewe witches from Zennor and sorcerer witch  Madam Noy pitched forks against alongside Old Joan the wicked witch. Each and every one of them conjouring up formidable if not inaccurate reputations in witch fearing Bodmin.  

The list of active witches in Cornwall and the stories of satanic rites and incantations read like a hit parade of witchery:

Madge Figgey witch

 Aunt Alsey the Anthony witch, the Witch of Fraddon and the Enchanter witch of Pengersick made Cornish witchcraft history.

And the St Levan Witches who gathered at Treen Dinas were still heavy on the minds of Bodmin folk even as late as 1880. And all these Cornish witches held mystical and even more so, emotive power over the minds of folk in Cornwall. So over in Bodmin, look out if you were a healer!

But Doctors of course didn’t count!







Ghosts Bodmin Jail


 Of other Ghosts, apparitions and spirits that seem to be haunting & manifesting themselves in the old Goal of Bodmin, there are plenty of stories and sightings.

 Matthew Weekes, our regular ghost number one, was executed in Bodmin in 1844 for the alleged murder of Charlotte Dymond on Rough Tor. The ghost of Matthew Weekes is said to wander the darkened hallways of Bodmin's jail, having been hanged on the drop gallows erected outside the walls of the jail. It's also believed and the story told by locals how he wanders in limbo having died for a crime that he knew he didn't commit!

Ghost at window Bodmin






Warden Ghost Bodmin


The Warden Ghost of Bodmin Jail.

Number two ghost on the spectre list at Bodmin it's said is of the spiritual ghost of a Warden named George. He, the warden ghost, haunts Bodmin jail its said and is experienced regularly manifesting himself in the old Bodmin cell blocks and cold, dark hallways.

 The story goes that Bodmin jail staff member 'George' suddenly died from a heart attack whilst on duty at the prison and he now keeps a ghostly and ever watchful eye on what he considers to be "his jail." Fortunately if the tale is indeed true, there are only a few people in Bodmin jail's unique history that this spectre could actually be. One past life identity for our warden's ghostly manifestation would be the civil prison Governor - George Colvill who was at his desk in Bodmin jail from 1860 to 1878. Frankly, most ghost hunters think or thought it was probably his earth bound spirit!The problem with identifying George Colvill as the earth bound ghostly figure seen so often in Bodmin's dungeons, is that his Christian name was actually Hugh and not George which was his second name and he died on the 4th of August 1906 at the ripe old age of 84. Do the maths and that's a full twenty eight years after he retired from Bodmin jail where he obviously could not have died! And he was not a Warden, he was Governor. But he was the boss. So not him I fear.

 Our number two ghostly culprit is George H Sandford. 

Now George Sandford was a warder in the old Bodmin jail in the 1870's but what is known is that he died in Bodmin at 84 years of age. So not of a heart attack suddenly at Bodmin jail. He'd retired years earlier and moved on.

 Ghostly manifestation number three may be the ghost of George Shaftain.

 This George was the colourful gate man at Bodmin jail who was born in 1824.  But it can't be him either as he died nearing 68 somewhere up in north Devon. So who is the spectre, the Warden ghost of Bodmin jail?

 The fourth spectre manifesting himself in the Bodmin jail ID parade is a much more likely candidate.

 That's a prison officer called George Harrison ( no connection obviously)

Now he was a 'warder' in Bodmin Jail and not a 'warden,'  but that may just be a semantic error on behalf of those who report seeing his apparition and of no significance.

 George Harrison worked at the jail in the decade 1851 to 1861 and did die young it seems at the age of just 50.

That came about quite suddenly in 1861 as records have it.

But how, or where we just don't know.

Maybe the next time the Warden Ghost of Bodmin Jail is confronted by a ghost hunter, he should be asked his identity.

Eerie non the less! Maybe public Ancestry records will tell if you have the time and are signed up to get?







Selina Wadge

Selina Wadge is the other ghostly spectre most commonly reported at Bodmin Jail and this is her story:

The Execution and Ghost of Selina Wadge


 Selina Wadge, indicted and later incarcerated at Bodmin Jail for the murder of her illegitimate child in Altarnun near Launceston, was expected to be reprieved by the Home Secretary, Viscount Cross on the day of her hanging at Bodmin, the 15th of August 1878. 

 The Home Secretary in his wisdom; "Did not see fit to interfere with British justice," and the reprieve did not come.This blatant refusal of clemency caused some ructions and rumblings amongst many commentators and indeed officials who considered that Selina Wadge could in fact simply be be mentally ill.  Therefore a woman likely not responsible for her actions or her crime and a prisoner who should have been simply sanctioned and sent to the Bodmin Asylum and not the gallows!

However, that was not to be. Perhaps, had the sharp eared lawyers of today's times been around back then, they may just have have got her off.

  The utterly stupid and quite unsupportable stories which she told in her defence and which came out in damning evidence against her are one thing. One witness citing in an interview that Selina Wadge's four year old son had spoken out against his mother when she was telling the witness that her boy had died of a throat infection and an abscess and had been buried in the churchyard.. The little boy chirped up, "it is in a pit mother!"  Well, that condemnation was taken as read and from a four year old!Whether this evidence is indeed evidence or seen as hearsay or even admissable in court is a question to ask yourself, but it was certainly accepted and taken into consideration at here trial and contributed big time to the final decision of the judge.

The judges blooper in sentencing her was something else though. 

 Now, this senior magistrate had heard a lengthy and detailed case implicating Selina Wadge in the wilful murder of her two year old son by throwing him down a well and drowning him. A reasoned conclusion as to her guilt was reached by all twelve jurers who made a point of asking the judge to have mercy on her as they did not feel the murder was premeditated. He didn't agree. But he disagreed with a lot of things.In his sentencing  of Selina Wadge the judge said;

"Selina Wadge. You have been found guilty upon evidence which is impossible to resist, of throwing the body of your child, two years old, down a well. This could have been done with only one intention." 

 It seems rather clear that in this statement, that judge was mixed up and felt the child was already dead  before he was thrown down the well and as she had been found guilty of killing him by drowning during the trial, she couldn't have killed him twice! Did he really understand what this case was all about! A miscarriage of justice, inadmissible evidence, a deranged accused who may have actually been mentally unsound or otherwise? It hardly matters now , because Selina Wadge was about to pay for this crime with her life.







Execution Selina Wadge

The Execution of Selina Wadge




 An isolated part of Bodmin prison was selected for the execution of Selina Wadge to take place. Set within in a small quiet enclosed section of the south west part of the jail and a scaffold duly erected there. The place for her execution within the prison confines was almost purpose built for the job, though likely accidentally so.

 Beyond an obvious arch which now take us to the cycle parking area of Bodmin jail is a semi enclosed courtyard of prison buildings.  This courtyard originally served a useful domestic purpose as supply carts could pull in and directly unload their cargo through a small first floor doorway into the kitchen store as can clearly be seen visible half way up the image to the right. That first floor doorway however held more ominous prospects for future executions at Bodmin jail.A matter of only ten metres to the left of that doorway are the condemned cells of Bodmin Gaol.

Even today, above and to each side of the doorway can be seen the 4 iron fixings which once supported the side drop gallows floor with its trap and gallows framework. Reports of the time indicate that a scaffold was erected here but built with steps, putting paid to the view that Selina Wadge was the first to enter the scaffold through the doorway. Clearly this would happen later or had been the case even earlier, with Selina Wadge being afforded some further dignity with which to exit the world. It is more than likely that the end wall of the courtyard which is what we have our backs to in the photograph (right) was not yet constructed at the time of her execution and the courtyard and archway were more a through roadway.

 This openness would in turn allow for those members of the public watching proceedings from Asylum hill who'd enjoy a very good view of proceedings would be a problem for Hugh Colvill the prison Governor who was an honorable and decent man.

Execution yard Bodmin Jail


Executions Bodmin jail.

 Female executions were at best distasteful in the eyes of some of the prison's authorities and it soon became obvious to observers that the event was being eagerly awaited by an ever growing crowd outside Bodmin jail's prison walls. Particularly by Bodmin's womenfolk who had been gathering on the banks and outside the jail entrance and up on Asylum hill since dawn.


Although now covered by a wooden sign, back in 1878, anyone peering through the locked prison gates through the arch from the gates beyond would also have clear sight of the drop zone. So the hanging of Selina Wadge would be visible, or at least its result would !It was an easy matter therefore for a canvas screen to be ordered up by the Governor Hugh Colvill and erected between the prison buildings to shield the grisly affair from the watchful eyes of the public.


 We are told that a solemn but utterly repentant Selena Wadge climbed the gallows stairs and entered the scaffold from the doorway with a "tolerably firm step" and great dignity, gently sobbing and asking for divine forgiveness, grasping her handkerchief tightly in her hand.  


At the exact stoke of eight in the morning, Selina Wadge was clearly heard to say, "God deliver me from this miserable world." And William Marwood, her executioner, mercifully released the bolt which plunged Selena Wadge eight feet into her eternity.



 William Marwood, is commended in British history for his invention of the humane "long drop" method of hanging. This was a form of execution which ensured that the prisoner's neck would be instantly broken as the rope snapped tight, rather than allowing the poor soul's departure by suffocation, (as had so often previously been the case when used on the Gibbet in Bodmin.) And Marwood was to be commended again.

 It is widely reported in the press of the time who interviewed the witnesses to Selina Wadge's death, that not a sound was to be heard as Selina Wadge plummeted through the trap, hanged with such rapidity that she did not even drop her handkerchief.



Ghost Selina Wadge.

 On a more light hearted note,  a bout the Ghost of Selina Wadge: one must also question the reasoning behind any of the ghost stories surrounding Selina Wadge and simply ask why such a repentant, religious woman, one imminently facing her maker, a God fearing woman who had displayed such forgiveness to her partner for his part of deceiving her and which contributed to the crime, would be left in the 'nether - lands' by her God, some place betwixt heaven & hell, and would now be appearing as a ghost traipsing around Bodmin jail at every ungodly hour haunting the daylights out of pregnant women and scaring children to death!

No sense at all!






Cornish Witches & Ghosts - History of Bodmin Jail Cornwall Part 2 | Cornish Witchcraft and Ghosts of Bodmins Gaol |  Secret Britain David Freeman, Images, photos, photographs and details

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Ghosts of Bodmin Jail & Cornish Witches and Witchcraft a complete History. Secret Britain: Bodmin Gaol a Bridewell revisited. Executions, Escapes and the Bodmin gallows.
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