Mount Folly has always been at the heart of Bodmin.
Here stood the medieval Franciscan Friary of St Nicholas whose church was described as being second only to Westminster Hall in the grandeur of its raftered ceiling.
From the mid-16th century on the church was used as a corn and meat market and Assizes Hall and was pulled down in 1837 to make way for the new County Assizes Courts the centre of the highest justice in Cornwall.
|Outside The Shire Hall in Bodmin |
Every quarter the Courts dispensed Victorian justice, as stony and unyielding as the building’s granite, with many a luckless prisoner sentenced to either hard labour, transportation or a very public death by hanging at Bodmin Gaol.
But, 150 years in the service of law and order ended in Bodmin when a new court was opened in Truro in 1988 and for nearly a decade the building remained silent and neglected.
Help was at hand though in the shape of Bodmin Town Council who with significant support from North Cornwall District Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and others steered the building, to a fully refurbished, successful opening by HM Majesty the Queen in 2000.
In the Shire Hall one of the old courts has been carefully restored to its Victorian heyday. Here you can watch the re-enactment of Cornwall’s most intriguing trial, that of Matthew Weeks for the murder of Charlotte Dymond. In the actual court in which Matthew was tried in 1844, you can decide whether he was guilty or not guilty.
And it’s not over yet for the court usher takes you down to the holding cells, which except for removing cobwebs, are in their 19th century state.
|Plenty of artwork to enjoy|
Here in the chilly musty air, you can almost sense the ghosts of anxious prisoners awaiting their unknown fate.
And on the fringes of your imagination you can almost hear the whisper of straw as ghostly rats whisk lightly over your feet. The urge to hold your breath and look down is irresistible!
The second court contains the award-winning Visitor Information Centre and the Jury Box Shop which sells Cornish produce and the work of Cornish artists and craftworkers.
It was also in this courtroom that two of the last people to be hanged in the UK, (1963) Pascoe and Whitty were tried.
Upstairs is a large airy gallery that has an annual exhibitions programme of community and Cornish artists work.
The Shire Hall is an important historic building with a unique place in Cornish history and a warmer welcome awaits you now in Shire Hall than the once unsmiling judge and jury!
The Shire Hall opens:
10.00 am – 5.00 pm Monday to Saturday, Easter to the end of October.
10.00 am – 5.00 pm Monday to Friday November to Easter
Admission to the gallery is free
The Courtroom Experience (the re-enactment of the murder trial) is open:
11.00 am – 4.00 pm Monday to Saturday, Easter to the end of October. (11.00 am – 4.00 pm Monday to Friday November to Easter.)
Performances are on the hour from 11.00 a.m. till 4.00 p.m. Adults £3.50, children £2.00, concessions £2.50, families £8.00 (2 + 3). Group rates available on request.