Lincoln Castle Gaol Gets Ready To Welcome First Inmates In 127 Years

By Chris Breese | 03 May 2005
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Shows a photograph of a prison wing lit by sunlight pouring in through a vast window.

The public will soon get its first glimpse inside Lincoln Castle's historic prison. © Chris Breese/ 24 Hour Museum.

24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Journalist Chris Breese was carted off to Lincoln to do his time...

Life on the inside of the Victorian penal system will be on show when part of Lincoln Castle’s historic prison is opened to the public for the first time in July.

The 24 Hour Museum was granted an exclusive look inside the foreboding gaol to see what visitors will experience a full 127 years after its original closure.

Lesley Dean, Keeper of Events and Marketing at the castle, told the 24 HM: “We’re hoping that this attraction will get a lot of visitors so we will be able to invest in the rest of the prison and the castle.”

Shows a photograph of a prison cell, sunlight shining through a high window.

The condemned cell. © Chris Breese/ 24 Hour Museum.

The block about to be opened was originally used to hold women prisoners and was a very modern facility in its day, featuring running water and sanitation rarely seen in other prisons at the time.

All the cells have been whitewashed and restored to the appearance they would have had when the prison was in use, along with the matron’s quarters where the prisoners could be supervised with the comfort of a fire.

Opened in 1848 the wing initially operated under the ‘Pentonville’ system where inmates where kept in isolation. The scheme was dropped after just 18 months when prisoners showed signs of madness from the solitude.

Rising early to a breakfast of gruel, the population could expect a day of labour with a lunch of soup and yet more gruel for supper.

Five years or more could be expected for pilfering the most innocuous of items and the hangman’s noose would await those bold enough to steal so much as a sheep.

Shows a photograph of a prison wing lit by sunlight pouring in through a vast window.

It is hoped that eventually the main prison wing will open to the public as well. © Chris Breese/ 24 Hour Museum.

The restoration will give visitors a look inside the condemned cell, where those facing the rope would spend their final hours.

Lincoln’s condemned cell was doubled in size to accommodate a watchful guard after one woman hung herself on the eve of her execution – almost causing the expectant crowd to riot.

The prison was also the birthplace of the ‘long drop’ – a method of hanging with a longer rope, breaking the prisoner’s neck and leading to a quicker death.

Pioneered by local cobbler William Marwood in 1873 the long drop became the standard method of hanging across the country.

Dubbed the ‘Gentleman Executioner’ Marwood went on to hang more than 250 people in this way and is quoted as saying: “I give many prisoners confidence by assuring them that I will not hurt them.”

Shows a photograph of a prisoner transfer document from the 19th century.

Former inmate 'Doggy' Parker's transfer form. © Chris Breese/ 24 Hour Museum.

Poorer Victorians inevitably made up the prison’s population. Transfer records detail the incarceration of a George Parker, whose alias is given as ‘Doggy’ Parker.

A 32-year-old labourer and baker, the father of two is described as being able to read and write ‘imperfectly’. He was condemned to five years ‘penal servitude’ for stealing a French five Franc piece.

Close to the prison building and still within the castle walls is Lincoln Crown Court, still trying cases around 300 years after it was originally built. Those found guilty here can thankfully expect better treatment in today’s prisons than was meted out in the grim corridors of the building just a hundred yards away.

Visitors will have to wait until the castle prison opens on July 23 to see just how much progress has been made.

Shows the Renaissance in the Regions logo.

Chris Breese is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance student journalist for the East Midlands region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

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