Nicola Kirk: Author and Collector of Paranormal Stories and Other Strange Encounters

Posts tagged ‘jail’


Prison Hell: Room Without A View

Newgate Prison once stood on the corner of Newgate Street andOld Bailey, and was originally built in 1188.  The prison was originally one of the seven gates of London Wall (six of which date back to Roman times) and it was extended and rebuilt many times during the course of its long (and somewhat grotty) life before it finally closed for business in 1902.

Temple Of Doom – Newgate Prison

In 1782, the prison was redesigned in the hope of instilling terror into the hearts of would-be villains.  The authorities hoped the prison’s new look would deter people from committing crimes.  The bleak, soot-stained (from burning people at the stake outside the prison) almost windowless walls loomed over the residents as an ever-present reminder of where they would end up if they misbehaved.

Lemme Out!

Life inside the prison was a harsh affair.  Considering there were over 350 crimes that warranted the death sentence, it was unlikely that your stay in prison would be a long one.  Justice was nothing more than a myth in times gone by.  If you refused to plead then you could be left in prison until you changed your mind or died, whichever came first.  When too many people were dying rather than pleading (if you managed to avoid admitting guilt then the crown couldn’t get its grubby mitts on your estate) the justice system tried an alternative method of getting a confession out of you i.e. tying you to the floor with a board on your chest and slowly adding weights until you gave in and confessed… or died.

Depending on how well off you were, imprisonment at Newgate ranged from being a mild inconvenience to absolute hell.  The prison was privately run, which meant you had to pay for the privilege of languishing within its cold stone walls.  Being a gaoler at Newgate was good work if you could get it because keeping the gaoler sweet meant an easier ride for you as a prisoner.  If you had enough money you could afford the luxury of having your heavy, ill-fitting manacles removed, have a private cell with someone to clean it and, if you were feeling a bit frisky, they would even sort out a prostitute to visit you too.  If you were, on the other hand, sadly lacking in funds, then the best you could expect was a lice infested cell, nothing to sleep on but the dirty floor and very little in the way of clothing to keep you warm.  If you were one of the poor unfortunates awaiting execution, chances were gaol fever (Typhus) would claim your wretched life long before the gallows did.

Dancing The Tyburn Jig

Alas, even in death you couldn’t be free of Newgate prison because a ‘departure fee’ had to be paid before the corpse was allowed to be taken away by relatives for burial.

In 1793 the infamous gallows at Tyburn was moved to Newgate.  The Sunday before the condemned were due to die, they were forced to listen to a tedious sermon at Newgate Chapel.  To add insult to injury, some bright spark thought it would be a nice touch to have the doomed convicts’ coffins sitting alongside them during the sermon as a somewhat unnecessary reminder of their impending doom.

Every Monday morning the condemned were forced to endure the humiliation of being dragged out in front of an enormous crowd so they could be executed.  Hangmen of old weren’t well-known for their customer relation skills and they rarely bothered to calculate the correct drop which would cleanly break the condemned person’s neck.  Instead, many people suffered the indignity and horror of slowly strangling to death.  The last execution at Newgate Prison was carried out in May 1902.

Newgate’s Finest: Jack Sheppard

Famous inmates of Newgate prison included Jack Sheppard.  Jack, who showed promise of being a very good carpenter, only had about a year of his apprenticeship left to do before he took to a life of crime.  He was arrested and imprisoned at Newgate no less than five times but he managed to escape time and again.  Alas, justice finally caught up with poor old Jack and a fifth escape from Newgate never happened.  He was hanged at Tyburn on Monday 16th November 1724.  Jack made such a name for himself during the course of his short crime spree that even Bram Stoker refers to him in his famous novel ‘Dracula’. When describing the unfortunate Renfield he says:

“He is safe now, at any rate.  Jack Sheppard himself couldn’t get free from the straight waistcoat that keeps him restrained, and he’s chained to the wall in the padded room.”

Sadly for historians (but fortunately for criminals), there is nothing left of Newgate prison these days.  Or is there?  The Old Bailey that stands on the site of Newgate prison today was built using as much stone from the old prison as possible.  Perhaps the horrors that took place within the walls of Newgate are now deeply embedded into the walls of The Old Bailey instead.


©Nicola Kirk and 2010




Hell’s Cells! Devil Worship and Inmate Suicides

Who will your cell mate be?

If you could punish the horrible little oik who burgled your house or stole your car a little bit more while they were languishing behind bars, how would you go about it?  Enforced participation in Country and Western karaoke evenings?  Compulsory beautician courses?  Well, how about leaving them to fend for themselves in a prison that comes with its very own demons?  Yes… that’s more like it!

Something at Brinsford Prison, near Wolverhampton, has its inmates quaking in their trainers.  They are terrified of entering one of the prison cells because they believe there is something evil lurking there (something additional to the inmates, that is) which is responsible for two inmate suicides.

Brinsford is a Young Offenders Institute with nearly 600 inmates.  They’re a nice lot in there; real salt of the earth types, many of whom are awaiting trial for murder, rape and general pillage, that sort of thing.

Two suicides have taken place in one particular cell from hell during the course of 2009, and they allegedly took place on the same day of the week and at the same time of day. Spooky.

It hasn’t taken long for the rumour mill to do its thing and now the prison is awash with stories of devil worshipping and general unmentionables.  Chaplains were shipped in to sort the mess out and they went as far as confirming that something wasn’t ‘quite right’ about the cell (giving the impression that there’s usually something ‘right’ about prison cells in the first place).  Inmates are now demanding that an exorcism is performed on the cell and they are even trying to insist that the cell in question be closed off completely.  One guard told reporters that a lot of inmates are terrified.  Kind of makes you feel warm inside, doesn’t it?

Once the police had finished with the cell after the second suicide, it was quickly put to use once more, regardless of its newfound reputation.

The prison chaplain, Phil Seadon, wouldn’t answer any questions, only saying that he could not confirm or deny plans for an exorcism.  Oh come on, I bet they can’t wait to get in there and start waving crucifixes around.  How long do we think it will be until the first paranormal group is shipped in for an investigation?

It is interesting to note that a vicar who worked for the Church of England’s ‘Ministry of Exorcism’ (I can only imagine what their board meetings must be like) for forty years commented that buildings and rooms can acquire good and bad atmospheres, depending on what’s gone on there in the past.  If no one knew about the cell being the location of two suicides, I wonder whether the room would still have acquired its frightening reputation.  Would anyone be any the wiser if claims of devil worship and exorcisms hadn’t been bandied about or is it just people, rumours and over active imaginations that create these atmospheres?

It’s food for thought and I’d welcome your comments…


©Nicola Kirk and 2010

Sources: Sunday Mercury and Phantoms and Monsters

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