Within the walls of Lincoln Castle is the Victorian Prison and Court House. By the 17th century, the court was the senior court for the county and heard all cases of serious crime as well as dealing with debtors, repairs to roads and bridges, and cases dealing with disputes about weights and measures. By the 18th century, the county gaol was in a dire state and a new Prison was built to hold both felons and debtors.
The Penal Reform Movement of the mid 19th century, found the Georgian Prison to be wanting and a New Victorian Block was built behind it with separate blocks for men and women prisoners, exercise yards and a prison chapel. The men’s exercise yard was at the back of the prison and were overlooked by the Head Warder’s rooms. The women’s yards were between the Victorian and Georgian prisons and overlooked by the Matron’s rooms. There was a small brick-built toilet and the yards were separated by high walls.
The Georgian prison continued to be used as the debtor’s prison. The Victorian prison served as a ‘holding’ centre for male, female and child prisoners awaiting trial. Once convicted, they were sent elsewhere to serve their sentence. While in prison they received religious instruction from the prison chaplain and were given lessons in reading and writing.
The prison was designed on the ‘Separate System’ regime, with a head warder was in charge of the men’s prison and a matron in the women’s prison. Both had their own quarters and were not allowed to leave the building without permission. The system was designed to keep prisoners in a single cell and in isolation from the corrupting influences of other prisoners and to encourage their rehabilitation. It was intended to make them reflect, repent and reform. Prisoners were not allowed to talk to each other, or to the warders. They were only allowed out singly into the airing yards which had tall walls between them. If there was more than one prisoner in a yard then they had to wear masks overhead so couldn’t see each other and were also chained so they couldn’t get close enough to talk.
The system proved unpopular with the gaolers who were not allowed to communicate with the prisoners and did not know their name or their crime. The isolation also sent many of the prisoners mad as they were reduced to numbers with their name, face and past history eliminated. It was later replaced with two or three inmates per cell.
The prison was on three floors with cells around the outside of a central atrium. The men’s and women’s prisons were separated by a large stairwell. Large windows at the ends let in plenty of light.
A few cells in the men’s prison are furnished. These had hammock beds suspended between hooks on the walls, (the hooks can still be seen in the brickwork) which could be folded up during the day. Each room had a toilet, basin with running water, gaslight and a table. There was a small window set high on the wall with frosted glass preventing the prisoners from seeing outside.
On the lower floor are the windowless ‘Dark Cells’ with massive doors, used to punish prisoners.
The other cells are either empty or have assorted activities like peg rug making and games. There is even a dressing up room. Two are furnished as ‘Discovery Cells’ with washing or oakum picking. The rope was cut into short lengths and had to be pulled apart by hand. The loose fibres or oakum were used for caulking ships or making mats.
The prison employed a surgeon who regularly checked the prisoner’s health, diet and living conditions. He prescribed medicines, leeches, poultices and ointments for sick prisoners. For certain ailments and diseases, he might prescribe rest, extra food, additional clothing and exercise in the airing yard. On his orders, very sick prisoners could be sent to the Infirmary next to the Matron’s room in the women’s prison. Prisoners from poor backgrounds often got better medical attention here than they did outside.
The women’s prison is similar to the men’s prison however has far fewer cells.
The Matron worked long hours and was responsible for maintaining discipline as well as looking after women and girls who were sick, mentally disturbed or who had given birth. The prison infirmary was next to her room. She also had teaching duties and was responsible for the prison laundry. The cells were similar to the men’s although expectant or nursing mothers were given a chair with arms rather than a stool. Straw baskets were placed by the mother’s hammock for their baby. Nursing mothers were allowed to keep their babies with them until they were weaned when they were taken to the workhouse to be looked after.
Many of the female prisoners were young unmarried servants. A common crime was the concealment of birth and the secret disposal of the newborn baby’s body. Some were accused of infanticide. Other crimes included theft, robbery and arson. Their day was divided between cleaning the women’s prison, washing clothes in the prison laundry and attending chapel. They were also given religious instruction and taught how to read and write.
The cells now contain an exhibition of finds found during the recent renovation of the castle.
The prison closed in 1878 from expensive running costs and declining prisoner numbers. It was replaced by a new prison in Lincoln which is still in use today
The Prison Chapel
All prisoners except Roman Catholics, the sick or nursing mothers with small babies attended daily prayers in the chapel and two services on Sunday. Many prisoners looked forward to chapel as it relieved the monotony of their day.
This is the only example of a Separate System Chapel to exist in the world. The prisoners were enclosed in a wooden box-like ‘cells’, separated from each other by a locked door. They were unable to see or communicate with their neighbours and could only see the prison chaplain in his pulpit. The chaplain could however look down and see everyone.
Hauntings at the Prison
The prison chapel at the castle, which was built in 1787 and then expanded in 1847, is said to be haunted, with many visitors reporting feeling very cold and others having felt something brush against them.
Taking into consideration over 100 inmates were executed there, it’s no shock that some of them apparently haunt the site. There have also been reports of a number of doors being banged and noises such as footsteps, screams and even ‘inhumane growls’. Some have even claimed to have spotted a lady walking down the stairs in the old Victorian Women’s prison, carrying her baby.
I decided to contact Lincoln Castle to see if they would allow a small team of serious paranormal investigators to investigate the Victorian Male Cells. I was quite taken back by the fact they was charging 2.5k+ VAT for one night. This basically in my opinion puts the venue out of reach to serious investigations, and is only affordable for event companys who would like to accomadate a substantional amount of guests. It seems profit over paranormal evidence is given higher priority.Simon Wilson