The order to build a Jail or Gaol in Derby was not immediately followed up following the Assize of Clarendon of 1166. Indeed, Derbyshire’s criminals were taken to Nottingham Castle which was the prison for the Counties of both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. There, the fate of the prisoners was decided and so, it was deemed unnecessary to lay out the required expenditure to construct a jail in Derby. However, following an Act of Parliament passed in 23 Henry VIII,
“…Be it further enacted by authority aforesaid that like provision in every behalf be had for a newe Gayle be made within the Countie of Darbye, in like form as is afore provided for other Shires aforesaid.”
The “newe Gayle” was erected across the width of the Cornmarket and along the Markeaton Brook. The gaoler’s accommodation was at street level but the cells were below that and level with the Brook. Needless to say, the Brook also served as the Town’s main sewer and it was not long before it became a “foul stinking place”. Nevertheless, it survived for almost 200 years when, following numerous complaints (and, no doubt, deaths from disease), it was decided to build a more substantial structure away from the town center.
Beware of the Offense
Between 1730 and 1832 there were in excess of 260 crimes which carried the death penalty for which a prison had to be built and expanded constantly. This period was known as the “Bloody Code” and offenses ranged from being seen in the street with a sooty face, stealing anything valued in excess of 4s 6d (twenty two and a half pence), damaging fishponds, writing a threatening letter etc; right through to Murder, Treason, Piracy and Arson in His Majesty’s Ship’s Dockyard. Needless to say, everyday life for most people was hard and unrelenting. Employment was difficult to obtain and the pay very meager. Therefore, to subsidize their existence, resorting to theft was the last, desperate option open to many to provide food for themselves and their families. Of course there were hard and fast villains who resorted to crime as a way of making a living and murder was an all too common occurrence. The law was enforced rigidly and, when deemed necessary, the Justices would be seen to make “an example” of certain individuals as was the case with the men from Pentrich, Jeremiah Brandreth, Isaac Ludlam and William Turner. Accused of High Treason, these men were sentenced to be Hanged, Drawn and Quartered. It was not, however, the last time the awful sentence was handed down. That was in 1820 in London when the Cato Street Conspirators, Arthur Thistlewood (who knew Brandreth), John Thomas Brunt, Richard Tidd, James Ings and William Davidson were accused of High Treason. Similarly, the Prince Regent granted clemency and commuted the sentence to Hanging and Beheading only. The difference being the Pentrich men were decapitated with an axe (the last time it was ever used) whilst a knife was used, by a surgeon, on the Cato Street men. The identity of the executioner of the Pentrich men remains a mystery and the only details were that he was a “strong, muscular collier from Derby.” The man who hanged the Cato Street men was Thomas “Old Cheesy” Cheshire (incidentally, observed by one William Calcraft, later to become our longest serving hangsman!)
For those that weren’t shipped off to Australia to server there time there as undesirables, many various attempts were made to escape from Derby Gaol. On 14th January 1778, a plot was even uncovered where several prisoners had hoped to effect their escape whilst the Court Sessions were under way. The Gaoler, Blyth Simpson, spoke to a prisoner involved in the escape bid who lost his nerve at the last minute and confessed all. He showed Simpson where the attempt had been made to break through the door of the Dungeon. Although heavily barred, the inmates had managed to saw through the bars and their leg irons so that the break-out could take place with all speed. As a result, the prisoners involved, whose names are not revealed, were double-ironed and removed to another, more secure, cell. In 1782, Thomas Shaw was successful in his attempt but was soon apprehended and returned to the gaol to face the ultimate penalty. It has to be borne in mind that any prisoner escaping from Gaol and subsequently recaptured, would be hanged, regardless of the original offense for which he had been imprisoned!
With it’s history of imprisonment, death, and misery, Derby Gaol is a strong contender for the title of ‘Most haunted Place in Derby’. Over the years, there have been many paranormal occurrences and sightings reported. This part of the site aims to detail just some of them.
According to the owner and staff at the Gaol, the sightings and incidents tend to occur mostly from around October through to December and then tail off until June and July when they pick up again.
The Gaol’s current owner, Richard Felix has had several supernatural encounters himself at the Gaol, including this following event: One Friday afternoon in November 3 years ago, Richard was standing in the kitchen of the Gaol talking on the phone, when a figure walked down the corridor past him. The grey haze was in the form a person, which glided down the corridor and vanished at the bottom. The experience shook him up so much that he was unwilling to hang up the phone and brave leaving the Gaol alone. He returned the following year on the anniversary of the sighting at the same time and waited. This time however, he saw nothing.
During the revamp and restoration of the Gaol, one of the builders was working in the cells. Twice during the Saturday afternoon, the cell door closed by itself while he was in there. whether or not this heavy door could have been moved by a breeze had there been one is a matter for debate. The same builder also had to leave the room several times on account of feeling sick – something he attributed to the coffee he had consumed earlier that day!
Having built Darby Gaol in 1823-27 by Francis Goodwin, with later alterations by J Masons of Derby in 1840, who strengthened and fortified it with Bastions or Martello Towers in response to the Reform Act rioters. Derby Gaol was again remodeled again in 1880. With the main Gaol building interior demolished in 1928, only the Curtain Wall and the imposing Greek Doric style entrance remains. This old photograph shows the prison as it was being demolished, revealing the insides of the cells and the cast iron balcony or walkways linking all the cells. After demolition, it became the Greyhound Stadium which has since closed where now the land is now occupied by offices and apartments with the Gaol’s Curtain Wall acting as a Greek Doric style entrance after it had been restored.
Yvette and the rest of the Most Haunted team are locked inside Derby Gaol where in the late eighteenth century scenes of total incarceration and brutal executions took place.
Jason sets a trigger trap of a wooden cross on a piece of paper in a reputedly haunted cell, which gives incredible results. Huddled in a cell later during a vigil, the whole crew smell roses although nobody knows where it’s coming from…yet Filming later revealed the presence of light orbs in the very same cell…
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