Lincoln Castle and Victorian Prison

Lincoln Castle and Victorian Prison

The Victorian Prison is said to be rife with paranormal activity.

Lincoln Castle, situated in the historic city of Lincoln, dates back to 1068 but was built on the site of a much older Roman fortress.

As the history of Lincoln Castle is laden with stories of hardship, death and suffering, it is no surprise rumours have circulated about paranormal activity within its walls.

Lincoln Castle Victorian Prison

History of Lincoln Castle

Lincoln Castle was commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1068 and has dominated the city’s skyline for the best part of 1000 years.

The Castle was built as part of William’s efforts to maintain control the rebellious north of the Kingdom and assert Norman authority following his victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He built many other castles across the United Kingdom as part of this strategy, including York Castle.

The construction of the castle necessitated the demolition of 166 houses and it features a unique architectural design with two mottes instead of the typical one found in most motte and bailey structures (Great Castles).

It is one of only two such castles in the country, the other being at Lewes in East Sussex which was also constructed by supporters of William the Conqueror.

38 inmates were executed publicly using the Long Drop method at the Castle from the Cobb Hall Tower, with four more criminals hanged privately.  

History of Lincoln Castle Prison

Lincoln Castle was a site of incarceration for many centuries and whilst there are no traces of the earlier dungeons, the Georgian and Victorian prison buildings still stand within the walls of the castle.

In the 18th century, the lack of sanitation and crowded conditions in the crumbling dungeons led to a filthy environment, before the construction of the red-brick gaol in 1788.

In 1788, the Castle complex was expanded to include a county gaol. The gaol was designed to hold debtors, accused criminals awaiting trial and those who had been sentenced to transportation or death.

During this time, the gaol operated as a private business. Prisoners had to pay for their own keep and gaolers charged excessive fees for food and bedding.

The imposing Victorian Prison was built in 1847 following a national prison building scheme. Men, women and children as young as eight were held here. The prison became a holding centre for prisoners awaiting trial at the courthouse.

The debtors continued to be held in the Georgian gaol building.

The prison was designed for the ‘separate system’, an isolating regime aimed at keeping prisoners away from the corrupting influence of their fellow inmates. This approach was based on the belief that it would encourage prisoners to reflect, repent, and ultimately reform. The ‘separate system’ was tried in many other prisons across the country including Shepton Mallet Prison.

Within the Victorian Prison, inmates experienced a monotonous and harsh daily routine. They were kept apart in small cells and strictly controlled, even during religious services. The prison chapel, for example, featured separate and enclosed booths for each prisoner, ensuring the inmates could not look at one another. The chapel is still accessible and is the only original separate system chapel remaining in the world.

Hard labour was a key element of the Victorian penal system and prisoners at Lincoln Castle were subjected to various forms of gruellin, pointless work.

These included treading on a treadmill, breaking rocks, or picking oakum (unravelling old rope). These tasks were designed not only to discourage reoffending but also to break the spirit of the inmates and encourage obedience.

The implementation of the separate system was hindered by multiple factors, including initial overcrowding, an outbreak of fever within the prison and the magistrates’ reluctance to fully adopt the system. As a result, the intended separation of prisoners was not fully realised and the Victorian prison closed just 30 years after it had opened.

During the prisons 30 year lifespan, seven prisoners were hanged. Large crowds gathered below the castle walls to watch each of the prisoners meet their fate on the wooden gallows. All seven prisoners were buried in the Lucy Tower burial ground.

Lincoln Victorian Prison housed several infamous inmates of the time, including George Garnett, who was jailed for stealing horses. Garnett achieved notoriety not only due to his criminal activities but also because he managed to escape Lincoln Castle by tying bedsheets together and scaling the prison walls.

Another well-known figure incarcerated at the prison was an agricultural protester known only as ‘Captain Swing’. This inmate was arrested during the Swing Riots in the 1830s, a time when rural labourers revolted against low wages and increasing mechanisation of the agricultural industry.

Ghost Sightings at Lincoln Castle and Prison

One of the most frequent sightings is of a lady carrying a baby who is seen walking down the stairs of the Old Victorian Women’s Prison.

Strange lights have been observed inside the chapel and doors have been reported to open and close by themselves.

Visitors to the male prison have reported hearing keys jangling, footsteps, and disembodied moans and screams.

One of the most famous ghost sightings at Lincoln Castle is a lady dressed in black walking up the stairs leading to the old gallows on the Cobb Hall Tower.

The ghost of William Clarke, the last person to be hanged at Lincoln Castle in 1877 and his faithful lurcher are also said to haunt the grounds and a nearby public house.

Clarke, a poacher, was tried and convicted of the murder of a gamekeeper and buried in Lucy Tower. Following his execution his dog scratched at the door of the Strugglers Inn, a public house just a stones throw from the castle gates, where Clarke was said to have been a regular.

In the months that followed the landlord, Bob Roberts, fed the dog and let it sleep by the fire but the dog sadly pined to death for it’s owner. In memory of the faithful dog, the landlord displayed the taxidermy of the lurcher behind the bar where it remained for many years before it was presented to the Castle. The dog is now on display in one of the many cells of the Victorian prison.

It is said that locals still hear the dog scratching at the door and both Clarke and his dog have been seen at The Strugglers Inn and roaming the grounds near the castle.

A horse and a rider are also said to haunt the area and the sound of mysterious hoofbeats are often heard near the castle gates. According to local legend, the rider was close friend of a local lord who had been unjustly sentenced to death.

The rider was tasked with delivering a pardon from the king to save his friend, but unfortunately, he did not make it to the court on time. To this day, the ghost is said to ride his horse towards the castle, determined to complete the journey that he was unable to finish in life.

Ghost Tours at Lincoln Castle

For those who are intrigued by the castle’s haunted reputation, various ghost tours are available, providing participants with expert-guided walks around the historic Cathedral Quarter.

These tours explore the spooky tales and reported supernatural occurrences that surround the area and often include visits to the castle and prison themselves.

Visiting Lincoln Castle and Prison

Visitors to Lincoln Castle can explore its history via different attractions such as the Victorian Prison, the Medieval Wall Walk, and the one-of-a-kind Magna Carta Vault Visit Lincolnshire.

The castle is also dog-friendly on specific dates in 2023: Saturday 18th & Sunday 19th March and Saturday 27th & Sunday 28th May Visit Lincoln.

Lincoln Castle aims to create an accessible environment for all visitors, with wheelchair access to most areas of the site, including the Magna Carta Vault, the prison, and accessible toilets. However, the Medieval Wall Walk is not wheelchair accessible due to its historical nature. Assistance dogs are welcome throughout the site.

During the summer season, from April to October, Lincoln Castle is open from 10am to 5pm. The main grounds are free for the public to enter and make an excellent picnic location on sunny days. The castle offers a variety of special events and exhibitions throughout the year, as well as guided tours available daily at 11 am, 12 pm, 1 pm, and 2 pm.

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