York Castle Prison

York Castle Museum and Prison

Does legendary highwayman Dick Turpin haunt York Castle Prison?

Located within an 18th-century prison building, York Castle Museum is rumoured to be haunted by several ghosts.

A phantom jailer and several female spirits are among the paranormal entities said to wander the halls of one of York’s most historic buildings.

York Castle

York Castle has been a site of justice and incarceration for almost 1,000 years.

Its origins date back to 1068 when William the Conqueror built the first castle as a strategic stronghold to control the North of England (The Institutional History Society). Many other castles, including Lincoln Castle and Lewes Castle, were built during this time.

The stronghold, rebuilt in the 13th century, has served various purposes, such as a Norman fortress, a royal palace, a court of justice, a royal mint, and an administrative center for the county.

From about 1300, the Assize courts for Yorkshire were held every spring and summer, and Prisoners awaiting trial were held in the dungeons.

Except Clifford’s Tower, the main castle buildings were demolished in 1700 to make way for a grand new County Prison.

York Castle Museum and Prison
York Castle Museum and Prison

It was one of Britain’s first multi-purpose prisons and has housed various inmates, including criminals, women, children, soldiers, and even innocent civilians.

Legendary highwayman Dick Turpin, who also visited the most haunted pub in YorkThe Golden Fleece, spent his last days in prison. He was hanged at Knavesmire on April 7, 1739.

Criminals awaiting trial or punishment were kept on the ground floor, with debtors in better quarters upstairs.

Despite this, imprisonment for debt was common in the 1700s, resulting in overcrowded and often unsanitary conditions inside the prison walls.

In 1900 York Castle became a military prison before its closure in 1929.

In 1938, the innovative York Castle Museum opened in the Female Prison Building before expanding into the Debtors’ Prison in 1952.

The Museum exhibits the castle’s role as a prison and showcases the site’s rich history (York Castle Museum).

Today, the 18th-century courthouse, once part of the castle complex, serves as York Crown Court and retains its function as a seat of justice (The Historical Association).

Suffocation Cell at York Castle Museum and Prison
Suffocation Cell at York Castle Museum and Prison – Copyright GhostMag

York Castle Museum Ghosts

York Castle Museum and Prison are said to be incredibly active, and paranormal activity is rife.

Visitors claimed to have captured ghosts on camera and experienced unsettling paranormal activity, such as hearing strange noises and sudden chills.

A ghostly hangman is said to haunt the premises. Visitors and staff alike have reported hearing chains rattling, ghostly voices and strange scratching sounds emanating from the cells.

Some believe he still patrols the corridors, ensuring justice is upheld within the former prison’s walls.

Several female spirits have also been witnessed throughout the Museum exhibits in what was once the Female Prison Building. Visitors have reported an undeniable sense of being watched as they browse the many exhibitions.

Child apparitions have also been reported regularly. Many children have been seen dressed in old-fashioned clothing, and the sound of their disembodied voices has also been heard.

Debtors Prison Cells in York Castle Prison
The cells in the Debtor’s Prison at York Castle Prison – Copyright GhostMag

York Castle Ghost Tours and Events

The Museum offers a variety of ghost-themed tours and events for those interested in exploring its haunted history.

One popular tour is the Haunted Halloween Tour. This unique experience takes visitors through the Museum’s eerie corridors, revealing the stories of the supernatural encounters reported there.

From the recreated Victorian streets to the original prison cells, each area is said to be inhabited by the spirits of its former residents.

The Castle Museum also hosts special ghost-themed events throughout the year, such as Ghost Week and Kirkgate Ghost Count. During these occasions, visitors can participate in various spooky activities and listen to chilling tales, all while immersed in the Museum’s chilling atmosphere.

Another notable event is the Ghost Hunt, which occurs at select times throughout the year. In this after-hours experience, participants can join a paranormal investigation and delve into the dark history of the Museum’s former prison.

Armed with ghost-hunting equipment, they’ll get the chance to encounter the restless spirits dwelling in the shadows, including some of the castle’s most infamous inmates, such as the legendary highwayman Dick Turpin.

Inmate's graffiti at York Castle Prison
Inmate’s graffiti at York Castle Prison – Copyright GhostMag

Visitor Information

For those interested in exploring the mysteries and history of York Castle, the following visitor information will be valuable in planning a visit.

The Museum is open Monday from 11 am to 5 pm and Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. During school holidays, the Museum extends its opening hours on Mondays to 10 am – 5 pm.

The Museum is located in the heart of the historic city of York, within the castle’s former 18th-century prison buildings. 

If you are visiting York and fancy a spooky stopover, you could check in at one of the city’s haunted hotels!

York Castle Museum is easily accessible by various means of transportation. The nearest train station is York Railway Station, which is approximately a 15-minute walk from the museum. There are also several car parks available nearby.

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