Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, Northern Ireland is the only remaining Victorian Prison in the country. It has been out of service since 1996 but first opened it’s doors for prisoners in 1846. The Crumlin Road Courthouse stands opposite the Gaol and a tunnel runs underground from the two buildings, which made it easier to transport prisoners from their cells to their trials.
The design of the prison was based on HM Prison Pentonville, and it was known to be one of the most advanced prisons of its day. Built within a five-sided wall, the four wings are up to four storeys in height and fan off from the central area which was known as The Circle. The prison was originally built to hold between 500 and 550 prisoners in cells that measured 12 x 7 feet. It was the first prison in Ireland to be built according to “The Separate System”, intended to separate prisoners from each other with no communication between them. Later, especially in the early 1970s, as many as three prisoners were placed in each cell.
The first 106 inmates were forced to walk from Carrickfergus Gaol, around 11 miles, arrived in 1846. These inmates, who were men, women and children, completed the changeover of the two prisons. Children from impoverished working-class families were often imprisoned at the gaol in the early years for offences such as stealing food or clothing. Thirteen-year-old Patrick Magee, who had been sentenced to three months in prison hanged himself in his cell in 1858. Women inmates were kept in the prison block house until the early 1900s. Ulster suffragists, among them Dorothy Evans and Madge Muir, were imprisoned in the gaol during 1914.
When originally designed by Lanyon, the prison did not contain a gallows and the executions were carried out in public view until 1901, when an execution chamber was constructed within the prison walls and used until the last of the hangings in 1961. Seventeen prisoners were executed in the prison, the last being was hanged in 1961 for the murder of Pearl Gamble. The condemned would live in a large cell (large enough for two guards to live in as well). The bodies of the executed were buried inside the prison in unconsecrated ground and the graves were marked only with their initials and year of execution on the prison wall.
Crumlin Road Gaol is now a popular touristic attraction in Belfast and in 2012 I took a tour of the Goal. Seeing the unmarked graves of the executed and being in the cell of the boy Patrick Magee, who hanged himself, made me realise just how awful and horrific prison life was during the Victorian era. Nowadays the gaol is known to have paranormal tours as it is claimed that it is haunted by the souls of those who died there.
Image of interior in Crumlin Road Gaol: http://belfastmediagroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Crumlin-Road-Gaol-23911mj12-1024×682.jpg
Image of Crumlin Road Court House: http://www.rickneal.ca/travelblog/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Crumlin-Road-Court.jpg
Image of outside Crumlin Road Gaol: https://www.meetingsbooker.com/images/venues/Crumlin-Road-Gaol-9.jpg