Jan. 9, 2021

The Haunting History of Shrewsbury Prison

The Haunting History of Shrewsbury Prison
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Shrewsbury Prison that we see today was built in 1877 having been built to replace an earlier Georgian prison dating back to 1791 on the same grounds. This prison was finally closed in 2013 having seen countless executions during this time. 

Shrewbury Prison, or 'The Dana' as it is also known, has a harrowing history and is a location with a vast array of different areas to explore. There is much reported paranormal activity here. Why not listen for yourself and decide if you think the energy of former inmates linger in the now empty cells and various prison rooms.....


Thank you for listening. 

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-shropshire-21917476The Georgian prison short video

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-38797543Deadman’s Island information

https://www.prisonhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Guide-to-the-Criminal-Prisons-of-Nineteenth-Century-England-R1.pdf(page 978 for this specific prison)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16243850further information about the infamous Black Panther and his crimes

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hynS1FRZj24Trailer for the Paranormal Lockdown episode where they investigated Shrewsbury Prison

https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/A-Shropshire-Lad-Audiobook/B0052XUSCA?source_code=M2M30DFT1BkSH11221601A7&&ipRedirectOverride=true&gclid=Cj0KCQiAlsv_BRDtARIsAHMGVSYYEKqg0JhLe9Qx4tjRAfkHcdrvyC2AvefVTNCl0ecSZjVqr7ePgcsaAoYsEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.dsLink to audible where you can listen to A Shropshire Lad by A. E. Houseman


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The Haunting History of Shrewsbury Prison

Hi everyone and welcome back to another episode of Haunted History Chronicles. Following on from last weeks episode which was a courthouse I thought we could explore today a prison, that has subsequently closed to the public, it’s one that I have also explored and it is called Shrewsbury Prison. If you haven’t checked out last weeks podcast that might be a good one to start with and if you’re ready let’s get started.

Prison History (0.53)

As a brief introduction to this site lets start with a few key details. There has been a prison here since 1791- the current building itself having been constructed in 1877. The Victorian prison that you see today sits on top of the original Georgian prison, the remains of which are still accessible underneath the current buildings. In the description information I will put a link to a short video clip which will allow you to see this part of the Georgian prison- it was here that countless people would have been incarcerated- many of which would have also been executed and buried in unmarked graves on the grounds. Numerous judicial executions were carried out here all the way up until 1961- in 1885 for example five executions were carried out in a single day- all from the room known as the hanging room.  Shrewsbury Prison was a category B/C men’s prison in Shropshire, England prior to it being decommissioned in 2013. (Although predominantly considered a men’s prison- it did house some female prisoners during its history.) 

Lets take a bit of a closer deep dive next into what prison life during these earlier periods were like and some of this prison’s history itself so as to better understand what the people who have been through those cells may have experienced.

England's prisons in the 1700s were over-crowded. The Industrial Revolution at the end of the century had led to the displacement of many people and an increase in petty crime.

Numbers swelled by debtors and in the later part of the century prisoners of war from the conflicts with Napoleonic France.

Derelict ships or "hulks" in the Thames and southern ports were used as floating prisons. Conditions here were not much better. One particular grizzly find took place on what has become known as Deadman's Island- a small island in the estuary of the River Medway in Kent. In 2016 the remains of more than 200 humans were found on the island. It is believed that the remains are those of men and boys who died of disease on board prison hulks, floating prisons that were moored in the area around 200 years ago.Originally buried in wooden coffins under six feet of mud, coastal erosion and rising sea levels had washed away the mud to expose the remains at times of low tide. The area known as Coffin Bay lies around the perimeter of the island, and is the name given to the open coffins and scattered human remains that lie there. Given the nature of the island nobody is allowed there but exclusive access was given in 2017 and  I will put a link to find out more about this in the description for the podcast. 

Between 1786 and 1791 In response to the severe pressure on the prison system - and as an apparently more humane punishment than execution - transportation to North America was developed.

Around 50,000 criminals were settled there but the American War of Independence ended that option and Australia would become the alternative.

The first fleet with 775 prisoners set sail in 1786, followed by three large fleets between 1787 and 1791. 

It was during this time that John Howard published his jail reform book. He had been studying the conditions of prisons for 17 years.  He proposed they should be healthy and disease-free, and that jailers should not be allowed to charge prisoners. The book, called State of the Prisons in England and Wales, is highly influential but sadly wasn’t widely put into practice until the 19th Century.

The Howard League for Penal Reform - still influential today - is named after him. The earlier Georgian prison  at Shrewesbury was built in the response for the need to build prisons with better ventilation as it was believed that this build up of noxious air remained trapped in the buildings and was responsible for the increasing problem of Gaol fever outbreaks in prisons. In 1782 three times the number of prisoners were dying from Gaol fever than through executions. Gaol fever was greatly feared- in 1750 over forty people (including high ranking officials) contracted gaol fever at the Old Bailey and there was increasing unease that this fever could break free and spread to neighbouring communities. For this reason as I mentioned in 1877, this more modern Victorian building was erected over the older Georgian one so to try and reduce some of these illnesses and diseases that were becoming more of a concern for the population. Let’s skip forward now to more of the modern history of the prison and what has taken place there. Between the years 1902 and 1961 seven people would be executed within the prison walls by hanging for the crime of murder.

Executions took place at 8.00 am. All executed prisoners were hung and then buried in unmarked graves inside the prison, as was customary.  The prison is mentioned in "On Moonlit Heath and Lonesome Bank" which is part of the poem, "A Shropshire Lad" by A. E. Houseman.  One particular verse highlights The proximity of the prison to Shrewsbury railway station. That verse reads as follows:


They hang us now in Shrewsbury jail:

The whistles blow forlorn,

And trains all night groan on the rail

To men that die at morn.

The prison is well known to have housed many notorious prisoners. One of them being Donald Neilson alias 'The Black Panther'. Again I will put a link into the description for this podcast if you wish to find out some more if you wish to find out some more about him and his particular crimes.

Concerns were raised in 2004 by the high number of suicides that had taken place within its walls. 3 in fact in two weeks prompted  the request for an enquiry in Parliament. A report in 2005 would list this prison as the most overcrowded prison in England with 326 prisoners in a space designed for 170. 

Haunting History of Shrewsbury Prison (7.36)

The prison walls have witnessed many deaths over the years, including, murders, and inmates taking their own lives. The prison's A-wing is said to be the most haunted, perhaps due to its dark history of suicides resulting in sad, angry souls being trapped there. The hanging room is also reportedly one of the more active areas as is the condemned cell next to it and the mortuary that was below the hanging room.

When the prison was in operation many refused to work in C wing alone at night and would often report doors slamming, hearing footsteps or being pushed down stairs there. This was something I heard whilst there from one of the ex prison guards who had worked there for many years.

It is believed that one of the female prisoners has refused to leave, she has been seen dressed in a grey uniform walking from cell 3 towards the execution room.

Only the week before I visited a friend of mine, who had been here, was in one of the cells when he experienced the cell door shutting on him.

This is the type of location that you need a week to explore it was just so massive in size. I wasn’t disappointed visiting here- I certainly found it to be active. Here are some of my experiences and favourite spots that I explored whilst there.

Personal experiences investigating the prison (9.17)

As a large group we began the night in the hanging room by conducting a group vigil in there. We stood all the way around the room itself. Throughout this vigil, whilst nothing came through on any equipment, many would report- including myself feeling very unsettled. For many of the people in the room it was as if the floor itself was really uneven- like you weren’t on solid ground and it wasn’t quite safe. My legs felt really wobbly the entire time I was in there- somewhat like an experience possibly of standing and waiting for the long drop to open and you to fall swiftly through. I felt nauseous in there throughout and this throbbing feeling in my head and white noise - I’ve only ever felt like that before when feeling as if I’m going to pass out or if I have passed out. It was very similar to that. I was quite glad to be out of that room to be honest- I just didn’t feel right in there at all. Now that may have been down to the fact that it was a large group in there... maybe too hot... standing still.... maybe needing to drink. Whilst all of that is a very distinct possibility I also can’t rule out that my feelings weren’t linked to the room itself given prior to entering and as soon as I left I felt completely fine- it was only within that room that I felt that way.

I explored a couple of the prison wings whilst there- A block had quite an oppressive atmosphere and certainly you had the feeling of people watching you from the cells above.

In one of the isolation cells on that wing- isolation cells were allocated to be watched for risk of suicide I would have every single piece of equipment I had that night stop working- even though they had been checked prior to arrival with new batteries put in. Even trying to put new batteries in again I couldn’t get my torch, spirit box or recorder to work again in that cell. It wasn’t in fact until I left the isolation cell that my equipment would start working again- as randomly as they all stopped. I should also explain that I have never had any issue with those pieces of equipment before going in to that cell or subsequently afterwards. Maybe this was a spirit affecting the devices whilst in there.

In one part of the prison- in the medical area we would pick up things via the spirit box- and messages coming through were certainly threatening and not wanting us to be there. I will post snippets of that on to my social media pages to listen to.

Come the morning... I felt exhausted... It’s a location that really wears you out both physically because you are walking miles and going up and down stairs everywhere. It was more than that though I think it was a location that really drained you emotionally. It had this charged atmosphere that had you on edge and looking around you the whole time whilst you were there.

Come the morning I was kind of glad to be released for good behaviour and time served so that I could get some much needed fresh air and have the weight lifted from what I felt I had been carrying round the whole night. That was something that even through the night when moving from one block to another or location to another when you have to go outside I hadn’t felt. You had the buildings looming over you with their row upon row of cell windows - and you never quite escaped that feeling of something lurking behind them watching you. No, I only felt that totally free and refreshed once I completely left the prison gates and was free.

Shrewsbury prison... like others in the UK that have been decommissioned are open to the public in order to help preserve their history and heritage. Shrewsbury itself now even does tours in the Georgian part of the prison- they outfit you with hard hats and protective gear to get down there. To date it’s the only prison I have explored but I feel really privileged to have been one of the first groups through here once it closed and opened up to the public- and I think I was part of either the first or second group to explore this as a paranormal investigation. It made for a really special experience.

Thank you so much for listening. Until next weekend. Bye for now.

Just as a further note if you enjoy watching Paranormal Lockdown with hosts Nick and Katrina- they visited this prison from the United States a couple of years ago - at the time I think Shrewsbury was only their second location they had explored outside of the US. Their episode is well worth watching to help demonstrate this location and the kinds of paranormal activity captured by another investigative team. I’m sure it will get some of your pulses racing.

Teaser (14.39)

Next weekend we are in for a treat as we are going to be exploring a location that is the subject of a worldwide famous and well known book. This location first became a coaching house in 1750 when coaches started crossing the moors linking the towns of Launceston and Bodmin. As a midway point between these two sites weary travellers would be able to stop and rest and their horses be changed. Daphne du Maurier would later stop in this inn in November 1930 after becoming lost when out riding. The inspiration of the inn would later become The Jamaica Inn and she would capture this atmospheric location and its tale of smugglers. The opening of the novel begins......

It was a cold grey day in late November. The weather had changed overnight, when a backing wind brought a granite sky and a mizzling rain with it, and although it was now only a little after two o'clock in the afternoon the pallor of a winter evening seemed to have closed upon the hills, cloaking them in mist. It would be dark by four. The air was clammy cold, and for all the tightly closed windows it penetrated the interior of the coach. The leather seats felt damp to the hands, and there must have been a small crack in the roof, because now and again little drips of rain fell softly through, smudging the leather and leaving a dark-blue stain like a splodge of ink. The wind came in gusts, at times shaking the coach as it travelled round the bend of the road, and in the exposed places on the high ground it blew with such force that the whole body of the coach trembled and swayed, rocking between the high wheels like a drunken man.

There is a reason this inn captured her imagination in the same way it captures every one who visits. There is far more to this site though than the book itself- it just seems to draw energy and spirit energy to it. Joining me to discuss this will be Karin and Colin who make up part of the Jamaica Inn Paranormal Team. Their  knowledge of this location is second to none and is something that is an ongoing deep investigation into the history and hauntings at the Jamaica Inn over a number of years. They have the unique position of having the opportunity that many rarely get which is to complete these investigations, research  and studies into the paranormal and history of this location as the site team. It’s one not to miss. See you next time.

Special announcement (17.27)

So I have a really special announcement to also make I have been busy over the Christmas Holidays building a new website for Haunted History Chronicles. It’s still a work in progress but I would love you to go over to there. It has a lot of different features- ones that I hope you’ll be able to engage with and enjoy. I will put the description for that new website into the description box below so you can access it. I’d love to see you over there.

Ways you can help (17.56)

If you like this podcast you can help in different ways. Come and join us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Help spread the word with friends and family. Share the news of the podcast with other people that may be interested. Down in the description box below is also an access to Patreon where you can continue to support the podcast further and in the process gain access to some extra goodies.

If you ever get the time to write a review I would really appreciate it. Thank you so much everyone.