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OLD WAKEFIELD PRISON

OLD WAKEFIELD PRISON.

The following is an extract from an unknown newspaper published circa 1901

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STREET IMPROVEMENT IN WAKEFIELD.
DEMOLITION OF HISTORIC BUILDINGS.
THE GIBBET PRISON BROUGHT TO LIGHT.

In order to facilitate the Corporation street improvement scheme, the demolition of the block of old buildings at the eastern end of Marygate and Silver Street have proceeded apace during the past fortnight, the work being carried out by contract by Messrs. T. and G. Wilson. The demolition has led to many interesting discoveries, about which learned archaeologists and historians will have much to tell us when all the ancient cobwebs have been cleared away. One of the most interesting revelations of the old buildings disclosed on the taking down of the small shops in Marygate nearest to the Church Institution was that they clearly embodied much older building or buildings. On their removal there was brought to light a majestic-looking frontage, supported on massive wooden pillars, and with a number of windows of almost all shapes and sizes, no two being of the same dimensions; while the roof, to say the least, was surely enough to put to the blush the majority of modern jerry-builders.
Such a quantity of well seasoned timber and deeply morticed framework are not often found in more modern buildings; in fact, the whole thing was a perfect revelation and builders, business and professional men have, day by day collected in crowds to gaze in astonishment at this resurrected relic of old Wakefield. It is just possible, in fact it is more than probable, that the land on which these lean-to shops were erected had at some time or other been "cribbed." It may have been that the site of the shops now disappearing were in the first instance nothing more than bits of stalls, and in course of time, and before building land had reached anything like its present value, the temporary stalls were substituted by more substantial structures.

The greatest discovery, however, has been that of an old Wakefield gaol, or rather gibbet prison which, owing to its proximity to the Market Cross, or its central position must have been the temporary abiding place of many criminals who had to expiate their offences on the gruesome gibbet. Of course the detention of prisoners would not be of long duration, because the authorities of those days would not take the trouble to feed prisoners for a protracted period when it was much cheaper to hang them. Mr J. E. Harris, of the City Police Office, fortunately secured a capital photo of the old doorway of this interesting place, and by his kindness we are enabled to furnish a cut of the doorway. The prison or cell is a segment-headed arch of rough masonry, the floor being several feet below the street level, and the entrance into this gloomy lock-up was within half-a-dozen yards of the south-east corner of the Church Institution, and faced Little Westgate. It is presumed that what was known as the "kidcote," and situate at one tine in George Street, was a later prison or lock-up, and the one there seems to have been followed by a similar institution in the neighbourhood of the Bull Ring, for Banks says that "before 1800 the 'kidcote' was in a cellar at the south-east corner of the block of buildings between the Bull Ring and Northgate." This was probably the subterranean vaults which created so much speculation when the "Boy and Barrel" was razed to the ground three yearn ago.

The destruction of the present premises have led to the discovery of several very interesting copper and silver Elizabethan coins (which would seem to date the buildings back, at any rate, to the earlier years of Elizabeth's reign). The silver coins bear the date 1752. A letter, written by a Miss Haigh, of 'Gloster to her brother in Wakefield, dated 1774, was also found in a capital state of preservation and the beauty and clearness of the caligraphy is very different to the peculiar feminine scrawls of the present day. When once these old buildings have been cleared, it is sincerely to be hoped that the Corporation will jealously guard the interests of the public and refuse to allow a single yard of the land to be again built upon.


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