About Derby Gaol
Between 1756 and 1828, the Friargate Gaol was used to hold prisoners while they waited to be tried at the quarterly assizes (spring, summer, autumn and winter).
This bulding was not a place of punishment, but rather like a holding pen until a trial could take place.
This gaol existed during a time known as the bloody code, where the death penalty could be handed down for over 200 possible offences. The obvious ones were murder and violent crimes, but lesser offence were also punishable with death, with an aim to deter people from breaking the law.
This meant, you could be executed for stealing any goods worth more than 5 shillings (25p), cutting down trees, setting fire to haystacks etc. Obviously, the number of people being put to death rose sharply during this time.
They also needed to make the serious crimes, like murder, more punishable. What could be more punishable than death? Well, your body would be donated for medical science and you’d be denied a proper christian burial. At a time when everybody believed in the afterlife, the prospect of not getting into heaven and living in hell or purgatory was one that troubled many people.
In total, 56 hangings took place at this building. Each execution would draw huge crowds, as this was viewed as entertainment in those days. Executions also took place at other sites around Derby before they started performing them outside the building they were housing those on death row in.
The process was simple. The night before you were executed, you’d be moved into the condemmed man’s cell, a small windowless cell close to the walkway that you’d be taken down in the morning. If you were able to sleep, its quite possible that you’d be woken to hear the scoffolding being errected outside during your final hours.
In the morning, you’d have a chance to say final goodbyes to your family, who would be sat in the prisoner’s dayroom. Then you’d make your way to the gallows. The walls of this building must have seen the most extreme emotions within them.
You can still see carvings in the wooden doors, made by prisoners as they waited inside the cells. Its incredible to think, the condemmed man’s cell has carvings made by people who were spending their final night on earth in there.
Regular cells could house up to six prisoners, who would have a straw bed, and one bucket to be used as a toilet. They would be in here for 23 hours of the day.
Some managed to escape the gallows though. John and Benjamin Jones, two brothers were locked in the condemmed man’s cell and were spending their final night alive. They only avoided going to the gallows by commiting suicide together in an act of dignity. They were found hanging in a position where they were facing each other, although the guards tried to revive them in the hope that they could still take them outside to be hanged properly, but they were alread dead. They are just two of the ghosts still said to haunt the gaol.
There were other notable cases. The Pentrich Martrys were also kept here until they taken outside and hanged and beheaded in front of the building.
I filmed here on the anniversary of William Rose’s execution at this building, on April 16th 1784. He was hanged for stealing a horse.
In 1819, 16 year old Hannah Bocking was hanged at this gaol for the murder of her best friend, Jane Grant. Hannah was said to be jealous after Jane was picked over her for a servant’s job, and despite trying to frame members of her own family, she is said to have cried none stop for three days and nights, and confessed her sins to a local reverend in the condemmed man’s cell.
Then there’s Hannah Hally. She was the last woman to be hanged in Derby, after secretely giving birth after a pregnancy that she was unaware of. She put her new born in a jar of boiling water to die.
I could write for days about people who died here and the crimes that they committed. But who haunts it?
William Eaton is a name that comes up time and time again. He used to be an old jailer here, and has been blamed for pushing people who stand in corridors.
The gaol’s owner, TV historian Richard Felix witnessed a sighting here at 3:20pm on a Friday afternoon. He was on the phone when he saw a dark figure walking past the cut-out window of the bar area. Nobody was in the building with him at the time. Incidently, that corridor was the same passage that jailers would take a prisoner to the gallows. Richard’s son William, who is a skeptic, also claims to have heard footsteps in the same area.
A man wearing a red coat has also been seen in the prisoner’s day room, usually by children visiting the museum.
The cell’s have their own poltergeist activity. The most famous being when TV show Most Haunted placed a wooden cross on a piece of paper, with a it drawn around in pencil. When the crew returned they could see the trigger object had moved and when they checked the locked off camera, they saw the paper being tugged from below the cross despite being in a cell that was closed off from the staff and film crew.
Interestingly, it is also believed that prisoners here in the days of it being a gaol, also had paranormal experiences. There are carvings of protection symbols in the doors to scare off evil spirits. Were they experiencing hauntings back then? This gaol is also built on the site of an old nunnery, and there have long been reumours of nuns being seen outside at the rear of the property. Could ghostly nuns have been visiting prisoners to pray for their sins? Its just one theory.
Over the years, the building’s use has changed. Today, the only visible remnants of a gaol are in the basement of 50 & 51 Friargate. After the gaol closed, walls were added and over the years, businesses have taken over the various levels of the building. A hairdressers above is also said to experience hauntings. A solicitors office is located next door to the gaol’s basement where the cells would originally have continued on.
Richard Felix rescued the basement after it was being used as a nightclub and was able to restore it back to being a museum for exhibition purposes.