Monster Mansion

by Phill Ross about a year ago in incarceration

Wakefield Prison History

Monster Mansion

There was a prison established in Wakefield in 1595 as the West Yorkshire House of Correction however nothing of the original prison remains as it was replaced in the 1760s and again in 1847, more recently the walls were rebuilt and the oldest part which was the officers club was replaced with a section of this new wall.

The buildings from 1847 are still in use as a maximum security prison and have held some of the Countries most fearful convicts.

The prison became known as H. M. Prison Wakefield in 1874 and there are records available on Ancestry listing all inmates from 1842 including all the military prisoners who were sentenced by court martial throughout the country.

The first gaoler or governor of Wakefield House of Correction was aptly named “Maister Key” and the institution was a small building which stood underneath where the current F wing now stands it took two years from gaining the permission to run the institution and building of the facility took place around 1597 and held very few permanent inmates.

In 1774 John Howard, The Great Reformer, visited the prison and brought to the attention of the justices several issues with the facility such as the buildings being prone to floods as they were built on low ground, this also caused a lot of damp and stench from the sewers below.

There were some escapes and the wards were very unhygienic and dirty there was little or no employment for the inmates and they only received Two pence a day allowance.

Mr. Howard's concerns were taken on board by the West Riding Magistracy and in 1775 they ordered a letter to be sent to Mr. Howard informing him that they would be obliged to him of further suggestions which would enable them to promote the welfare of the community.

From 1776 attempts to improve the house of correction were undertaken, separate cells for inmates, the walls and ceilings lime washed, hygiene was improved by fumigating a prisoners clothing on admission.

Unfortunately, by 1818 the house of correction suffered overcrowding being able to house 110 inmates. More often, there were over 300 souls held here. By 1830, improvements to the prison meant that it could house 450 inmates.

A severe case of Cholera broke out in the prison in 1832, causing the death of twenty prisoners and the Governor, Mr. Thomas Shepherd. Many of the prisoners who had served half their sentence were released as a result.

It wouldn't be until the early 20th Century that Wakefield was brought into the classification of prisons selected by Sir Maurice Waller and Sir Alexander Patterson in 1922 it was the starting place for new methods and a system known as the Wakefield System came into place. In 1923 it became the first regional training prison.

The Wakefield System was an attempt to create an atmosphere of trust in which an intensive system of training could be carried out. These included the training in vocational areas and skilled trades, education and recreational programs and finally daily freedom of association and movement with the prison without direct supervision.

Just before the outbreak of WWII in 1939, the Imperial Training School for prison Officers, situated at Pinderfields was completed and taken over by the military during the war by the army education authorities.

The prison still stands just off Westgate, its walls towering high above the surrounding roads of Back Lane and Love lane, a small shallow ditch with running water runs along the West wall and the only buildings visible are the clock tower and the tops of some of the wings.

Nicknamed the "Monster Mansion" due to its influx of inmates guilty of terrible crimes the prison is also famous for a well-known nursery rhyme, “Here we go 'round the mulberry bush”, the mulberry bush was situated in the exercise yard and prisoners would march around it as their daily exercise routine, conflicting stories say that the bush is still there where as others say it was destroyed long ago.

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Phill Ross

I have been writing for 35 years starting out with poetry then moved on to song lyrics and music/band reviews,I now write mostly historical fiction and I am  currently in the process of writing my 4th novel. 

See all posts by Phill Ross