Thursday, 27 December 2012

Londonderry Gaol

The nineteenth century tower at the top of the Fountain estate and overlooking Bishop Street is all that remains of what was the cities fourth gaol. Its first involuntary inmate heard the door close behind him on 16th August 1824. The Gaol finally closed on 31st March 1953, but it was not until the early nineteen seventies that this severe looking seat of retributive justice was finally demolished.

The castellated front which extended along Bishop Street Without for two hundred and forty two feet sat some five feet above the street level and slightly back from the pavement, with railings atop a wall. The site extended four hundred feet back in the direction of the river. There were a total of one hundred and seventy eight single cells as well as work and day rooms. In addition to this the prison as originally constructed included the Governor's residence, what was described as a hospital, (perhaps more accurately a medical wing) and a chapel. The front of the prison was a part of an earlier prison constructed in 1791 but this was remodelled and added to between 1819 and 1824 by the firm of Henry Mullins and McMahon. The total cost of this new prison was IR £33,718 (Stg £31,125.)

Rather interestingly the earth which was excavated during the digging of the foundations of the gaol was used in the construction of two hundred and sixteen perches, (for the benefit of those that have forgotten, that is one thousand one hundred and eighty eight yards), of the roadway which is now known as Strand Road.

Colby's Ordnance Survey of 1837 contains a paragraph which very definitely reflects the nineteenth centuries views on how a prison should be run. "The enforcement of silence and the introduction of labour have been productive of a collateral result which is highly satisfactory - that of rendering the gaol disagreeable." The Survey is an extremely important source of information concerning the City at the dawn of the Victorian age. As late as 1835 two of the Gaol's residents had been sentenced to death for Highway Robbery. This was commuted to deportation for life. Presumably they ended up in Australia. In the same year thirteen individuals were incarcerated for illegal distilling.


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