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Home > Crime and Punishment in Durham > The History of Durham Prison

 The History of Durham Prison

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Durham Prison is one of the most famous in the country. It has been the home of some of Britain's most infamous criminals over the years, including Rose West, Myra Hindley, the Kray twins, John McVicar and Frankie Fraser. It is also the resting place of a number of men and women executed and buried in its grounds. Durham has had a number of prisons built within the city walls over the years and the current prison is one of the city's best known landmarks.

Before the building of the present Durham Prison there were two prisons in the city. One was the County Gaol in Saddler Street and the second was the old Bridewell or House of Correction which was built under Elvet Bridge.

The County Gaol was owned by the Bishop of Durham and was rebuilt in Saddler Street in the early 15th century. It was enlarged in 1773 but was still very cramped. It was visited by a number of concerned individuals over time. This included John Howard, the leading prison reform campaigner, who made repeated visits because he was convinced that the gaoler was trying to cover up the bad conditions that prisoners lived in. Another reformer, James Neild, published his findings in the Gentleman's Magazine of 1805. As well as witnessing the primitive conditions of Durham Gaol, Neild also recounted how his visit nearly cost him his life. He had nearly fallen down a deep shaft whilst exploring a dungeon and he was only saved when his coat caught on a nail. Needless to day, Neild was not impressed by his experience! Durham Gaol was also visited by Joseph Gurney and Elizabeth Fry as part of their tour of prisons of England and Scotland.

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Map of Durham showing the position of the old and new prisons.

Map of Durham from 1824. Taken from Historic and Descriptive View of the City of Durham by George Allen. (DUL ref L 942.81 DUR/CIT/ALL

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