The County Gaol

  • 21 Jan 2019
  • Crime and Legal
  • Back

The County Gaol was built in 1813 in the style of a medival castle, and because of this, the name was changed from Salt Lane to Castle Street. Mr Sandy's was the architect, following the principals agitation, when during the summer, the gaol was excessively crowded with Chartists from Dudley, with cells intended for one containing three. Further changes followed the next year under the superintendance of the local architect, Mr Eginton. It was an all male prison, and until 1873, debtors were kept there until their debts were paid.

The Governor resided at a house situated at the south east corner of the prison. In 1878, the Government took over the responsibility for the nations prisons and from that date the City prisioners were also kept at Castle Street.

The County Gaol was a general prison and held a variety of prisoners, from murderers and debtors to political agitators and men of religion who preached in the streets without a license, to boys who, had commited what today would have been classified as a minor misdemeanour. For the latter prisoners the  gaol had its own schoolmaster who lived at No 1 Easy Row. It was a very secure gaol and only one prisoner is known to have escaped. He hid himself under sacks on the coal cart, and was driven out of gaol. He straightaway went home for tea, and was promptly sent back by his wife.

Public hangings and whippings took place in Castle Street until 1863, when great crowds gathered to witness the spectacle take place on the top of the gate-house. The favourite vantage point was in front of the Infirmary gates in Infirmary Walk. Afterwards the bodies were displayed and usually handed over to the surgeons at the Infirmary for dissection. Plaster casts of some of the heads of murders still remain in the possession of the Charles Hasting Museum.

The last public execution was on 2nd January, 1863 of William Ockold of Oldbury, aged 70. It was performed in ancient manner with a procession of Under-Sheriff and Officers, with six javelin men in front and six warders behind. The great crowd in front of the Gaol, mostly women and children, was restrained compared with the noisy display and hilarity which usually marked these occasions.

The last man to be executed at Worcester was a Chinaman, by the name of Djang Djin Sung who in 1919, was convicted of the murder of Zee Ming Wu another of his race at Warley Woods. The most notorious prisioner in Worcester Gaol was Herbert Rowse Armstrong, a cool and calculating solicitor, who killed his wife and was suspected of other murders. But in 1922, the Home Office announced the closure of seven gaols, Worcester being one, and Armstrong was transferred to Gloucester for execution.

At the end, Worcester Gaol held only 100 prisoners with 24 staff. Earlier, during the 1914 War, it had been almost empty, for many prisoners were given the opportunity to have their sentences respited provided they  served in the forces overseas. Though the area it served was enlarged comprising the counties of Worcester, Hereford and parts of Radnorshire, a prison in Worcester became increasingly uneconomic so was consequently closed.

Six years later an auction was held and all the fittings were sold. The horse-drawn Black Marie was brought and converted into a summer house, and the prison bell was brought by Lt. Colonel J.C Flay and erected at Chamber Court, Longdon. Squatters moved into the empty building and most of the gaol was demolished, though some of the workshops and the cells remained and was used by Messrs. Rackstraws, the makers of furniture until it was demolished and the area redeveloped later in the  60s early 70s