Saturday, 1 June 2013

HMP Belfast

I spent two hours at Belfast's old Crumlin Road Gaol this morning, not, I hasten to mention, at Her Majesty's Pleasure.

I parked the two-seater on the road. The old, derelict, Victorian court-house (above), directly opposite the gaol, is in a most pitiful state indeed.

I was on duty at the court-house as a potential juror during the 1990s, though the defendant's legal representative rejected me, possibly (probably) because I was wearing my chalk-stripe, grey, double-breasted suit, brandishing a copy of The Daily Telegraph.

Shame on the authorities and its present owner.

The gaol tour began at ten, sufficient time for me to absorb the surroundings. This old building has been totally restored at great expense.

It is very similar in design to Pentonville prison in London. At the height of the Northern Ireland "Troubles", the gaol contained up to 1,400 inmates.

Hundreds of the vermiculated or reticulated stones and quoins have been replaced by beautifully carved new ones.

The tour commences at the shop inside the main entrance. We are shown the Governor's block (below), including his office and corridor.

There are four wings, viz A, B, C, and D, each of three storeys. We are shown the ground floor of Wing C. Wing D was used to incarcerate high-risk and particularly vulnerable prisoners, like informers or "supergrasses".

We viewed the "condemned man's cell" , more spacious because staff needed to keep watch over him, or her prior to the execution.

The execution chamber is beside this room, with its trap-doors, noose, chambers below with coffin etc.

The condemned prisoner would live in a large cell (large enough for two guards to live in as well), unknowingly living next to the gallows, which were concealed by a moveable bookcase.

The bodies of the executed were buried inside the prison in unconsecrated ground and the graves were marked only with their initials and year of execution on the prison wall.

I am in no doubt that Crumlin Road Gaol will swiftly become an integral part of Belfast's tourist trail.

No comments :