New book reveals history of Huntingdon prison
IT was built to hold Huntingdonshire s thieves and murderers, but within just four months of opening a group of prisoners had escaped from Huntingdon Prison. The four men had been awaiting trial – one was charged with murder, another with horse stealing a
IT was built to hold Huntingdonshire's thieves and murderers, but within just four months of opening a group of prisoners had escaped from Huntingdon Prison.
The four men had been awaiting trial - one was charged with murder, another with horse stealing and two with minor offences - back in 1828.
But the prison, which was in St Peter's Road, opposite the current school site, was not as secure as hoped - the men scraped away the soft stone of the walls, opened bolts to a door to a day room and then made their way out through the turnkey's lodge.
The builders came under fire for the construction of the prison. However, even if prisoners escaped they were unlikely to get far as they had no money to pay the tolls on the roads.
The prison closed its doors for good in 1886, but not before a few more prisoners had escaped its walls, as Mary Eiloart has documented in the history of Huntingdon County Gaol, published this month.
The former probation officer and a member of Huntingdonshire Local History Society lives in one of the surviving buildings of the gaol.
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She told The Hunts Post: "I live in one of the 16 houses that made up the old prison and I had thought for some time that I should find out something about the place.
"Then someone brought round the poster on 'The Great Escape' and that prompted me to do it. I don't expect this is the definite work, but it takes things a bit further."
During the gaol's history 11,000 imprisonments, were recorded.
But when it first opened it was seen as a drain on Huntingdonshire's resources.
The Cambridge Independent Chronicle (The Hunts Post did not begin publication until 1870) said the �18,000 cost had been drained out of the pockets of a small 'impoverished' agricultural community.
The paper reported: "The voice of the county was against it but it was the hobby-horse of two or three magistrates and the rest stood by and let these two or three have their own way."
Luckily some of the 'impoverished' locals also had guns and would bring escaped convicts back to prison - such as the two pickpockets who escaped over a wall into a turnip field.
The most dramatic escape was in 1847 when seven men on remand got away. They had all been charged with theft, but according to Mrs Eiloart managed to permanently disappear.
The group took lead from a water closet, melted it on the fire in the day room and made a skeleton key. They also broke open some iron fences, knotted together bedding and used it to go over the wall.
However, the most notorious Huntingdon villain was not a prisoner but the gaoler Henry Russell. According to the book, Russell was charged in 1832 with murdering Sarah Wormsley, who was carrying his child, with arsenic.
INFORMATION: Huntingdon County Gaol and House of Correction (ISBN 978-1-902702-20) is published by Fern House, priced �5. See: www.fernhouse.com. The book also from WH Smith in Huntingdon and the Norris Museum in St Ives.