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BBC Bristol Online > Features

Thursday 20th September 2001, 1000 BST
Gruesome Bristol: New Gaol prison
Bristol's new gaol prison ruin.

Jutting up like a broken tooth along the Cumberland Road it is all too easy to pass by the ruins of one of Bristol's last remaining execution sites.

Commissioned in 1816 by the city council for a budget of £60,000 - in today's money that would cost the city over £2m - the New Gaol opened its doors to inmates in 1820.

"This is an extensive and commodious building," wrote the editor of the Mathew's Bristol, Clifton and Hotwell Guide in 1825.

"For health, convenience and excellent arrangement is not to be equaled in England, commanding extensive views of the surrounding countryside," he continued.

"The boundary wall (20 feet high) is built in hewn variegated marble which has a beautiful appearance."

Among its first guests were prisoners transferred from Bristol's infamous Newgate prison that it replaced.

Built to hold 197 prisoners of mixed sex the prison was a great improvement over its predecessors: Bridewell jail's prisoners had a cat put into their cells at night to stop rats from gnawing at
their feet.

The New Gaol's accommodation consisted of single cells that measured 6 ft by 9 ft.

Water supplies were drawn from a well using a large treadmill that could hold twenty inmates - not an unusual practice in those days.

Looking into a remaining window    
One of the remaining gatehouse inner windows stares back at you.    

Despite the forward-thinking design it didn't take too long for conditions to deteriorate. The water from the well proved to be undrinkable, small windows stopped air circulating and created a stale and fetid interior.

Prisoners were poorly clothed and suffered in the winter months from the cold.

At night the whole prison was enveloped in a shroud of darkness that even hampered the warders carrying out their patrols.

All that remains to mark the site now is the grim granite front entrance, resembling a small castle complete with its rusting mock portcullis and a small section of outer wall.

New Gaol gatehouse    
On top of the gatehouse entrance open air gallows were erected for public executions.    

Designed not only as a entrance but as a platform for staging crowd-pulling public executions, the gatehouse's flat roof was built with a trap door.

It was through this door the condemned dropped with a noose around their necks on the way to the next world.

This ruin is the keeper of some gruesome tales of the judicial system in Bristol.

We shall look at some of the more notable executions that took place over this gatehouse as we follow how the New Gaol cast its shadow across Bristol's history.

Gruesome Bristol: New Gaol prison.

John Horwood and his macabre book legacy.


The Bristol Riots, the breaching of the Gaol and its revenge on the mob.

Bristol's traumatic last hanging and the Gaol's closure.

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Features
Full four page in-depth feature - make sure you read it all!
Gruesome Bristol: New gaol prison

John Horwood and his macabre book legacy


The Bristol Riots, The breaching of the Gaol and its revenge on the mob

Bristol's traumatic last hanging and the Gaols closure
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