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24 September 2014
This is the website that loves Bristol:  Features

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BBC Bristol Online > Features

Thursday 20th September 2001, 1000 BST
Bristol's traumatic last hanging and the Gaol's closure
The New Goal on cumberland road.
Even in its ruined state the New Gaol still retains a sombre, glowering presence over its section of the Cumberland Road.
1849 saw Bristol's final public hanging at the New Gaol.

Servant girl Sarah Harriet Thomas, 17, had been found guilty of killing her elderly employer Miss Elizabeth Jefferies - bludgeoning her to death in her own bed.

Throughout her trial she had not appeared to treat the court proceedings seriously, but records state that when the Judge put on his black cap and passed sentence she collapsed and broke down completely.

William Calcraft, the longest-serving executioner in England was contracted to carry out the sentence, but even he was greatly affected by her youth and good looks.

A side veiw of the Gaols remaining towers    
Sarah Thomas was dragged screaming to meet her death at the top of the prison gatehouse.    

On the day of her execution she was dragged screaming to the gallows where she continued to sob, scream and plead for her life right up to the final moment.

So great and moving was the awful scene that even the prison governor was so overcome that he fainted.

A crime reporter E. Austin who
attended the execution reported:

"Ribald jests were bandied about; and, after waiting to see the corpse cut down, the crowd dispersed, and the harvest of the taverns in the neighborhood commenced."

However, a great many of the crowd felt repulsed by what they had seen and many carried the memory of that grisly day for years afterwards.

Within the Gaol, conditions had again deteriorated with damage caused by the Reform Riots still unrepaired.

In 1872, the Home Office wrote to the Bristol Corporation complaining that the prison was not fit for its purpose.

The fabric of the buildings had degenerated to such an extent that even redeveloping it was out of the question.

The Corporation bought an area of land at Horfield Gardens in preparation for building a new prison - in those days each city had to pay and run its own prisons.

Despite leading the way in prison design and practices the gaol was closed in April 1883. Its successor, Horfield Prison, opened in 1884 and is still in use today.

Inside the gatehouse,a childs swing    
Looking through a window into the gatehouse, a children's swing today recalls more sinister past events.    
In 1895, the prison was sold to The Great Western Railway for a sum of £22,000. It was then used as a coal yard and, with the exception of the granite gatehouse, most of its walls and buildings were demolished.

Although accorded Grade 2 Listed Building Status, the New Gaol stands on private land. With the regeneration of Bristol's waterfront and historic docklands its future could still be far from settled.

If you should pass by its jagged shadow spare a thought for all its previous occupants. Those men and women who were held within its walls in stark discomfort and ended their lives on the gatehouse's gallows.

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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