Ancestry UK

Castle Keep Prison, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland

By at least 1649, a prison was operating in the keep of Newcastle's old castle, on what is now Castle Garth. It was used for the temporarily house prisoners from Morpeth when they were brought for trial at the annual assizes in Newcastle.

In 1812, James Neild described it as:

A Place of temporary confinement for Prisoners from Morpeth only.

Gaoler, Ann Hardy. Salary, 4l. 4s.

1802, Sept. 7th, 1809, Sept. 17th, no Prisoners.


In the very centre of Newcastle (dignified by Camden, as "the Glory of all the Towns of this Country,") is the curious Prison of Castle-Garth, or Castle-Keep, as the phrase is elsewhere used; so denominated, probably, in old time, from the close, area, or court-yard, by which it was formerly surrounded.

The Gaol Delivery for Morpeth, (about sixteen miles distant from Newcastle,) takes place once a year. The Assizes are held at Newcastle; and hither the Mor peth Prisoners are brought for trial. In the interim, however, the Felons, &c. of Morpeth are confined, Men and Women promiscuously,—and sometimes, we are told, for a whole week together,-in the Castle-Garth. This anciently formed, it seems, a part of the Castle; but is now merely a wretched, damp, dirty Dungeon, to which the descent is six steps below the level of the street.

Of this place, and its appendages, we have the following Records; which I recite, as being somewhat connected with the subject.

In a survey of the Castle, taken 29th October, 1649, the following item occurs. "There is an auncient building within the inner-wall of the Castle-Garth, which is commonly called or known by the name of 'The Moote Hall,' which is now [vested] in the State; and is used by the Justices of the Assize Sessions and Gaole Delivery, for the keeping of their Assize and Session for the County of Northumberland."

July 30, 1736, The King granted the Castle and Castle-Garth, for fifty years, to George Liddell, Esq. at 100 chaldrons of coals annually to Chelsea Hospital, and keeping all the buildings, as well as those excepted in the lease, as granted, in good repair.

The exceptions are, "That strong building, used for a common Gaol for the County of Northumberland; and also the Hall, commonly called the Moot Hall; and all other buildings appertaining."

Nov. 19th, 1777. The King granted to Lord Ravensworth, for forty years and a half, to commence in July 1786, a lease of the Castle and Castle-Garth, with the like exceptions.

May 19th, 1779, the above lease was purchased by John Critchloe Turner, Esq. (now Sir John) at auction; and by the said lease to Lord Ravensworth, the Lessee, for the time being, is bound to repair the Old Castle, Out-walls and Stairs, Moot Hall, Grand-Jury Room, and Gaoler's House.

When I applied for admission to Ann Hardy, the Keeper of Castle-Garth, (who lives at a distant part of Newcastle,) a Man was directed to attend me, with a shovel, to clear away the dirt and filthy rubbish about it; and at length I was admitted!

This "Durance, vile" has neither light nor ventilation, but, what is introduced through a small iron-grated window, that looks toward the pavement. There are iron rings fixed into the wall, to which the Men Felons are chained, and a small part of the Dungeon is partitioned off for the Women. These, however, (perhaps from motives of delicacy!) are even placed in a worse situation than the Males; being thus in utter darkness, and without any apparent means of ventilation that I could discover. The wet came pouring down the walls in every part, and the floor ing was several inches deep in water; so that I could not find either patience or resolution to measure the dimensions. My visit was in the month of September, 1802.

In this horrid cavern are Prisoners confined for seven, and sometimes for eight nights together. The Man who accompanied me said he had known it two feet deep in water; and hence, at such times, the poor wretches must be obliged to take their station upon the inside-steps. The necessity for this seems, indeed, to have been foreseen by the Guardians of the place, as there is a flight of steps, on the inside of the Dungeon, as high as the street; so that whether the Prisoners could sit down, or must stand upon the steps, depended on the number thrust into it!

At the Assizes held 29th July, 1809, seven Prisoners were here for three nights.

A New Prison is now building; and this wretched place will be no longer continued as a living sepulchre for human misery.

Castle Prison, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

The prison closed in 1828, when it was replaced by a combined Gaol and House of Correction on Carliol Square.. The old castle keep building is now a heritage visitor attraction.


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  • Prison Oracle - resources those involved in present-day UK prisons.
  • GOV.UK - UK Government's information on sentencing, probation and support for families.