It is rare to take a peek inside a prison, unless you’ve broken the law, of course, and the tour of Shrewsbury Gaol, the Dana, was a fascinating insight to how a prison was run from 1900s to present day.
The prison dominates the Shrewsbury landscape and when in operation would have been a permanent reminder of what was waiting for you if you didn’t abide by the laws of the land, especially in the Victorian era. Raised up on the hill next to the railway station and close to the castle, the Dana gaol projects an austere sense of justice with its brick chimneys and tall perimeter wall.
We all think we know what goes on behind bars in Britain’s prisons, don’t we? The lazy, carefree life style the inmates have. TVs, snooker, endless telephone conversations with loved ones and occasional conjugal rights, all with the approval of the governor. Well, think again!
The best thing about the tour is that you are taken round with ex-prison officers who actually worked there. With their charming and witty repartee, they take you through the journey of a convicted prisoner as he is ‘checked in’ for the very first time to the final release, whether through the front door, or at the end of a rope. Although the officers are gentleman and treat the visitors touring prison with the greatest respect, you know that in their day they were firm, brave and just.
One of the things I learnt above all else was how tough having your liberty removed would be. Staying in a 10 x 8 feet cell with two other men, sloping out your cell, getting on with murders, rapists, con men, violent types and paedophiles of all shapes and sizes couldn’t be easy.
The prison, thanks to the warders, have cleaned it up and restored the building to an absolutely brilliant condition. You need not imagine much, for the rooms, cells, stairs and gantries speak for themselves, and the knowledge and personal anecdotes from the tour guides are priceless and make the prison burst alive.
I would thoroughly recommend the tour. Great value for money – two hours of history and a rare insight to a remarkable place.