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Liverpool's Prisons

Liverpool’s first Gaol was Liverpool Tower; the tower was built largely in the 15th century and by the mid-1700s was in such a bad state that prisoners frequently escaped. There is still a small alleyway, next to St Nicholas church called Prison Weint. The alleyway today runs between the rear of Tower Building and St Nicholas Church.

John Howard by Mather Brown

In 1775 the philanthropist John Howard visited the Gaol; he gave a deplorable account saying that “the place was insufferably dirty, grimy and wretched”. The tower had been purchased by the corporation for the sum of £1835.10s, there were two larger yards and the cells, seven in number were 6 ft 7 inches in length, 5ft 9 inches in breadth and 6 ft high. Three prisoners were locked up in each cell at night; there was also a larger dungeon with an iron grating which looked out onto the street in which as many as 23 prisoners were kept at any one time. Mr Howard made strong representations about the poor conditions and the tower was eventually condemned.

Plans were started to build a new 'modern' gaol. It was to be based on Newgate prison in London and one of the consultants on the scheme was John Howard, by then a great prison reformer who helped to make prison conditions better right across the UK. His name is commemorated in Liverpool in the name of the street that was built for the new gaol,  'Great Howard Street'.
A Painting of Great Howard Street from by WG Herdman in 1856.

In 1793 the gaol was still not finished but 4000 French POWs were incarcerated there It wasn't until 1811 that it was finally used for prisoners of the city. The prison was designed with a central block with six radiating wings. This style was called the 'separate-system' and was (according to Wikipedia) pioneered at the Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennsylvania USA in 1829.

By around 1865 however, the prison was gone and Kirkdale Prison has been built. Kirkdale Gaol was built as a county prison and session’s house in 1819, the prison was transferred to the borough of Liverpool about 1855. It stood near Kirkdale railway station and closed in 1897, part of the site has since 1897 been utilized as a recreation ground.

Walton prison  was built between 1850 and 1854 on the then fashionable Panopticon (radial) principle. It was designed by Messrs. Charles Peirce and J. Weightman and constructed in Hornby RoadLiverpool with an initial capacity for 1,000 inmates. It took both male and female prisoners, who had been sentenced at the Liverpool Assizes, and was one of the largest and most modern prisons in England in its day. both Walton and Kirkdale prisons had execution sheds and it would seem shared the same gallows which was transported between them. 

In 1892, Kirkdale Gaol, closed altogether although most of its inmates had been transferred to Walton in 1890. Apparently, according to contemporary reports, they were simply marched along the road from one prison to the other. 

Elizabeth Berry had the odd distinctions of being the first woman to be hanged at Walton Prison and the only woman to be hanged by a man with the same surname as herself.  She was executed by James Berry in 1887 and even more strangely they had actually met and even danced together. This had occurred in August 1885 at a police ball in Manchester. Walton was to achieve its place in the history books of crime and punishment in 1964 when one of the two final executions in Britain took place here on Thursday, the 13th of August 1964.

Liverpool became an Assize town in 1835 and in 1854, its famous St. George's Hall opened becoming the venue for many famous trials, including that of Florence Maybrick in 1889. who stood trial for the murder of her husband, James Maybrick.

The New Assize Courts in Liverpool

Liverpool is currently a local prison for remand and sentenced adult males in the Merseyside catchment area.

Liverpool (Walton) Prison Hornby Road Liverpool


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Robert F Edwards

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