The excitement over the impending prison tours reminds me that when I was writing Hanged at Gloucester, I made an ill-fated attempt to pay my way into Gloucester Prison – or at least into the old gatehouse.
I had seen on various tourist information websites that there was a museum housed in the old gatehouse, and I thought a visit to this would be useful, because apart from the prospect of it giving me valuable information on the history of the prison, it would also allow me to stand within the walls of the building, on the roof of which unfortunate prisoners were executed. I made my way there in June 2010, accompanied by a cousin who is used to my strange interests.
As we approached the gatehouse, I saw that there was a sign over the door, reading “Visitors Centre.” So, confident that we were in the right place, we marched up to the entrance, where we were met by a cheerful prison officer. He took us inside and into a room on the left, where he went behind a desk and shuffled some papers. Looking round, I could not see any signs concerning admissions fees, so I asked the officer, “Is there a charge?”
“Pardon?” he replied. “Is there a charge to come in?” I asked. “Well, you could throw a brick through the window, and we’ll take it from there”, he responded. “Pardon?” I said.
After a bit more confusion, the officer asked me what exactly we were there for, and when he realised that we wanted the museum, he informed us that it had closed several years previously. The gatehouse was now a centre for visitors who had come to see prisoners, with an area where young children could be entertained during the visit. He had let us in because he was expecting two women who had visitor passes that afternoon.
When he found out I was writing a book about the executions, he very kindly took us into the area behind the massive wooden doors of the gatehouse, and described how the condemned would be hanged on the roof above us.
We then left, giggling as we went out into the sunshine. No doubt the prison officer later regaled his colleagues with the story of the two women who tried to pay to get into the prison.