top of page
  • AK

Hexham gaol: England's oldest prison

Updated: May 17

One of the storylines of The Trail of Blood concerns the Scottish reiver Watt Ledgerwood, who is captured on a raid over the border and imprisoned in Hexham gaol.

It was inspired by a visit to said establishment a few years ago. I was surprised to learn that it was the oldest purpose-built prison in England. But then it all made sense when I realised that, while there were dungeons and jails aplenty in those days, these were invariably located in existing buildings. The sheer scale of the reiving problem, meant that a more bespoke stronghold had to be created in Hexham.

With this in mind, the gaol was built in 1333 and was used to house some of the region’s most notorious outlaws (including the Armstrongs, Charltons and Dodds who staged a mass break-out in 1538). It then functioned as a prison right up to 1820, when it was converted into a bank.

Nowadays, Hexham Old Gaol is a museum which houses a fascinating exhibition about the reivers, split over three floors. And by a clever twist, guess who helped to bring it to life? Present-day prisoners from local institutions.

Woodcut of a dark, medieval prison cell

8 views0 comments


bottom of page