Saturday, September 5, 2009

Peek in the Past - The Old Prison Site

Another place from childhood memories of Knutsford, Cheshire, was the old Prison Site. This place conjured up the strangest imaginings in my young mind. I wasn’t old enough to understand the full extent of man’s suffering when freedom had gone, and all that was left was the monotony of four walls and memories of better times, but still, the old place had a feel to it that was creepy, yet compelling.

I often cycled over there on my black bike (a second-hand but repainted birthday gift from my parents), riding up and down the bumpy hills worn into uneven paths by years of feet taking a short cut to town.

The ground, which was about the size of two soccer fields, had been known locally as the “Prison Site” for so long that the words were more a title than a phrase, and the meaning forgotten—similar to the way Brits call a vacuum cleaner a Hoover, with no thought to the real meaning.

This aerial photograph of the prison dates from about 1930 before it was demolished. The four-storey prison was built in 1853 to hold a hundred women. It was known as the 'House of Correction' in 1860, when it held 273 prisoners, with a capacity for 700, according to Joan Leach in her book Behind Prison Walls. And David Woodley, in his book, Knutsford Prison: The Inside Story, says, “Over the years, as well as local criminals, debtors and offenders against the Game and Bastardy Laws, Knutsford Prison housed disaffected Chartists and those awaiting transportation. From 1886, until it was taken over by the Home Office as an Army detention barrack in 1915, nine executions took place on its scaffold.”

When we lived nearby, the old prison had long been knocked to the ground, leaving heaps of brick and rubble over which grass and weeds grew in wild abundance. No one ever questioned why the debris wasn’t removed. It stayed there until after we moved home when I was twelve, and provided secret caverns big enough for my hand to insert small treasures, buttons, and a bright-but-broken Christmas ornaments. I always closed the hole containing my secret booty with a brick marked with chalk.

Sometimes, the contents would disappear by the time I next visited my hole, and that’s when I invented stories about prisoners still in dungeons below the ground, who took my gifts to perk up their days. Of course, they were always innocent prisoners, wrongly captured for crimes uncommitted, and there was always a fair maiden (me) waiting for the right moment to rescue the rugged hero. Actually, my heroes all looked like Cornel Wilde, an actor in a movie I saw with my mother. He was a trapeze artist in the 1952 version of The Greatest Show on Earth.

That was the first movie I ever watched, and it marked the beginning of an enchantment with the silver screen and all things connected. In England, trips to the cinema were called “going to the pictures.” As I grew older, I added stage musicals, concerts, and pantomimes, and invariably became so absorbed in the tale that the end always came too soon and it was a shock to find the world around me hadn’t changed.

By the way, in more recent years, the old Prison Site became the home of Booths Supermarket, and I understand there are reports of paranormal activity by local residents. Oh, for the time to write more. There has to be a good story in there, somewhere.

Back in two weeks. Oh, and if you'd like to read the latest review of Famous Family Nights, hop on over to author Sherry Ann Miller's blog by clicking HERE. Her first sentence says, "Famous Family Nights . . . is one of the best books I've ever read on Family Home Evenings." Thank you, Sherry Ann, you made my day. And I have to add, all credit for it being that good goes to the 91 participants who sent in their fascinating stories. Hats off to them all.


Becky said...

That would make an interesting foundation for a book. It has so many interesting elements.

Congrats on another great review!

Anne Bradshaw said...

Thanks, Becky. Maybe one day . . .

Rebecca Talley said...

You always have such interesting information.