Lincoln Castle’s Victorian Prison was designed for the 'separate system', an isolating regime that kept prisoners apart from the corrupting influence of their fellow prisoners. The Victorians believed that this would encourage them to reflect and repent, and more importantly to reform.
Men, women and children as young as eight were held here from 1848 to 1878 for crimes ranging from stealing a waistcoat and Bible, to highway robbery and murder. During this time seven murderers were hanged at the castle and their bodies buried in Lucy Tower where their graves can still be seen today.
Following extensive refurbishment and re-interpretation, the Victorian Prison is now fully open to visitors. Cross the threshold into the soaring atrium and enter the prison regime. Immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the separate system. Dress up as a prisoner or member of staff, perhaps the Governor or the Matron? Explore the cells and imagine life behind bars: the solitude of the single cell, the chaos of the crowded cell, and the desperation of the dark cell.
William Messenger placed in dark cell on bread and water for 3 days for destroying prison books and insolence.
John Nicholson, Prison Governor, 15 April 1854
Discover more about life here in our specially commissioned films and interactive touch screen tables. Step into the world of the Governor, Chaplain, Surgeon and Matron and find out what their jobs involved. Come face to face with prisoners and discover their fates: what became of young John Cook, who set fire to a haystack aged eight; convicted burglar Joseph Ralph after his ingenious escape attempts; and wretched Lucy Buxton, who murdered her illegitimate baby?
Visit the austere and atmospheric separate system chapel – the only original one remaining in the world. Stand in the Chaplain's shoes and survey your congregation from the pulpit: prisoners segregated in upright stalls, man separated from man.
With three floors of restored and recreated cells spread over separate male and female wings, interactive interpretation, and a Discovery Centre with hands-on activities for families, the Victorian Prison is a unique and fascinating experience. More recently the prison has been used as a filming location for TV series such as Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife.
There will be a programme of live interpretation by actors in the Victorian Prison over selected weekends between April and October, scripted by leading children's writer and RSC Associate Nick Wood and directed by theatre director, Andrew Breakwell.