The Dana prison in Shrewsbury closed in 2013, and I'll be honest, I really wanted to blog about it. Lots of other people also asked me to blog about it. And I've been putting it off. Sure, the prison is a fantastic building, and it has a lot of history, and missing out on it is a crime against oneself, but I tend to blog mostly about places that the public can't really get to, and anyone can walk into the prison and take a tour. You can also run around the prison with a horde of zombies if you really want, because this is Shrewsbury and we know how to party!
Anyway, luckily I'm the kind of person who mingles with the undead, because I find that they smell nicer than the living, and for all their hostility, at least one knows where they stand with them. A zombie will proudly announce that they want to consume my brain. That's pretty convenient. Anyone with trust issues will love a zombie apocalypse. And because of these connections with the undead, particularly those who roam the Dana when it's in Scare Attraction mode, I was able to get access to parts of the prison that are off limits to the general public, and in case you haven't heard, it's pretty cool. The prison is built on top of an even older prison, and I'm going to look at it. And I'll show you the current tourable areas too while we're at it. These are exciting times, friends, and for those of you who have been requesting a prison blog post, I'm sorry it's taken so long. Send your thanks and gratitude to my guide and enablers, Siobhan and Lauren.
You can also write to them with your complaints if I get any of the facts wrong!
Let's finally look at that damn prison!
*Cue dramatic music*
A casual glance at the history of the Dana will say that the modern prison dates back to 1877 because historically, this was the start of a new era when the prison ownership was transfered to the Home Office from the Quarter Sessions. However, according to the noticeboards within the prison, the actual prison blocks that stand today were actually constructed between 1885 and 1887, following the demolition of a much older prison which dates back to 1793, and was built by Thomas Telford, who nobody seems to like very much.
In case you're unfamiliar with poor Thomas Telford, he was a local architect and he did do a lot of good. Or at least he tried. He warned the folks at Old St Chads church that they needed to get some serious structural repairs in, and when they didn't listen, their crypt collapsed soon after, leaving a massive pit in an otherwise ordinary graveyard. He also painted the ceiling of Laura's Tower. But in spite of all this, he'll be forever remembered as the guy who bulldozed a large chunk of the Abbey just because he thought a road would look better.
It's no surprise that he built the original prison though, given what a big name he was at the time.
Now, what did surprise me for some stupid reason (because it's fucking obvious) was the discovery that prisoners were actually transferred to this prisoner via train, getting off at the mysterious Platform 8 of Shrewsbury train station that is no longer publically accessible.
For some reason, Platform 8 has always fascinated me. Everyone can see it, but nobody can access it. Trains don't stop there, and there's a big wall obstructing any view of it from the rest of the train station. It all makes sense now! It's the prison platform! Of course!
So from 1868 right up until World War 1, Platform 8 was used to transfer prisoners to and from the Dana prison. It totally makes sense and I can't believe I didn't make the connection sooner.
Also full of surprises is the bust above the main entrance.
No, that's not the puppet from Art Attack! That's John Howard, a famous Prison Reformer! He was born in 1726, and he died in 1790, and he's had a pretty awesome life. While he was born in London, his mother died when he was five and he was sent to live with his strict religious father in Bedfordshire. There he became apprenticed as a grocer, but he soon grew bored of this due to the awful mundanety of it. His eccentricities made it difficult for him to fit into a boring ordinary life, and historians now believe that he may have been autistic. Did that hold him back? Absolutely not! When his father died in 1742, John Howard found himself suddenly free of parental influence, completely lacking in any idea of what he wanted to do with his life, but left with a pretty nifty inheritance left over from his dad. So he did the enviable thing, gave up his apprenticeship and decided to travel around Europe.
Upon his return to England, he became seriously ill, and was nursed back to health by his landlady, who was around thirty years older than him, but they soon fell in love. She died within three years of marriage, and he gave all of her belongings to her family and poorer neighbours.
He found his vocation as a prison reformer following his own experience in prison, in 1755 when he was captured by French Privateers on his way to Portugal, and was imprisoned for a week before being given back to the British in exchange for a French prisoner held on British soil, such was the way of things back in the day.
It was then that he started trying to get help for other British prisoners overseas. In fact, he just tried to help everyone around him! A 1782 survey revealed that he was paying for the education of 23 children in his neighbourhood! He married again in 1758, but he out-lived her too when she died in 1765, just a week after giving birth.
John Howards son had a much harsher life. He was imprisoned for "homosexual offences" and diagnosed as insane at the age of 21, and died in 1799 after thirteen years of living in an asylum, all for the crime of liking men. Can we take a moment please, just to appreciate how far society has come?
Meanwhile, in complete contrast to his gay son, John Howard was living the life. He became sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1773. Still haunted by his own experience in prison, he inspected Bedfordshire prison himself and was so horrified by the living conditions of the prisoners that he decided to inspect prisons throughout England. In 1774 he took all of his evidence of the inhumane prison conditions to parliament and made a case for their improvement. He published a book in 1777 which gave detailed accounts on the prisons he'd visited as well as detailed instructions for their improvements, especially concerning hygiene. It was the work of John Howard that led to individual prisoners occupying a cell to themselves, whereas before they were all just chucked in together, and it was to the plans detailed in his book that the original Georgian Dana Prison was constructed in 1793.
When his sister died, he put her inheritance to improving prisons across the country, and then in 1778 he turned his attention to improving prison ships, before visiting Europe once more to review the prisons there. He died of Typhus in 1790, and was burried in a walled field in Stepanovka. While he had requested a quiet funeral, he got the exact opposite because everybody loved him so much. Even the Prince of Moldovia showed up!
Seriously, the guy was a saint, and apparently his bust decorates many a Victorian prison, including Shrewsbury.
The cool thing about his bust on the Shrewsbury prison, however, is that it is positioned directly above a statue of a bird, which is apparently designed so that when one stands directly underneath it and looks up, the birds head looks like John Howards penis.
Now there's some serious debate over whether or not this was done deliberately so I'll just leave a picture here and you can all make your own opinion.
Personally, it wouldn't surprise me if it was deliberate. John Howard sounds like a great guy, and he was certainly eccentric. And so he probably had enough of a sense of humour that he'd appreciate this if he was still around to see it. And on top of that, artists slip subliminal penis into their work all the time! Just look at Disney!
So anyway, while John Howards pretty amazing, let's slip inside the prison already.
The gatehouse is an often overlooked feature, because it's simply where guests nip in, pay their entry fee, use the toilet facilities if necesary and then carry on to the main event. But looking around the office, there are still some interesting nuggets of history.
In the wall, the old key clocking tubes are still there, the above one with the removable plastic lid being for passing the keys through, and the lower one being for return key. The lower one once had a little box, to catch the keys.
Beyond the gatehouse, we were able to walk around the prison exterior, and take in how gigantic it was.
The older Georgian prison buildings were demolished between 1885 and 1887, and its subterranean remains made into the foundations of its Victorian descendant, which included this massive four storey block, which was used for male prisoners.
Numerous stories have come from the prison, including a hilarious tale of someone dressing up as Santa Claus and climbing the prison walls to hurl cigarettes at the people in here.
The Victorian architecture means that this place has a lot of exterior nooks and crannies. Look at this! It's so easy to use this little area to hide from guards and get up onto the roof of the building on the left. Nowadays we have CCTV cameras but back in the day this must have caused the guards some trouble.
This graffiti was apparently scrawled during one of the tours, by a gay couple on their first date, which I think is a great addition to the history of the place, given the fact that the bust above the main entrance is that of a prison reformer whose son was locked away for being gay.
One curious addition to the exterior of the prison is this chunk of railway track. Apparently this was donated to the prison, so that prisoners could train in railway track repairing, and have some job prospects when their jail time was up.
Slightly off the tour paths is this little shack, now full of graffiti. Presumably this was full of maintenance supplies or something.
But now onto the actual prison interior!
This part of the prison is the entry room, where prisoners are brought in and processed before being taken to their cells.
I'm told that this area is largely unchanged. This chair, desk and monitor were all used by the prison staff.
There is one crucial part that was changed though...
This desk with the little lift-up flap was actually installed this year just because the television show Holby City had an episode filmed here, and they wanted a flappy desk, so they went and got one constructed and installed.
It sure is surreal to think that I'm walking through an area that was recently viewed on TV by hundreds of people. But then I mentioned in a recent blog post that I explored the house where they filmed Tots TV recently too, which is currently derelict in the woods. And of course there was Scrooges House from A Christmas Carol, because that was filmed in Shrewsbury too.So I guess I've been to quite a few former TV sets now!
I personally don't watch TV. It's too dangerous! People end up living their entire lives without living at all. I could be climbing a church, and nosing around abandoned houses, or I could be watching the television. It's a no-brainer. I just want to be happy, and it's very hard to be happy AND watch the news, and nobody has EVER clung to a church spire, looked out over the spectacular view, and wondered "I wonder what that Phil Mitchell is up to."
But I digress.
This processing area is pretty bland, with these featureless waiting rooms. No doubt these were once filled with deliquents and people who had lost their way.
Prisoners would often wait quite some time to be processed and moved into their new accomodation, so they had toilet facilities here, although they're far from glamourous.
Still more welcoming than some of the toilets in pubs and clubs though.
This particular toilet is giving mixed messages.
There are changing areas where prisoners can dress themselves into their prison uniforms.
And there are showers just in case they needed any. I dunno, maybe someones been hiding from police in a muddy ditch for several hours, or maybe they're covered in the blood of their murder victims. Maybe they just smell like weed. The prison is prepared for it all.
The prisoner processing area still has the original prison whiteboard, but it's since been used for the purposes on instructing guests on rules to follow when they come here for a zombie survival game.
In regards to zombie survival games, I think it's bloody fantastic that Shrewsbury has a scare attraction. I understand that there were ponderings for what to do with the prison for quite some time, and some suggested ideas have been along the lines of night club, or block of flats.
In regards to it being a nightclub, the prison does actually hold music nights with live bands, so it does fit into the Shrewsbury night life, but I think they were aiming for something a little more like the Buttermarket. In all honesty, the thought of getting drunk on a night out in a transformed prison does appeal to me, but it also clashes with my love of historic preservation, as does the idea of turning this amazing place into a block of flats.
As such, having the prison exist as a scare attraction, and have its standard tours and other events, while retaining its original vibe greatly appeals to me. The fantastic organization behind it is called Immersive Events, and you can find their Facebook page if you click the link there. They operate across the country holding everything from scare attractions and overnight stays in prisons to hen and stag do's.
And with the sanctum rules read and understood, not that they matter for this particular tour, let's proceed to the prison itself...
The architecture of this building is beautiful. The layout is labyrinthian.
The place sure is secure, too. I'm not sure how many people escaped from Shrewsbury prison over the years but it can't have been many.
There's a body fluid spillage kit, for obvious reasons.
The prison also has a stair lift, for obvious reasons.
And then the main block of cells is huge.
The majority of the cells are samey, and incredibly tiny, giving a real feel for what it's like to live here. It doesn't look fun! Many of the cells still retain their beds, and these do vary.
For example, this cell has bunk beds rather than one singular bed, although the cell itself isn't any bigger than the single bed cells. If living in one of these cells doesn't look fun, imagine sharing the space.
These bunk beds are a completely different style, more reminiscent of the beds one finds in static caravans, although not as narrow.
Here we have the stage where bands play during music nights. Presumably it's a recent addition to the prison unless this raised area was used for something else once.
With four floors, this block is massive. However even with its immense size it suffered from overcrowding issues. A report in 2005 named Shrewsbury as the most overcrowded prison in England, and a further report in 2008 mentioned that the prison housed 326 inmates in an area designed only for 170. It dropped down to the second most crowded prison by 2012 but only because it was exceeded by a prison in Liverpool.
Regarding the cell doors, they come with variations too. Some are metal and some are wood, and as such they come with varying features, although all contain some sort of observation facility.
Initially all of the doors were made of wood, but over the years officers found it increasingly frustrating to deal with prisoners barricading the cell doors from within. Why they would do that is anyones guess. Surely if life in a tiny confined cell annoys you, barricading the one means of escape is counterproductive. However the metal cell doors were installed with the means to open both ways, so any prisoner silly enough to barricade their door could still be accessed if necessary.
This circular thing is a feature on all the cell doors, and it's a feature for handling any prisoner who starts a fire in their cells. This thing comes out, a hose pipe is then pushed through, and the prisoner gets very wet.
This basically avoids the prisoner attacking any guards, since the only reason any of them would start a fire in their own cell is presumably for attention. Using this hose hole, the guards can handle the situation without ever actually coming into contact with the prisoner.
However, in every cell there is a panic button, which the prisoner can press if they're in need of anything.
This works in very much the same way as it does in care homes, except people in prison probably have nicer lives than people in care homes since the quality of the care industry is currently in the toilet.
So when a prisoner presses their panic button, it presumably sounds an alarm, and the contraption below lights up, presumably with the red lights representing a floor of the prison, and the screen at the bottom giving the cell number.
In the photo above it does look like some kind of glitch blurring the entire right hand side of the picture, but this is not the case. It genuinely is a change in the brickwork around a cell door, and you can see that in the picture below.
See how the brickwork around the doorframe is smoother than the brickwork on the actual wall? Check out that peeling paint too! Was this prison once this sickly yellow colour?
Outside every cell is this little square area where the brickwork has been replaced. This was actually once a window, although it was wide on the cells exterior and narrow on the interior, like arrow slits in the sides of castles. Basically this served a purpose in the 1800s, because the guards would light the cells at night by placing a candle on the window ledge, letting the light shine in through the little slit on the other side, so that prisoners could at least read books at night in the years before electricity.
Once electric lighting became a commodity, these windows were bricked up.
Here's the guards office.
This poster is an original fixture from the wall of the prison. The fact that it's stood the test of time and nobody decided to rip it up is a testament to how good this advice must be!
Looking down from the higher balconies, there are signs warning against people climbing down onto the safety netting. No doubt netting was installed reactively due to people falling to their deaths from the higher balconie, and the signs were installed later, but still reactively, due to people climbing on it.
As expected, the block has shower facilities.
The prisoners were responsible for the upkeep of their cells, and so there's a rack which was once used for storing mops and brooms. Prisoners are reminded that hoarding brooms is strictly illegal. Although how does one punish a rule breaker when they're already in jail? I guess in the Victorian era, beating them was all the rage, but that's probably not going to go down well today.
Interestingly, measures like this and alterations are usually provided in hindsight to an incident rather than as a proactive precaution, so I doubt anyone fitting this barred door thought at the time "You know, we should probably get a sheet of perspex just in case we get poo thrown our way."
I guess when one is suicidal and being watched 24/7, the indignity of throwing ones poo around doesn't matter so much. Figuratively they don't give a shit. Literally, not so much. They apparently give plenty.
This cell also varies from the norm. While initially there were two genetic cells, one had its door blocked up, and the dividing wall was obliterated, making a cell twice as large as your standard generic cell. This is for prisoners who are terminally ill. The extra space is so that the prisoner can accomodate doctors, and also provide separate shower facilities. Compared to the rest of the prison this is actually a new facility, only being created around 2012.
But while some cells do vary, the cell with "First Night" written above it is apparently just a generic cell. Initially when a new prisoner showed up, they had system in place where they were buddied up in this cell with a long-term prisoner who would basically support the newbies integration into prison life.
The idea was dropped when the influx of prisoners got too large, and also because some newbies grew dependant on their buddies.
The text, however, remains above the cell.
The Intervention Suite is for people who are feeling suicidal, who might just need someone to talk to. Numerous prisoners seeking redemption actually volunteered to be "listeners" and provide people with support when they're going through hard times.
It is perhaps worth noting that suicide was a massive issue here, to the point that in 2004 there was even an investigation into why so many suicides were occuring. The outcome of that investigation is not known.
This cell varies from the norm in a very simple but deliberate way. You see, the window is bigger. This cell, and others like it, were for prisoners with tuberculosis. Nowadays, most of us enter adulthood with a big white scar on our upper arms from the vaccination we recieved when we were young, but back in the Victorian era, more fresh air was the key! It might have been less effective but also probably had less conspiracy theorists arguing about how it secretly causes autism.
And then we have this cell, which is separated from the other cells by a whole additional room. It's basically for prisoners who are too violent, and disrupting the harmony of the prison. They were stripped down to their underwear and thrown in here with no heating. The additional room is for noise control, because generally these kinds of people are quite loud.
Presumably the bed, which resembles a pubs cellar more so than a bed, once had a mattress on it.
While being confined here in ones underwear and no heating might sound inhumane, in 1991 the laws on human rights changed, and it became illegal to keep people here for longer than an hour at a time.
For tour purposes, one cell in the prison is still decorated in the manner in which a prison cell might have been back in the day. It comes complete with a mannequin prisoner. Do not worry, he has been disarmed.
Some of the cells do retain some of the personal belongings, usually on little noticeboards. This one has loads of little notes, some of which appears to be poetry, but others appear to be basic lists and instructions. All of them have titles, as if this person was an aspiring writer, perhaps.
This is called "Garden Grief" and seems to be a list of health and safety precautions for the garden.
"Mummy Niggles" contains a short list of annoying parent habits.
And then we have a short story about premature birth.
This board has loads of photographs of women wearing the minimum amount of clothing.
My personal favourite is this woman, who is wearing a snake.
Some of the cells are off-limits due to the decay and damp. Just look at these walls! Such cells are marked as unsafe to enter, so that the general public dont go in and inhale a load of shit.
Personally, I'm no stranger to inhaling shit, having had close encounters with bird shit, cyanide, and probably asbestos, so this gunk on the walls didn't put me off stepping in to take a few interior shots. I wouldn't recommend going in yourself.
Health and safety aside, this is cleaner than the facilities in some pubs and clubs.
This area of the prison is where prisoners would line up to get their medication. As you can see, the modified dual cell for the terminally ill is right next to it.
Here is where they would be handed their meds.
Beyond this point is an office space, which I presume in the past operated like a pharmacy.
The X-Rays and Bio-Hazard signs are indicative that this particular room operated as a dentist or something. I bet prisoners didn't have to fork up £50 for someone to poke around their mouth and say "Yep, these teeth are fine."
Back out into the prison, there are four of these little balconies in the top corners of the upper floor. Presumably these were observation posts, possibly for watching roudy prisoners from a safe distance, where the broom-hoarders couldn't reach.
I noted out loud multiple times how easy it would be to climb up to these balconies purely because of the metal beams, but my tour guide declined a demonstration.
Instead I was allowed access to the prisons attic via the less-exciting but probably quicker and safer means of entry, the stairs.
Up here by the attic doors, one has a view of the prison. The walls up here have an arched design to them, which I'll come back to.
The attic doors are padlocked, and as such, not part of the official tour. Beyond this point, we're totally doing what this blog title implies, and showing you the world of behind-the-scenes. The public do not get to go here.
Someone has written "Lenny Who?" on the safety sign.
The attic has a great historic vibe to it.
And to be my delight, the walls up here are covered in graffiti left over from the previous staff of the prison, often listing the dates that they worked here.
This archway is just one of many, and it sure is interesting. Remember before we entered the attic, I mentioned the arch design along the wall? Well this is basically what it looks like from the attic interior. Every archway has this exposed unpainted brick, and that implies that once, these were open arches and at some point they were bricked up, no doubt because it would actually be pretty easy for prisoners to climb up into the attic if these archways were open. And why would that be problematic? Well the attic has access to the roof and to a Victorian ventilation system.
So these are the old air vents. Basically they're brick tunnels in the roof that become progressively more narrow. Naturally I attempted to crawl down one.
As you can see, along the left are a series of smaller holes leading out. Now I'd probably get stuck if I proceeded any further because the vent does get progressively narrower, so instead I'll return to the places that are actually designed for people.
So if you're looking at the prison exterior, you'll see that it has four massive chimneys, and here I am inside one. It's actually possible to get inside all four of them, but for some reason only one has a ladder.
The ladder doesn't go all the way out of the chimney, so unfortunately a view from the top is impossible.
So, back to the prison.
The second block is more communual. This contains the gym, the church and the visitor area. The gym is off limits today, due to it being used for an event. However, if you really, really want to see the gym, it is one of the tourable locations. All the other locations were open for me to nose around.
The visitation area is largely unchanged. Here prisoners could meet with their loved ones.
There's even a play area for any visitors children. Presumably it had more things in it once.
Not all prisoners are allowed to see their guests without a window in the way, and there are a series of booths for these meetings to take place in.
There is a collossal elevator here, and I assume it is for gym equipment, given that it's huge, and that the gym is upstairs.
Moving beyond this we have whats left of the church.
It's very empty here, but once had rows of seats and a little altar on the raised platform.
There's a storage cage beneath the stairs, but I'm not sure what could be kept there. Harry Potter, maybe.
Intriguingly this particular block is a fairly recent build, being added to the prison in the 1970s. The construction led to the accidental discovery of a mass grave in 1972. Numerous people were executed here over the years, and they were buried in unmarked graves on the prison grounds. Ten bodies were found, and one body was allegedly still recognisable, to the point that one of the guards recognised him. This body was then given back to his family, so that they could give him a proper burial.
The others were cremated.
So with that morbid story behind us, lets look at the final block of the prison.
Like the first block, this block was built between 1885 and 1887, and its foundations are also part of the original prison. In this block, all of the cells are along one wall with absolutely no cells facing the other block of the prison, and this is purely because this was originally the womens block. Male prisoners were therefore prevented from seeing into a female prisoners cell.
In 1922, women stopped being held at this prison and this block became used for holding sex offenders instead, and the same rules of keeping them from the other prisoners applied due to the laughable and ironic notion that these people are considered vulnerable while they're in jail.
This block certainly had a creepier vibe to it. It was the vibe that comes when you put a bunch of rapists and child molesters in one place. This is where evil people were collected.
It must have been horrific for those falsely accused of something to be stuck here among these monsters.
This is also the block where people were hung, so perhaps thats responsible for the vibe too.
There is an entrance to the tunnels here, but we'll come back to that.
On this wall, dustpans and brooms once hung, similarly to the rack in the other block, but somewhat lacking a sign warning against broom hoarding.
While we're on the subject of vibes and atmosphere, I should probably touch on the subject of ghosts. There is a popular belief that the prison is haunted, although my guide said that she had never seen or heard anything. People did mention seeing a "Grey Lady" though.
That sounds familiar. Wasn't there a Grey Lady in Chaos Manor? Do ghosts change haunts like people change jobs?
Interestingly, whoever lived in this cell was also working as a listener to suicidal prisoners. But this sign also tells us much more than just that. Firstly, it's a sticker adhered to the cell door, and will likely be challenging to fully remove. It also states that the listener "lives" here. That particular choice in words doesn't give a feeling of temporarity. Whoever lived here was expecting to be here for a long, long time. The person was here perhaps for the rest of their lives, such was the severity of their crime. Given that this is a sex offenders block, thats probably for the best. A sex offence is perhaps one of, if not the worst crime a human being can carry out. While they can just get on with their day, the victim can not. That stuff sticks in their brain forever.
However, this sticker is also a plea of "I am trying to redeem my actions." They want everyone who passes to know this, and perhaps judge them less harshly. And there we're into dubious territory because a lot of people would say that this person is beyond redemption. Some might say that they should be castrated, while others may say that their actions in prison prove that nobody is beyond redemption. It's a fantastic subject to debate.
And again, one of the arguments against harsh punishments is that people do get falsely accused, and this reinforces the reason why people who lie about it, or even lie about domestic violence, need to be locked away too. Not only do these accusations have the power to ruin lives, but they're also piggybacking on the pain of all the genuine victims and giving them the finger. It's insulting to them, and it builds a "cry wolf" mentality that prevents genuine victims from getting help.
If a human being lacks empathy, thats terrifying. A rapist has this in common with someone who falsely accuses of rape- both actions would be impossible to do if they had empathy. Both actions ruin lives. But rapists get locked up. Those who falsely accuse don't, but they should. Surely the purpose of a prison is to safeguard civilisation from those who are too dangerous to be part of it.
But I've ranted enough now. On with the prison.
I actually laughed out loud at the sight of a toilet labeled as not being a toilet.
And here would be where the sex offenders recieved their medication. The window connects back up to the pharmacy offices of the other block, but distributed separately due to the need of prisoner segregation. Sex offenders are considered vulnerable in a prison setting.
And now we're approaching the execution room. There was definitely a colder vibe down here. The path I was walking was one walked by people who were about to die, and fully aware of it. This room was where they would spend their final night. I'm fairly sure that the noticeboard with information and a photo of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hung in the UK, is a more recent addition, for tour purposes.
Allegedly this room had a concealed door into the execution room, but that has since been removed.
There's a toilet, so that those about to die can have one last poo. This is probably for the benefit of the prison staff more so than for the prisoner. When a body dies, all that waste has a habit of finding its way out of the body and making a mess.
The noose is right there in the middle of the room, and the flooring is all new, replacing the trap door that used to exist there, although if one walks over it, it's obvious that the ground beneath is hollow.
I have heard the rumour that trap doors also existed that would send the corpses down into the river severn, where they would become fish food. However I have not had this story confirmed.
The last person to be executed here was in 1961, for the crime of murder. But while only eight people were hung for murder here in the 20th Century, countless people met their end here before that, and in those days the death penalty could be given out for minor offences.
One of the most notable executioners who has worked here was a chap by the name of Albert Pierrepoint, who is known as the most efficient executioner in British history, being responsible for the deaths of over 400 people, a good chunk of which were Nazi war criminals after World War 2. He somehow perfected the act of execution to the point that he had the record for the quickest deaths. Often prisoners were relieved (as much as one facing death could be) to hear that Albert Pierrepoint would be their executioner, because he had a reputation for just getting it over with.
Hanging people efficiently, it seems, isn't as easy as you'd think. Albert Pierrepoint later retired and went on to campaign against the death penalty, having learned firsthand that it wasn't a deterrent.
So what was here before the current prison existed? What is left of the prison that came before it? It's finally time to go underground, and see the remains of the former prison.
Descending these stairs gave me such a rush. There is real history down here. The cells down here were lived in hundreds of years ago, in the era before people got a cell each. Men and women were just thrown together, often ten to a cell. This architecture is the work of Thomas Telford, the man who painted the ceiling of Lauras Tower and bulldozed half of the Abbey.
Thomas Telford was a genius. These stairs up to the surface are actually designed in a special way, where each of the steps are slightly different heights. Any prisoner seeking to escape would not be able to run up these stairs because they wouldn't be able to get the rhythm of their footfall, and would likely trip or at least have to slow down.
And this here is allegedly an old holding cell, very similar to the processing area of the Danas entry area. However it was likely less humane.
Much of the former prison was filled with cement when the modern prison was built, to create a stable foundation, and as such while this area is still accessible, one will never see it from its original floor, several feet below. It also means that this is a squeeze. As I proceeded, I resigned that I would not be standing up straight again for a good hour or so.
And as such, this labyrinth of tunnels that lead off from the former prison were probably a lot taller back in the day, but today are only fit for crawling down. And they sure are labyrinthian. Rumours tell that one tunnel led out of the prison. Personally I can't see that being true. Why would anyone design a prison with a secret means of escape? However, with these tunnels sprawling on in various directions, it's easy to see where such stories originate from.
This particular tunnel comes to a dead end. There is a door in the ceiling, from which a ladder would surely have descended once, but now this entrance is likely blocked off by the modern flooring above.
One of the cool places that the tunnels lead to is this room, which was actually the wine cellar of the prison governor, who lived on site. His living quarters would have been directly above.
The cellar wall indicates that there was once a fireplace directly above. Also in shot is either a spec of dust or an orb, depending on what you believe.
These stairs would have once led to the governors house, but today they're blocked off.
Nearby, sunlight does reach down from a grate in the floor, where this incredibly rusty ladder can be found. How long has it been since anyone used this ladder? And how many people on the surface pass this grate and never realise what they're walking over?
Numerous tunnels lead to even more cells, with another ladder at the end that I think my guide said would come out in the gate house office but was likely floored over.
And as said, most of these cells would have contained around ten people each, just thrown together with no distinction.
This particular staircase comes out in the sex offenders block, at the entrance we saw earlier.
As with the attic door, someone has scrawled "Lennny Who?" on the sign.
But this sign has far creepier implications.
It's difficult to know exactly what I'm looking at down here. A full excavation of this prison would mean taking away the structural integrity of the prison above. There could be all kinds of secrets down here.
This particular offshoot is interesting to me, although it leads nowhere now. In the past, it may have been another means of entry.
The real gem is this crawlspace which was perhaps a normal sized doorway once, before the area was filled with cement. Someone has at some point stuck a couple of skeletal feet into the wall to imply someone being buried down here. Interestingly, these tunnels are not included in the tour or the scare maze, so the feet are there to be appreciated only by staff and by me.
As for the crawlspace, I was forbidden access down it, purely because my guide had once gone down there and gotten stuck. Now here's the thing about my guide- If you take two of her, and stand them on top of each other, she'll almost be my height. If she got stuck in there, I didn't stand a chance! However she did point out that this tunnel led to a former exit that was still visible if one crawled down the tunnel and looked up. Having fed me that bait, I sort of asked her to crawl down, risk getting stuck again, and get a photo of the exit.
It's this really cool big metal grate. Who knows when this exit was once used, or where it came up. The grate has since had a floor placed over it. And the beauty of these tunnels is that numerous examples of this could exist undiscovered. How many doors are bricked up down here? How much is inaccessible now?
There's another ceiling hatch here, with a sign saying Fire Exit, implying that it can still be used. However that all depends if this sign predates any recent renovations. Things have a habit of being forgotten when they're underground.
So potentially if I opened this grate I could disturb a prison tour or frighten some locals. Honestly I have no idea where it could come up. These tunnels completely threw off my sense of direction.
Occasionally one comes across a dead end like this where the brickwork clashes with the brickwork of the walls. I think this is a bricked up tunnel, although the only way to know for sure would be to break some of those bricks.
To my delight there's also an exposed vent here, allowing one to travel underneath the prison via the vents. I feel like Bruce Willis! But much, much filthier.
There's only so far one can travel via vent, but check out the dust! I came out coated in the stuff, and then exited the tunnels into the main prison area, hopefully not upsetting any tours. If anyone saw the Grey Lady that day, it was just me covered in dust, don't worry!
And that is all I have on the Dana Prison today.
The tunnels are intriguing. The old cells are a wonderful chunk of history sadly hidden from the world, but the more modern prison is still full of amazing history too! And the usage as a scare attraction is just another chapter. It's an amazing chapter, because it's a breath of fresh air for the town of Shrewsbury. Back in 2010, the idea of having a scare maze in Shrewsbury would have been laughed at. The presence of the Dana and its current use is a huge sign of the towns evolution.
The beauty of the prison is that there is likely still more to discover, but how long will that take? Will a future renovation find even more secrets? How long will it be before it does?
What does the future hold for the Dana Prison?
Following its closure in 2013, it was expected to be renovated into homes and offices, and in 2015 plans were revealed to turn it into student accomodation for the recently established Shrewsbury Uni Centre. However these plans were rejected by the council.
Lets hope it prospers for a long time as what it is now.
Don't forget to check out Immersive Events and like the Dana Prisons Facebook page to see what events are coming up. And if you fancy working as a zombie in a scare maze, I know they're always up for training new members of their legion of the undead so its always worth asking them if you want to get involved.
That's all I have. Share this blog post wherever you want, and don't forget to follow my Instagram, Twitter and like my Facebook page. And as always, don't forget to be nice to each other. That parts important. You have the power to make someone have a good day. Go out and do it. Cheer someone up. Just vomit some positivity out into the world.
Thanks for reading. Stay awesome!