Northallerton Prison

In September 2017 York Archaeological Trust worked with Hambleton District Council and local residents to investigate the Archaeology of Northalleton Prison.

The team from YAT spent four weeks at the site to open up several trenches over some of the earliest buildings of the prison. The prison was built in 1784 and was designed by John Carr. Carr is most known for stately homes such as Harewood House in Leeds and Fairfax House in York.

The first prison was mostly used as a gaol for vagrants, debtors and those convicted of minor crimes. It became the major prison for the North Riding during the early 19th century and was in continuous use until it closed its doors in 2013. The site has now been partially demolished ahead of redevelopment allowing a fantastic opportunity to investigate what life was like for the earliest inhabitants in the late 18 th Century. Before the work started, it was hoped that we would discover remains of an 1820s prison wing, a cook house, a smithy and any trace of the treadmill used by prisoners as a form of punishment.

Local residents were encouraged to get involved in the project through a number of opportunities offered by the Trust on behalf of the District Council. 2270 people visited the site on the two open days and 42 “Your DIG” spaces where taken up by local people to spend the day on site digging alongside the archaeologists. Over 400 schoolchildren and 250 adults were given tours of this site and excavations by the archaeologists and volunteers from the council.
We worked with local charities such as Action Care and Chopsticks to ensure that the opportunity to take part in the project was made available to as many people as possible.

One group from the RNIB spent some time investigating the remaining prison cellblock through touch and smell. They created an audio description of the experience recording what they felt in the cells and how the spaces made them feel.

Take a listen to the audio story of the RNIB visit here:

Fieldwork, CommunityDavid Scott