The Norman conquest of York led in 1068 to the building of the first castle in the city. Over the years the castle underwent a series of rebuilds and changes of role until by the 14th century the castle was in use as a prison, a role it enjoyed for many years. By the Restoration of the monarchy in the 17th century the York prison facilities were hopelessly overcrowded and three new, much needed buildings were built. The county jail and the female prison, which were eventually united to form the Debtors Prison, and the felons prison. The debtors prison was much admired but in the felons prison conditions were less than ideal with on one occasion nine prisoners suffocating in a single night. The prison was also a place of public execution. In the 19th century public executions in York were moved to the front of the main prison building. The building continued as the county prison until 1900, with the felons prison buildings being demolished in 1935.
The remaining building later became home to York Castle Museum. Over the years there have been many notorious prisoners incarcerated within these walls. Perhaps the most famous being the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin who was executed in York on 7th April 1739. Strange activities abound on this site. Staff have reported hearing chains rattling, unexplained voices, and scratching sounds coming from the cells. It’s not just staff who have reported supernatural experiences. Daytime visitors have captured ghostly images of a Victorian girl on camera and an elderly lady has been observed sitting near the fireplace. There has also been a small boy in 1940’s clothing seen in the area of the military gallery, and on a few occasions a small dog has also been seen here.
Strangely for a prison, perhaps the most common supernatural experience reported here is the sound of people singing. This has been heard numerous times, first by an entire film crew working on the site, and later by the Museum Health and Safety Manager while spending the night in the Condemned cell to raise money for charity. The experience so disconcerted him that he fled the building before the night was over.
A visit to the York Castle Museum is not to be undertaken lightly, you never know what you might uncover here. Will the sound of singing scare you away, or will the spirits of condemned prisoners make themselves known?