I am working on a novel called Mulgrave Castle in which my main character Harriet Twine is a psychic, Victorian detective. In order to really embrace my character as I re-write, I wanted to visit a place I had been to before which I knew had both a mixture of atmosphere and spiritual energy. It is the Victorian prison in Lincoln castle.
I decided to do most of my journey by train as this was a popular Victorian mode of transport. I would have liked to do the whole day in Victorian costume but after doing other experiments in costume, I decided it really was not practical and I would have to use my imagination as far as clothing went.
I have written about the prison elsewhere on the site under Exciting Excursions. The place which impressed me most on my last visit is the prison chapel. In 1849 the Separate System came into force. It was believed that if prisoners were kept in isolation they would become rehabilitated. They were only let out of their cells to go to the Chapel and for exercise. It is said to be the only one of its kind left in the world. The Separate System meant that the inmates would sit in closed in seats, in The Chapel, so that they could not see or speak to anyone else. The seats are tilted, therefore if any prisoners dared to fall asleep during a sermon they would fall forward and be punished. There was an open bench at the back which was especially for condemned criminals; obviously it was thought that they were beyond redemption. Debtors also were not included in the separate system and they would be seated in the gallery with the men above and the female debtors below. There were sloping seats at the front for the women. Each criminal in the Separate System was locked into his seat before another could be let in. In addition to not being allowed to see others, the prisoners also had to wear masks to cover their faces. In 1851, it was realized that this system did not work and it was abandoned.
The remarkable aspect of all this is that visitors to the chapel today can stand in the pulpit and have the view which the prison chaplain would have. Some seats are fitted with a dummy criminal wearing a mask. The vision is intimidating and the atmosphere is awful and on my first visit it gave me shivers down my back.
For this visit, I had strongly psyched myself up not to be so intimidated by the chapel, after all, Harriet is Victorian and has never witnessed the liberal world which I am used to. As I stood in the pulpit looking down on the chapel to take the photographs, I felt a very strong sensation which made me lean backwards so that I could not be pushed. I put that down to my own imagination and went down into the seats and sat on the front row.
I had not planned to do this but I found that I was sitting observing the other visitors. People seemed reluctant to stay in the chapel, I found that most were scuttling straight through and not visiting the pulpit. They seemed as if they should not be in there and were frightened of getting caught. I decided to stop the next visitors and explain about the pulpit and directed them up to it. They didn’t look happy and didn’t actually climb into the box. So as the next people I directed up there were sneaking off, I pointed the pulpit out. They declined going in. I eventually witnessed one couple going in and their faces suggested they had eaten something which had gone off.
I felt at this point that my experiment had worked in that I had become like my intrepid Victorian heroine compared to the other visitors, I had lost my modern day queasiness for harder times than ours.
However, all of that fell by the wayside when I entered Cobb Hall which was built in the 13th century and has been used as a prison and for executions. The stench of urine as I entered was overwhelming which puzzled me, later it actually made sense as when people are extremely frightened it is not unknown for them to wet themselves. There is a ladder which leads down to the dungeon and there was very strong negative energy emanating from that area so I declined to go down. I felt rather ashamed at that point as Harriet would definitely have gone down to try to find out what had happened down there. For me however, the feeling of evil was too strong. I did climb up to the top where the hangings took place. In the mode of Victorian psychic detective, I did not sense anything there.
Whilst I was up at the top, unbeknown to me, my son had entered Cobb Hall seen the ladder area leading down to the dungeon and had left immediately, he too got a really negative feeling from that area and rushed to tell me about it as I left Cobb Hall.
Did my experiment work? I feel it did as I think that I have discovered that Harriet is rather more adventurous than I am. I have discovered that leading a life as a sheltered Victorian lady has made her more likely to throw herself into situations because her life is dull and it is not enough for her.
Do you ever do experiments like this? If so, please tell so that I know that I am not the only one hanging around Victorian prisons.
- Writing – Point of View Problems – What a Palaver! (loonyliterature.com)
- What sort of writer are you – explorer or planner? (loonyliterature.com)
- A Lesson on Victorian Prison Reform (reginajeffers.wordpress.com)
- Conjuring and Capturing Feelings – Inspiration in Ruins. (loonyliterature.com)