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Lancaster Castle is now a common gaol, and is under the jurisdiction of the sheriff and visiting justices. It contains at present 200 crown prisoners and 110 debtors. The debtors have the use of the large court-yard as an exercising ground, where they promenade, play ball, skittles, and pitch-farthing, and improve the time with such-like intellectual amusements. Malt and spirituous liquors are suffered to be brought in, in limited quantities; and the prisoners who can get tobacco are allowed to smoke. Disorderly and disgraceful scenes occur at times in consequence of these indulgences. The inmates get intoxicated, and quarrel with each other. Perhaps it would be better to subject them to severer regulations in these matters; for the really unfortunate are not often disposed to seek for such indulgences, especially as they can only do so at the expense of their creditors. The fraudulent need no pity; they are guilty, and deserve punishment.
But not alone do the regulations of the prison require amendment—the law by which the prisoners are sent hither cries aloud for revision and correction. Only a few months ago, an infant of three years was imprisoned for contempt of court, in a process before the Chancery of the duchy of Lancaster! What, in the name of conscience, can such a baby have been guilty of, that it should be taken from the nursery to be immured in a cold and wretched prison like this? Poor little innocent ! What advantage can possibly accrue either to the public or to the young Prince of Wales and Duke embroidery ; only a few, however, and these are persons who had learned the craft before their committal. Beyond knitting--an old accomplishment in Lancashire, even for males-nothing in the way of trade is taught in the castle.
We have referred to one small room in which a system of discipline is in force. In its way, this room is a curiosity. It contains eighteen or twenty criminals, who are set deep down in boxes, like pigeon-holes in a writing-table on a larger scale. They cannot see each other; and the most perfect silence is rigidly maintained. Not a word is ever spoken in this chamber. The officer himself is dumb; and the visitor is warned, by a peremptory handwriting on the wall, not to open his lips in that place of silence. The monks of La Trappe are not half so still. The room is like a living grave.
Now this singular severity—especially in a place otherwise so lax and irregular-is not merely useless ; it is worse than useless. Do not the framers of this method of carrying out the provisions of the criminal law know that silence is not imposed as a punishment, but as a precaution ? that its function is not to avenge the law, but to prevent contamination ? Here the cruelty is refined to an excessive degree. The object should be simply to prevent prisoners conversing, and so corrupting each other. To impose absolute silence upon them—silence for its own sake—is a thought, we apprehend, quite foreign to the intention of the law.
In another part of the gaol, in the roundhouse,
that is, under the very eyes of the wardens, groups of prisoners were working and talking in loud tones ; others were idling about ; and, altogether, there was an absence of order and decorum which it was very painful to witness, and the worst of which a little care and trouble might readily have remedied. The officials wear no regular costume—an omission of signal importance. Much of the prestige attaching to the persons of men holding office depends upon their easy demarcation from ordinary civilians, and especially from men of their own class. A criminal pays no deference to a “swinger,” because he is himself accustomed to wear one ; but he will be found to stand in considerable awe of a regular uniform. The dress of the Wakefield prison officers is an admirable model for others. It is both handsome and economical.
The refractory cells of Lancaster Castle are dark and horrid dungeons. They are at the base of the old Saxon tower, and occupy a part of the ancient keep. There is a tread-wheel, but it is seldom used. A strong proof of the want of more and harder work in the castle is—the prisoners desire to go on the wheel : they say they are starved in the winter months, and want heavier labour to keep them warm ! In the great halls of the feudal princes, the dining-hall and the ball-room, called after the head of the house of Lancaster, are now the hospital and other prison apartments. If sentimentally inclined, the reader may indulge in many reflections. Here gallant knights have stood, and ladies fair have
smiled—and now? To what base uses may we not return! The lowest wretches of the county feed and sleep in halls to which the brave and beautiful of the olden time intrigued, manquvred, almost circumvented heaven to gain admission ! The walls, where once hung tapestries wrought by royal fingers, and arms and standards, trophies of deeds of chivalry and valour done in the Holy Land, are graced with nothing now but rows of wooden knives and spoons ! Faugh! says the indignant antiquary--so passes away the glory of this world!
Imperial Cæsar, dead, and turn'd to clay,
West Riding old Gaul.
PART of this prison remains as in the time of Howard. Even then it had a bad reputation. The site being low, it was damp, and liable, with heavy rains, to be flooded. The drainage was very defective, the cells dark, and, from the sewers running beneath them, very offensive. From time to time many additions have been made to the pile of buildings; and even before the erection of the new gaol, this was one of the largest and most important in the kingdom.
The two prisons—the old and the new-adjoin each other, and are under the administration of the same general officers. The governor, chaplain, and surgeon are common to both ; a circumstance which, as the old prison is conducted on the social, and the new one on the separate system, enables them, partially at least, to contrast the efficiency of the two disciplines. Not, however, as we assert, absolutely ; for the conditions of the two experiments are far from being equal. The separate system is here con