Derby Gaol, home to Britain’s most frightening ghosts

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Visitors and staff at Derby Gaol have encountered many strange and paranormal experiences, says RICK HALE

Derby Gaol

Crime and punishment is one of the hot button political debates of our time.

Regardless of where you come down on the politics of it one thing remains clear, crime happens and it must be dealt with in a manner that not only meets the needs of justice.

But also makes others think twice before, oh say, robbing a pensioner or the ultimate crime, taking the life of another human being. 

Thankfully, the last known episode of capital punishment in the United Kingdom occurred in 1964 and was eventually abolished five years later.

However, at one time, capital punishment was used quite frequently across the Britain and not just for serious crimes such as murder or treason.

Something as simple as stealing an apple or poaching on forbidden land could land you in the hangman’s noose. 

And no matter how hard you fought and how much you screamed, you would most certainly swing from the neck until dead.

Those were dark times my friend,and there was no place darker than old Derby Gaol in Derby.

A prison known for both violence and adhering to the ominous sounding code of justice the  “Bloody code.”

And as you might expect this long history of bloodshed has resulted in some of Britain’s darkest and most terrifying hauntings.

History Of Derby Gaol

Long before the village of Derby had a jail, criminals were sent to languish in the horrific conditions of Nottingham Castle.

With overcrowding threatening to overwhelm the castle, the people of Derby built Cornmarket Gaol in the heart of the town in 1652.

The Derby Gaol we know today, and has become a popular tourist attraction, refers to Old Derby Gaol, which was built in 1756 on Friar’s Gate.

Derby Gaol

For nearly a century, Friar’s Gate Gaol not only took in violent criminals, but people who committed infractions that by today’s standards would be considered minor.

Something as simple as stealing a shovel could find you bunking with a hardened criminal either imprisoned for treason or murder.

If you were tried, convicted and sent to Derby Gaol, there was a good chance you might never see the light of day.

The Bloody Code

When Old Derby Gaol was constructed, Britain, Scotland and Ireland were under an oppressive form of jurisprudence known as, “The Bloody Code”.

This act was established in the late 17th century and said that anyone, regardless of how minor the offense could be executed.

Basically, something as minor as stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving family could bring with it a date with the hangman’s noose.

And no matter how hard you plead your case or screamed your innocence, chances are it would be met by deaf ears.

It has been estimated that between 1735 and 1825, there were over 60 executions at Nun’s Green where any tree could serve as a gallows.

Perhaps the most famous executions at Old Derby Gaol were the executions of the Pentrich Martyrs.

These revolutionaries were hanged and beheaded for causing an uprising and taking up arms against the government.

As with any prison, executions weren’t the only cause of death behind the thick walls of Old Derby Gaol.

With overpopulation, disease finished off a number of prisoners. And when tempers flared  jailhouse retributions were common.

With so much death and misery surrounding this old jail, it should come as no surprise that Old Derby Gaol is home to some of the most frightening ghosts in Britain.

The Debtors Cell

Being in debt is something that is par for the course in the western world. And that debt can be an unbearable curse on people who are struggling to get by.

At one time, debt could get you tossed in debtors jail where you could work off your debt by doing hard time. And Old Derby Gaol was no different.

According to both staff and visitors the Debtors Cell is the most haunted area of the Gaol. 

George, the most active ghost in the debtors’ cells is known to be a little too handsy with female visitors.

Women who have taken the tour have reported that when they entered the cells they would feel cold, rough hands touching them.

They have also claimed an overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness.

Is this the ghost of George expressing his emotions? Or could it be the spiritual muck left behind by all those crushed under the weight of debt? Either could be an answer.

The Condemned Cells

Throughout its many years of prisoners awaiting their date with death, the condemned cells were one of the most overpopulated areas of Old Derby Gaol. And as you might expect, it’s extraordinary haunted.

In 2002, the wildly popular paranormal reality tv show, Most Haunted, paid a visit to the Gaol and experienced the activity that has been reported over the years.

In the condemned cells, while the crew was filming, they claimed to smell flowers and managed to catch a crucifix moving on its own.

Richard’s Encounter

Richard Felix, owner of the Old Derby Gaol, had a sighting he would not soon forget. 

One night, while taking a stroll through the building, he caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure walking just ahead of him.

Thinking he had an intruder he attempted to stop the figure and demand what they were doing in the building.

When he finally caught up to the figure, it became apparent that whomever this mysterious person was, had just vanished.

Still More Paranormal Activity

Apart from the previously mentioned stories of the supernatural, visitors and staff have had what could only be described as a cornucopia of strange experiences.

Phantom footsteps and other odd noises are heard throughout the building.

As well as watching in horror as shadowy figures dart in and out of cells and appear and disappear with very little warning. I can see why Old Derby Gaol is so popular with paranormal enthusiasts from not only Britain, but from around the world.

Since 1997, Old Derby Gaol had been owned and operated as a public museum by Richard Felix, a respected paranormal investigator and historian of the supernatural.

Since taking up ownership of the building, Richard has turned it into a popular tourist attraction for those with a taste for the macabre.

Organised ghost hunts are held nightly and Richard leads a ghost walk around Derby telling dark tales of the town’s ancient history.

If you’re looking to learn about the history and hauntings of Derby and Old Derby Gaol, you will not be disappointed in Richard Felix or his ghosts.

You can visit Derby Gaol at 50-51 Friar Gate, Derby DE1 1DF.

Have you been to Derby Gaol and seen something strange? Tell us about it in the comments section below!

Rick Hale, is a native of Chicago, Illinois and first became interested in the paranormal after having a positive interaction with an apparition at a young age. Rick is the author of The Geek's Guide To The Strange and Unusual: Poltergeists, Ghosts and Demons. Behold! Shocking True Tales of Terror...and Some Other Spooky Stuff. And Bullets, Booze and Babes: The Haunted History of Chicago and Illinois. Rick is the co-host of The Shadow Initiative Paranormal Talk. Rick was featured in the documentary Ghost Tapes 2. Rick is a featured writer for Spooky Isles and Paranormalstudy.com. Rick has also been published by Haunted Times, Paranormal Underground, The Supernatural Magazine and Legends Magazine.

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