Northgate Prison, Durham
Shelfmark: Add. MS 15538
This ink sketch shows Durham's north gateway. The North Gate guarded the only road between the fortified peninsula and the neck of land on which the city of Durham stood. This narrow lane was a potential weak spot in the castle’s defences and so was heavily protected. Built around 1072, it adjoined Durham Castle to the west. In the early 15th century it was largely rebuilt by Bishop Langley, not only for military security, but also to provide a suitably grand entrance to the bishop’s domain and a place of detention for those who broke his laws. As a prison, it was already becoming outdated in Grimm’s time, even though it had been enlarged. Inmates peer inquisitively from the prison’s windows at the artist making his sketch. It retained this prison function for the next 400 years.
Prison reformer John Howard visited Durham around the same time as Grimm. He wrote of the conditions in the jail: "The men are put at night into dungeons, on seven feet square for three prisoners - another, the 'Great Hole', has only a little window. In this I saw six prisoners, most of the them transports chained to the floor - in that situation they had been for many weeks and were very sick."
The very public visibility of the prisoners was one reason for the provision of a purpose-built prison in 1819-20. When the new Durham Gaol was completed, Northgate Prison was demolished to improve access to the peninsula.