Having a few hours to kill in London and trying to decide where to go before a matinee theatre production I was reminded of the Clink Prison Museum, which I’d planned to visit on a previous trip, only to change my mind at the last moment. It was easier to find than I had imagined, though tucked away down a pleasant side street.
The museum sits on the site of one of the earliest prisons in England, established around 1144 and burnt to the ground by Protestants during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots in 1780. No one is absolutely certain where the name Clink comes from though it was most probably derived either from the sound of the prison doors being slammed shut, or the sound of the irons being attached to the prisoner’s wrists and ankles.
[Warning: Some of the following pictures may disturb. Reader discretion advised.]
After paying the entrance fee (£7.50 for adults) to a costumed attendant, the prison gate was opened and I was directed to go through into the prison itself. There are lots of interesting panels to read and models of prisoners/torture devices throughout. (I was half expecting those below to move – they didn’t! – as it’s much murkier down there than my camera flash would indicate).
I found it quite informative, and pretty eerie, since at first I was the only person moving around amongst quite life-like models with the sounds of crying and rattling chains echoing around the room.
Various implements of torture are on display, such as this oubliette, where prisoners were literally forgotten about….
…and this familiar torture rack.
Torture without a royal warrant was illegal so records were never made of what exactly was done to many of the prisoners in the Clink. But anything that didn’t leave a mark was considered fair game and not torture as we would understand it, as evidenced by the display of this iron boot, designed to cause crushing injuries to the foot and make movement impossible and…
…this scold’s bridle, a form of humiliation used mainly against women considered to be gossip’s or witches. The design often included a plate that would hold down the woman’s tongue to stop her from talking.
There are some decidedly grotesque touches in the museum (this is certainly not a place to visit for the faint of heart), such as these heads on spikes in the Torture Chamber room…
…and this poor soul in a gibbet. The Murder Act of 1571 allowed judges to impose gibbeting as punishment on those found guilty of murder or treason and on highwaymen, used as a deterrent to warn others against committing the same offences. (I didn’t notice till after I’d taken the picture that there’s a crow sitting atop it with an eye in its beak. Be grateful you don’t have that to see that as well!)
The museum only took about an hour to go around, and that was with me taking time to read each panel and to take pictures so it could be done a lot quicker, but if you enjoy a bit of criminal history with a dash of the macabre you’ll certainly find something to interest you here.