A fascinating insight into Beaumaris Gaol Victorian prison
Carchar Biwmares in Welsh, Beaumaris Gaol is a disused gaol located in the historic lovely town of Beaumaris. Along with visiting the castle and the lovely shops, why not take a tour of this museum? It’s a great rainy day activity for the whole family.
Granted, it’s full of sad memories and secrets, but it provides a fascinating insight into the world of the prisoner during the 1800s.
A historic prison that was in operation from 1829 to 1916, it was designed by York architect Joseph Hansom, who also designed the Hansom cab. The prison was built to hold up to 30 prisoners, but it often held many more than that.
The conditions in the prison were harsh, with prisoners being confined to cramped cells and given little food or water. The prison was also known for its use of the treadmill, which was used to punish prisoners by making them walk on a rotating wheel for hours at a time.
Despite its reputation as a brutal institution, Beaumaris Gaol was also known for its reform-minded governor, William Williams. Williams believed in treating prisoners humanely and tried to improve their conditions as much as possible. He also introduced educational programs and encouraged prisoners to learn new skills.
Some famous and colourful residents
Back in the day, the prison housed a motley crew of criminals, from drunks and thieves to murderers and smugglers.
One of the most famous prisoners was Richard Rowlands, also known as Dic Aberdaron. Rowlands was a Welsh poet who was imprisoned for his involvement in a protest against the government’s treatment of Welsh-speaking people. While in prison, Rowlands continued to write poetry and became a symbol of Welsh resistance.
Despite protesting his innocence, he was executed for the murder of his father-in-law in 1862, one of only two executions to be performed at the Gaol.
Legend has it that he cursed the church clock from the gallows, saying that if he were innocent the four faces of the nearby church clock would never show the same time. To this day, the clock has never shown the right time… curse or just the wind buffeting the southern face. Who knows!
One of the most infamous inmates was a guy named John Jones, who was arrested for stealing a goose (yes, a goose) and ended up spending two years behind bars for his crime! Apparently, he was such a model prisoner that when he was finally released, the governor of the gaol gave him a job as a turnkey (a.k.a. prison guard). Talk about a redemption arc!
The gaol has a chapel, but it’s not original to the building and the pews and pulpit were brought from a chapel being renovated elsewhere on the island. One way to tell that the pews are not the original ones is the numbering sequence is out of order, nor are they fixed to the floor.
Other uses for the building
After it ceased to be a prison, the gaol served a number of purposes and has been a police station and even a children’s clinic over the years.
During the second World War, it was used as the location for the town’s air raid siren. It also remained operational during the Cold War in case of nuclear attacks!
While its conditions were often brutal, it also played a role in the reform movement of the 19th century. Today, it serves as a reminder of the importance of treating prisoners humanely and of the struggles faced by Welsh-speaking people throughout history.
Beaumaris Gaol is a fascinating piece of Welsh history that’s definitely worth a visit. Just don’t steal any geese while you’re there, okay?
Dogs (except assistance dogs) are not allowed on the tour, but can wait with a member of your party in the reception area. On our visit, Neil was the designated dog sitter, who was offered a nice brew and a chit-chat from the staff!
Beaumaris Gaol Location
Opening hours (Easter – October)
Open 7 days a week
10:00am – 5:00pm
Prices (as at April 2023)
Adults – 7.00
Seniors – 5.50
Children – 5.00
Family (2+2) – 19.50
Adult – 10.50
Seniors – 8.00
Children – 7.50
Family – 30.00