County Council jailblock

As Northamptonshire County Council staff are set to leave behind a building steeped with history, the Chron took an exclusive tour around County Hall with guide and council sergeant, Roger Coleman, who has become a bit of an expert with his beloved old jail block.

Thursday, 13th April 2017, 5:50 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 7:09 pm
The former gallows
The former gallows

Adorned with cherubs, masks and royal crests, the Sessions House is 322 years old and one of the newest buildings erected following the devastating great fire, which wiped out Gold Street and other areas of the town in 1675.

During a mid-morning tour around the historic building, Roger, who has worked at County Hall since he was 17 years old spoke of how the building once operated under the authority of the High Sherriff.

“If you couldn’t pay your debts, you would be locked up,” Roger said. Northamptonians were often lunged down the stairs and into the prison holding cells if they couldn’t cough up what they owed.

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The corridor to the courtrooms and holding cells.

The courthouse cost £1800 to construct (now £4m) and played host to magistrates and London judges who would try criminals on 250 offences, including "consorting with gypsies."

Residents didn't have to commit serious crimes to be hanged and defendants would often bribe clerks and judges to let them off with a cash sum, but there was no guarantee they would listen...

Roger has never heard of tales of haunting in the building but said if defendants were tried in courtroom two - Crown Court - there is a loose-lipped gargoyle on the ceiling whose tongue would wag if criminals in the dock were thought to be lying... it was later discovered this was being pulled by a man with a rope.

Trials were often considered as entertainment and rooms would pack in over 1000 spectators to see men, women and children - who were old enough to walk.

"Joseph Maidwell in prison for not swearing 1664."

Large numbers of criminals were then shackled together in handcuffs, dragging their feet as they would trek the 'walk of shame' to a condemned cell where they would wait up to one month before they would be barbarically 'hanged by their necks' in the execution yard, while families watched on dressed in their Sunday best.

At County Hall still remains the 10ft long exercise yard, where criminals shacked up in groups of four in poky cells could ring a bell and ask to stretch their legs in the space only about arms-width.

Up to 20 people per day would traipse the gallows, located infront of the jail block where other criminals awaiting their fate would watch on and spectators would throw rotten food at them behind bars.

If they were lucky they were taken to the Bantam & Cock pub for their last drink if they were fortunate enough to be hanged in Kettering Road.

Courtroom one

It's understood one mum shouted while her son was being executed, "save his shoes, they are worth 2p."

In 1664, Quaker, Joseph Maidwell was held in a cell for 70 years for not swearing allegiance to the monarch. His graffiti still remains carved in stone in the back yard, "Joseph Maidwell in prison for not swearing 1664."

Tour guide, Roger Coleman
The graffiti in the cells
The corridor to the courtrooms and holding cells.
"Joseph Maidwell in prison for not swearing 1664."
Courtroom one
Tour guide, Roger Coleman
The graffiti in the cells