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Lancaster Castle Escape Kit

LC 182 (image/jpeg)

This fascinating collection of 6 implements, taken from prisoners intent on escape from Lancaster Castle Prison, was collected by the Deputy Governor, Arthur Hansbrow, and dates from the mid 1800s.

The tools were fashioned from everyday objects. A door hinge was bent and cut to form a key, half a pair of scissors was filed to form a serrated edge, and a broken saw blade was attached to a wooden handle. Two small blades have handles formed from bound twine, and there is a long tapering iron spike.

Some daring escapes were attempted at Lancaster Castle Prison, and these tools represent the desperation and the extraordinary measures the prisoners took in pursuit of their longed-for freedom.

In 1826, prisoners Bardsley and Dyson made their escape attempt. Dyson had fashioned two wooden keys from a piece of wood which he drilled with a nail. He intended to release the capital convicts into the lobby between the cells. His plan was to seize the Chaplain and the Turnkey, take their keys, and proceed to the outer wall. However, the plot was foiled when he was discovered hiding face down under the bed in a cell that was not his own, and Dyson occupying Bardsley's cell.

In 1831, 2 prisoners convicted of forgery, Dade and Holland, made a saw to cut the bars of their cell, and, using a rope made of "blankets, comfortables, stockings and other articles of clothing," lowered themselves to freedom. Dade's wife was waiting for them, and she and her husband exchanged clothing. The 2 prisoners managed to get away - the first escape for 30 years! The men were captured a few weeks later.

Edward Simcock was a convicted burglar and bank robber, who had been sentenced to death. He managed to make a hole in his thick, studded cell door. He squeezed his arm through the hole and picked the two locks on his door. Once out, he picked the locks on all the cells in the corridor, then managed to get through another 3 doors to the yard. 2 more locks were picked and he was at the outer wall, when he was discovered by a watchman.

His ingenuity and skill was remarkable, and he was described as "a man of wonderful powers, who might have been a useful member of society, had his talents been properly directed."