York Castle Museum

Organisation: Museum

Collections held: Prisons

Dates: Before 1700, 1700-1799, 1800-1849, 1850-1899, 1900-1949, 1950-present

Tower Street, York, United Kingdom

Contact: enquiries@ymt.org.uk

Any publications or other relevant material about the collection / history of the organisation?


Historic Buildings?

The museum is housed in two eighteenth-century prison buildings: the Debtors’ Prison of 1705 and the Female Prison of 1780. These sit within the bailey of York Castle, which has housed prisons since at least the thirteenth century. Part of the old castle wall can be visited in the castle yard, reworked in the eighteenth century to form the enclosing wall of a debtors’ exercise yard.

Both buildings are open to the public. For information on pricing, opening hours and accessibility, click here.

The ground floor of the Debtors’ Prison houses the York Castle Prison exhibition, which explores stories of people who lived, worked and died at the prison, and provides an overview of the history of the site.

Some eighteenth and nineteenth-century features can be viewed in both prisons, including prisoners’ graffiti. Graffiti is extant in the Debtors’ Prison cells, on the outside of the building between the wings, and in the Victorian candlemakers workshop in the Female Prison, which is located in Kirkgate, the indoor recreated Victorian street. Kirkgate also houses the main gate of the demolished Victorian prison; this prison was on a radial plan, and occupied the site next to Clifford’s Tower from 1835 until 1935.

The museums’ other exhibitions, including the Victorian street, focus on nationally significant (Designated) collections of Social History, Military History, and Costume and Textiles.

Although York Castle Museum is housed in two architecturally and historically important eighteenth-century prisons, the bulk of archival material was distributed between archives before the museum opened in 1938. The archives that currently hold relevant material are the National Archives (Kew), The North Yorkshire County Record Office (Northallerton), and York City Archives at York Explore (York).

Who can access the collection?

External (public), Registered users, Online access (catalogue only), Online (digital records)

How big is the collection?

Documents: None
Photographs: Less than 10
Objects: 101- 500
Artwork: 11- 100
Books/journals/magazines: Less than 10