On the 8th December 2018 (yes, I know, this was ages ago, lol), my Oldbury Writing Group pals—Julian, Angela and Heather—and I went to the Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up Open Day.
Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up is a Grade II listed mini prison that operated from 1891 to 2016. Originally the Lock-Up had three floors with roughly 70 cells. The building still retains many of its Victorian features, allowing visitors a glimpse of what life was like for Victorian prisoners. And some of its famous inmates include the Peaky Blinders and Fred West.
The Lock-Up would often be the place where prisoners would spend time before being sent to the court—there’s a tunnel that was used to take prisoners from the cells to the courts. As well as these prisoners, some prisoners were awaiting an interview or charge and others who were charged with offences and brought to prison on a custody van every morning.
The first time I learned about Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up was when I spotted a Facebook event advertising an open day at the prison. So, having never been in prison, thankfully, and being interested in local history, I thought it would make a good trip for my writing group pals.
When we arrived at the Lock-Up, we had a short wait outside—we needed to wait for our tour time. And when it was our time to enter, we stepped into the Lock-Up and was instantly transported into the past.
Slowly, we toured the prison, taking in every detail. We spent time in the cells—some had beds on the floor, and some beds were raised. In one of the cells, I noticed a yellow liquid in the toilet. I thought it was urine, but Julian believed it was rust—I’m not convinced.
The blue cell doors also had words scratched into them. JLONS was one of the words. I’m not sure what that word is supposed to mean, but it did make me wonder about the person who wrote the word—this could inspire a future story.
Also, in the cells, there were photographs and details about past inmates. It was spooky looking into their eyes and knowing that there was a time they stood where I stood. Sadly, I noticed many of the inmates were children.
While in one of the cells, we decided to take a selfie—yes, that was my idea. We also each took a turn sitting in the cell with the door closed. Having the door closed made me feel claustrophobic—prison is definitely not for me.
While touring the prison, we had the opportunity to speak to many people working at the museum. The first person we spoke to was a retired officer who used to work in the Lock-Up when it was still a prison. He told us how the prisoners used to have marmalade sandwiches for breakfast and chawl sandwiches for lunch. The second person we spoke to talked to us about public hangings and how a man who was hanged was possibly innocent of his crimes.
When we went upstairs, we met another tour guide, who also has experience of working in prisons. She told us it could be difficult to work in prisons. One of the main difficulties she had to deal with was the prison stench. Prisoners hardly ever wash, and shoes have to be placed outside the prisoner’s cells, which added to the prison’s odour. Another issue was the prison noise—prisoners would often bang on cell doors and shout. The guide said it wasn’t great working in prisons, and the cuts are making it harder.
We also had the opportunity to see the tunnel that was used to transport the prisoners to the courts. Sadly, we couldn’t go into the tunnel, so we had to peek through the window at the top. I have to admit, the tunnel looked very spooky, but it would make a great spooky location for a story.
As we further explored the upper part of the prison, we came across police dressing up costumes on the floor. It was clearly meant for children. So, of course, Heather, Julian and Angela had to try them on.
When we left the Lock-Up, we decided to take a final group selfie in front of an old police car. And with our selfie taken, we went on a hunt for food.
I enjoyed my time at the Lock-Up, and I would love to visit the place again—part of me would like to do the ghost hunt, but I don’t think I’m brave or crazy enough to do it.
The Lock-Up holds a variety of events, such as open days, ghost hunts, history talks and group visits. So, if you would like to visit the Lock-Up, you can find the dates for the next open days on Eventbrite.
Have you visited Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up? If yes, feel free to comment in the box below. I would love to hear about your experiences.
Keep writing, folks!
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