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Ring the Bell in the Gaols of Brecon

Manylion a Disgrifiad y Llyfr | Book Details & Description

  • Author: Peter J R Goodall
  • Publication February 2006
  • Format: Paperback, 210x147 mm, 144 pages

An informative and intriguing volume which uncovers the secrets of centuries of barbarism, rape, murder and incarceration in the County of Brecon. It recounts the story of the men, women and children who inhabited the various gaols of the town, some of which ended their lives on the gallows.

Gwales Review
The ancient town of Brecon had various gaols that held a variety of criminals in the area’s history, often prior to their execution. Peter Goodall’s book opens with ‘A Prisoner’s Lament’ – a poem by ‘anon’ which introduces the reader to the conditions in which many of the captives lived. Strangely, ‘anon’ provides comments on the outside world - ‘Yet have I bread, while others starve, And beg from door to door’ - but conditions in the prisons, as we learn throughout the book, were dire until later social reforms took place.

In the first two chapters, Goodall takes us on a concise journey through the history of the period around the ‘Marcher Lords’ in the 13th century and princes such as Llewelyn the Great. Further chapters cover the social history of Brecon, including the Brecon Riots and Merthyr Riots (including the unjust hanging of Dic Penderyn), and later social reformers such as John Howard (1726-1790) and Elizabeth Fry (1780–1845). The workings and the various types of gaols are clearly described throughout in engaging detail, eg with regard to ‘debtors’ conditions: ‘Men debtors have a court-yard with a pump and a sewer in it, a large day-room with a fire-place and glazed windows.’

Extracts from The Chaplain’s Journal (1842) and the Visiting Magistrates’ Journal give a fascinating insight into the interaction of some of the prisoners, their lives and often attempts to escape, as is described on 11th February 1853: ‘visited the Prison at the request of the Governor in consequence of the turnkey, yesterday having found one of the iron bars of the grate concealed up the chimney of the dayroom, where the men suffering from the itch are now placed.’

The transportation hulks are described in a way which is clearly realistic but disturbing. The ‘Hulk ships’ anchored in the Thames and at Plymouth are ‘breeding grounds for disease and misery to the poor soul awaiting transportation’.

Considering the subject matter, which could be at first off-putting, this is in fact a fascinating historical account of these gaols and the social history of the time. Goodall’s writing is clear and easy to comprehend; he presents the facts and historical detail well. There are a number of photographs in the centre of the book which show detail of the buildings themselves, various texts and maps from the time and some photographs of various persons connected with the prison system.

Clare Maynard