Jedburgh Castle Jail. There’s probably only one thing better than a castle for someone into the paranormal, and that would be a castle that was actually a prison…even more intriguing if hangings were carried out there.
Say hello to Jedburgh Castle on the Scottish borders.
Although to call it a castle is a slight misnomer, it was when it was originally built by King David in the 12th century, but it was destroyed in 1409 by Sir James Douglas of Balvenie after the Wars of Scottish Independence. The land was not redeveloped until 1820 when building work commenced on a new Jail for Jedburgh, this was to be modelled under the more reformed and sympathetic John Howard system. Designed by local architect Archibald Elliot it took three years to build and opened for “business” in 1823. It was formed into three blocks, being able to hold both male and female prisoners, debtors (albeit you men only) and younger offenders. The Jailors house was in the centre of the whole establishment. One of Howard’s biggest beliefs was the old penal system of everyone being thrown in together, was detrimental to their moral wellbeing and by separating into genders and also “types” of crime was intrinsic to their growth as individuals.
Over the next forty five years it was modified in 1847 and then closed as a prison in 1868. There were surprisingly few executions there during its time as a custodial facility, only two from the period 1823 to 1868, but more of that shortly. To understand why these places seem so dark, one has to be cognisant of the fact that prisons as punishment (let alone rehabilitation) were not yet widespread, the reformation of dealing with criminality being very new. Prior to these changes, the whole function of a prison had been mere detainment of the offender until penalty was ready to be carried out. Whether the sentence was corporal punishment, transportation or death, prisoners would wait in their dingy cold cells to be called forth.
That’s not to say that execution was forgotten and being banged up would mean you escaped the noose, far from it, death penalties were still handed out. The site of Jedburgh Castle Jail had been where the local gallows was erected in the time before it was a Prison. Looking through the Encyclopedia of Scottish Executions by Alex F Young, the most common reason for hanging seemed to be theft of some description, whether that be horses, sheep or pure old robbery, there was only one murderer hanged there before it became a Jail. Interestingly it was a woman named Margaret Minna, who met the hangman on 22nd May 1753. Looking into her case the details are very scant, but it appears it was infanticide and in her court hearing she admitted to the murder and would not declare who the father was.
You may wonder why a prison that was built to such a high standard was abandoned less than fifty years from when it opened; this was due to many things but predominantly that there were more people being incarcerated and not enough room (or money) to extend some of the smaller facilities. After the Prisons Act of 1877 where the whole system was nationalised, favour fell more onto super sized city facilities as opposed to slightly smaller local lock ups.
But what of the resident ghosts at Jedburgh? I am afraid I may be about to cast doubt on one of them. Many accounts of the prison (although I have not read a first hand one) mention a somewhat nasty former prisoner by the name of Edwin MacArthur/McArthur, who is believed to have been executed at the jail in 1855. Being the intrepid researcher that I am I thought I would track this hanging down…but I could not, nothing in newspapers from the time, nothing on Scottish census or birth and death records of an Edwin McArthur (or any variation there of). I even went through every single execution which took place in Scotland from 1801 to 1965, nothing.
So either this Edwin is a figment of someone’s imagination or he’s lying about his name…what do you think?
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Penny Griffiths – Morgan, is a paranormal researcher, investigator, historian, radio presenter, blog writer and author of several books on the paranormal. Follow Penny on her facebook group Haunted Histories