THE HOUSE OF DETENTION.
SANS WALK. CLERKENWELL.
A TRULY HAUNTING VENUE
The House of Detention closed its doors to the public in 2000 when Customs and Excise Boarded the place up owing to the managements failure to pay their VAT. The prison had seen years of neglect and on one occasion I was taking a group around when the Police turned up to arrest the manager for fraud! As my group and the police entered through the front door the manager made a quick exit out of the back door. All very strange!
On the day Her Majesty’s Excise Men turned up to close the place down for good I was due to be filming there for the American TV programme “Haunted History.” Unfortunately we found the doors padlocked shut and a sign on them informing us that it was in fact a criminal offence to cross the threshold. We therefore found ourselves in the strange position of actually being locked out of a prison and had to do the filming on the outside!
The excerpt below appeared in the first edition of my book Walking Haunted London when it was still possible to visit the labyrinth of wonderfully atmospheric underground passageways and corridors. In recent years the prison has achieved a posthumous fame with an appearance in an episode of Living TV’s Most Haunted. But, unfortunately, it is now impossible to pay the place a visit, although I have heard talk in recent months that it going to re-open as a private party venue.
In 1994 I used to organise ghost hunts in the House of Detention and was present there at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes I’d wander alone through its maze of corridors at 1am in the morning. Although I found it an extremely spooky place, I have to confess that I never actually experienced anything paranormal down there, although I often got the distinct impression that I was not alone. All in all though I found it to be a fantastically atmospheric place and I truly hope that someone will one day buy it up and open it once more to the public.
Many visitors to the prison have caught sight of a shadowy figure moving swiftly through the darkness ahead of them. Others have come back from the cells and grim passages and asked who the old lady is who seems to be searching for something, but does not respond when assistance is offered. Managers have lost count of the number of people who hear the little girl whose heart-rending sobs reverberate from the inner depths of the jail. 'They genuinely believe that a lost child is wandering the dank maze of corridors and passageways,' one of them told me in 1996. Then he added by way of explanation: 'Children were imprisoned here and the anguish they suffered must have been terrible. Perhaps this little girl's grief has somehow impregnated the stone and some people are just sensitive to that sort of thing.' In addition there may be a particular individual who is very unpleasant and often stalks women who wander alone through the maze of tunnels.