Within the historic and enchanting village of Alton in Staffordshire is a curious building that stands within its centre.
This was once a prison or local ‘lock-up’ where people would spend the night or a few days as a result of some incident or crime that had been committed. The lock up in Alton is distinctive in it’s round house design – known locally as the ‘Round house gaol’.
It was built in 1819 and renovated in 1977.
I have been fascinated with this building as far back as my early childhood. It looks so out of time in today’s modern world I can always recall being fascinated within its history. It is one of four surviving lockups within Staffordshire.
Historic England describes the lock ups as ‘temporary prisons for the incarceration of drunkards, vagrants and people disturbing the peace.’
It is a fantastic example of a classic village lock up – a remnant of a bygone era and built to last. The stones have withered with over two centuries of age. The slab below the entrance has been worn away by thousands of people passing in and out of the place. Hundreds down the years would have been prisoners reluctantly awaiting their night in this claustrophobic place.
This lockup and most around the country were made redundant by the founding of a regular police service.
It is fascinating to think of the encounters and scenes this place has seen – many of the most interesting and probably violent episodes within the surrounding areas led to an appearance here.
It stands now, aloof but as robust as ever, a poignant reminder of a different time and era in law enforcement and punishment.
Alton is a fascinating place with remnants and reminders of its history all over the place from the remains of the Norman castle standing high on the valley, later rebuilt as Pugin’s gothic masterpiece, the pubs which date from medieval times and the supposedly secret underground tunnels which interconnect them or the humble village well located at the other end of the village.