Abingdon Old Gaol
The Grade II listed Old Gaol in Abingdon dates from 1811 and was the first British jail with wings. It closed as a jail in 1868. Between 1974 and 2002 the building as used a leisure centre and it was during this time that it gained a reputation of being haunted.
According to an article in The Evening Post on 24th September 1998 entitled ‘Hanged Prisoners still making Noises’; When staff at a Thames Valley sports centre hear things that go bump in the night they know it is more than the ladies’ aerobics class in action. Because there are ghostly goings-on at the leisure centre in the former Abingdon gaol – enough to make sportsmen’s hair stand on end. Spooky voices have been heard doors bang mysteriously and ghoulish figures have been seen lurking in corners.
It is not surprising that the phantoms haunt the sport centre as years ago the building was the main gaol for the area and many a villain met a grisly end on the prison gallows. Stories about hauntings abound in the North Berkshire town. One of its ghoulish claims to fame is that the youngest person to be hanged in Britain met his end at Abingdon.
While the old gaol’s deputy manager Steve Blosse has not had any chilling experiences he says many of his staff have had ghostly encounters. He said, “the building does have a reputation for unnatural goings-on. Staff say they have heard doors banging and other strange noises. “We used to have clothes baskets in changing rooms that started swinging for no reason at all and the previous manager claims he saw a ghost.”
The health suite of the complex is built on the site of the prison chapel where the ill-fated men were given their last rites – and many spooky sightings reported there. The gaol was built by prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars and closed in 1890 when it became a grain store.
Referring to the child’s hanging, Mr Blosse said, “he was only eight-years-old and staff have heard the sound of a child laughing and talking just as they are locking up.” The Guinness Book of Records confirms that an eight-year-old youngster was hanged in Abingdon as he had “malice, cunning and revenge in firing two barns”. But Mr Blosse insists that there is nothing sinister about the centre’s spooks. “They are quite harmless and they only seem to be around when there is building work going on. Perhaps they don’t like being disturbed.”
The haunted centre has chilling links with the oddly named Broad Face pub opposite the old gaol. The pub, which overlooks the site of the old gallows is said to have got its name from the hangings – as the victim’s face swelled up when the noose tightened.
Following the closure of the leisure centre the Old Gaol is being redeveloped creating sixty one residences a range of restaurants and community facilities.