THE publication last week of a new book by Worcester author Bob Blandford called Worcestershire Bird, about the thousands of inmates who passed through the city’s old county jail in Castle Street, provides an excellent opportunity to revisit the summer’s day in 1984 when photographer Roy Booker and I went to look round the place before it was knocked down.

Worcester Civic Society stood foursquare against the plan, saying the complex could have been better used by conversion into housing accommodation, and society member Martin Baines, an architect, called it “civic vandalism,” adding “the loss of this fine building was altogether unnecessary”.

In fact eventual demolition did not come until three years later and even then was accompanied by a kerfuffle. The Birmingham demolition firm contracted to do the job ended up in court, being fined £500 for failing to give proper notice after it turned up over a bank holiday weekend.

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Built in 1813 in the style of a medieval castle, the jail originally had 90 cells, but a extra 80 were added 25 years later. They were dire holes. Some were on upper levels but many were below ground on what must have been an isolation wing.

It eventually closed in 1922 as uneconomic and then in the 1930s the front of the building with its castle turrets was demolished. This hid the reason why, when the prison opened, the name of the road outside was changed from Salt Lane to Castle Street.

It was so secure only one prisoner is known to have escaped in its 125 years. He hid under sacks in a coal cart and was driven out through the front gate. Unfortunately he’d seriously miscalculated, because when he turned up at home in St John’s his wife sent him straight back!

After closure, a large part of the prison site was occupied by upmarket furniture makers GT Rackstraw. The firm was still there when Roy and I visited. Stories of ghosts abounded and I wrote: “Several of Rackstraw’s workers swear they’ve seen apparitions, the most familiar being a fellow in a raincoat and trilby hat. Although that is hardly likely to have been the attire of the average prisoner. Maybe he was a hangman.

“This ghost has made quite a few appearances, particularly to drivers arriving back at the factory in the early hours of the morning. One minute he’s standing in the corner of the yard and the next second he’s gone. Understandably this shift is not the most sought after. For all its modern machinery, the old place must be scary at night as a torch beam picks out the old cell block numbers or a mouse scurries across the crumbling landings.”

And then there were the souls of the 38 men executed there. Perhaps best it went.