- What's On
- Adult Learning
- News & Media
- Get Involved
- Community Projects
- About Us
- Conference and Events
The Debtors' Prison
Get involved in our research into museum building's history
Discover stories of prisoners, gaolers, riches and ruin...
The buildings that make up York Castle Museum include the magnificent Debtors' Prison.
This grand English Baroque building was constructed between 1701 and 1705 and was described by Daniel Defoe as 'the most stately and complete of any in the kingdom, if not in Europe'.
A staircase stood in front of the prison building in this image from 1728
Built to house both common felons and debtors, the prison also contained accommodation for the governor and gaoler, and a two-storey high chapel.
Debtors imprisoned here had to pay a fee on arrival and departure and were expected to pay for their bedding and furniture as well. They paid for their keep by making goods, such as purses and garters, which they would sell to the public walking by the exercise yard.
Class played an important part in the life of a debtor. Third class prisoners were cast down with the felons on the lower floor, while debtors termed first and second class lodged in the floors above, were permitted to 'roam with the deer over the Castle green' and share 'nice little dinners' with the female debtors.
A plan of the staff married quarters from 1909
Since 1952, the Debtors' Prison has been part of York Castle Museum. The governor's accommodation is now a lunch room, the cells are display cases and the chapel has been turned into offices, but clues about the building's past can still be found if you know where to look!
As preparations get underway to transform the Debtors' Prison into new exhibition and activity spaces we will be researching the building's architectural and historical significance, with the aim of introducing visitors to the magnificent building that hides beind the museum.
Would you like to help bring the prison back to life?
We will be hosting a series of Debtors' Prison events during 2012 including opportunities for you to explore the building and make new discoveries. Visit our Events page for the latest details.