Former Ruthin jail
This prison was one of the first in Britain to be built in response to the prison reform acts of 1774. These met some of the concerns which had been aired by the social reformer John Howard, who had become high sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1773. Shocked by the conditions in his local jail, he inspected others and found them wanting.
Denbighshire’s justices were quick off the mark. Chester-based architect Joseph Turner had designed a new jail for Ruthin by April 1794, and the building was completed the following year. Turner designed many other structures in North Wales, including the tower of Mold church and St Asaph Bridge.
The building was extended several times before new legislation in 1865 raised standards again. To meet those standards, in 1866 work began on a four-storey prison block with space for 100 prisoners. From April 1878 this was the jail for Denbighshire and the neighbouring counties of Flintshire and Meirionnydd. In 1904 there were 81 male and six female inmates.
One remarkable inmate was John Jones, a kleptomaniac and poacher who escaped from prison several times, including twice from Ruthin jail. His exploits brought him fame, and he was admired as a folk hero in some quarters. After his first escape, he was tracked down and apprehended in bed at the Swan Inn, Mochdre.
The prison closed in 1916. Ten years later it was acquiried by Denbighshire County Council for £4,000 to house offices and a library. Munitions were made here in World War Two. A £2m refurbishment was completed in 2002, enabling visitors to see the cells and other areas themselves and learn about the development of Britain’s prison system. As home to the record office for Denbighshire, the old jail is visited by thousands of people each year to research family trees or browse archived documents, maps and photos.
Other CRIME HiPoints in this region:
Old police house, Eglwysbach - burglar stole £8 in gold and silver from home of village bobby in 1887
Old Corwen workhouse – two inmates jailed for a month for tearing their clothes
Old St Asaph court house and police station - a female murderer was among the felons dealt with here
Postcode: LL15 1HP