Peeling off the layers of history.....
From a castle to a prison.
The Dana was completed in 1793 and was named after Rev Edmund Dana (1739-1823).
The original building was constructed by Thomas Telford, following plans by Shrewsbury architect John Hiram Haycock. William Blackburn, an architect who designed many prisons, also played a part in drawing up the plans for the new prison. It was Blackburn who chose the site on which the prison is built. Blackburn was influenced by the ideas of John Howard. Howard was a prison reformer who had suggested various ways in which the sanitary conditions of English prisons could be improved. These measures formed part of the 1774 Gaol Act.
Howard visited Shrewsbury in 1788 to inspect the plans for the new prison. He disliked some aspects of the designs, such as the size of the interior courts. As a result, redesigns were undertaken by Thomas Telford. Telford had been given the position of clerk of works at the new prison the previous year.
Shrewsbury Prison was finished in 1793. The bust above the gatehouse of the prison is of John Howard himself, who also gives his name to Howard Street where the prison is located. Howard died three years before the prison was completed after contracting typhus whilst visiting a Russian military hospital at Kherston.
For many years Shrewsbury prison was a place of execution, which in older times was carried out in public and drew huge crowds in an unwholesome festive atmosphere. People used to turn up early to make sure they got a good place, and posters were produced as souvenirs. Shrewsbury’s last public hanging was on April 11, 1863, when 30-year-old Edward Cooper was executed for a murder at Baschurch. It was particularly popular, with numbers watching nearly 10 times higher than the previous execution.
During a redevelopment in 1972 , the remains of 10 unnamed prisoners executed at Shrewsbury Prison were dug up. Nine were cremated and one set was handed over to relatives.
Historically Shrewsbury’s jail was in School Gardens, which had taken over the role from the jail at Shrewsbury Castle which had become so ruinous that in the late 16th century prisoners were able to make an escape attempt by the simple method of taking stones out of the wall. The School Gardens prison was replaced by a new jail on the present site which was completed in 1793 at a cost of £30,000.