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Forbury Prison, Leominster

Historic Environment Record reference no. 19552, Ordnance Survey grid reference SO 4972 5914

It is recorded that since "very early times" there had been a place in Leominster for the detainment of local offenders and captives. The building was apparently of two floors with a gaoler's lodge close by, and is said to have been within the West Gate of the Priory in Church Street. As the local Law Courts held their sittings in the Frere Chamber above the gateway, this arrangement would have been very convenient.

It is here that Owain Glyn Dwr is said to have held Edward Mortimer of Wigmore in 1402. After the decisive Battle of Mortimer's Cross during the Wars of the Roses in 1461, Edward IV used the prison to house Owen Tudor (great-grandfather of Henry VIII), David Floyde, Morgan ap Reuther and other men of note after he had defeated them. It was from here that they were taken, without trial, to the Iron Cross (HER reference no. 12129) and there executed.

In later years the prison was used to detain Catholic recusants, including the famous priest and martyr Father Roger Cadwallader. Quakers, Independents and other Non-Conformist religious members were also imprisoned here.

A Deed of Richard, Abbot of Reading, dated Thursday after the Feast of SS. Simon and Jude, anno XVII Richard II (1394), announcing the appointment of John Lunteley of Lucton to the life office of Gaoler of the prison, gives the following information on his salary and allowances:

"He shall receive in the hall of the Manor of Leominster his Victuals in Meat and Drink as the serving men do every day there. And moreover the said John shall receive every year during his life one Robe of the sort of the serving men and 4s for his salary, with all small profits belonging and due to the said Office."

By 1742 the Forbury Prison was too small for the number of prisoners needing to be housed and the Corporation appointed a Committee to prepare a plan for enlargements, with work to be completed by the following spring. In July 1752 the West Gate of the town, along with the Frere Chamber, collapsed but the gaol appears to have escaped any damage. The minutes of the Corporation Proceedings show that the gaol was still in use the following year:

"Tuesday, March 20, 1753

"Ord., That James Clark, Esq., have leave to pull down a part of the Stone Wall near to the dungeon in the Church Street, and to place the stone in the School Yard, and to take away the Rubbish that shall be occasioned therby, and not prejudice any part of the Gaol or said Dungeon."

The following month the Corporation condemned the Forbury Prison to demolition and a new prison was built in nearby New Street.

In 1897 Gainsford T. Blacklock in his book The Suppressed Benedictine Minster & Other Ancient & Modern Institutions of the Borough of Leominster(Leominster Folk Museum, 2nd Edition, 1999) wrote "As the overlord of the 'Peculiar' of Leominster, the Abbot of Reading maintained a Prison, as an adjunct of the local Court of Justice. On the south side of the roadway, just within the Gate, were the Gaoler's Lodge and the Abbot's Prison. The old Prison is now used as a Warehouse. The iron ring and staples to which the prisoners were fastened were until recently still to be seen in the lower part of the walls of the interior. Only a few courses of the masonry of the original front wall of the Prison remain, but the Doorway can be clearly made out.

"It was in this prison that Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March, of Wigmore Castle, was confined by Owen Glendower in 1402. Mortimer, who was the grandson of Philippa, the daughter of Lionel Duke of Clarence, having a better claim to the throne, owing to his being a more direct heir than Henry IV, that monarch secretly rejoiced at his discomfiture, and refused the urgent requests of the Percies [sic] to ransom him, or to embark on any military enterprise for his release."

(Taken from Alec Haines, Leominster's 20th Century Characters and its Poacher, 1988, p. 56)

With thanks to Eric Turton of Leominster Folk Museum for information on this topic.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2003]