William Blackburn was the leading prison architect of his time. As a 32-year-old he won first prize in a contest sponsored by the Commissioners for Penitentiary Houses for new prison designs. Over the next eight years Blackburn would design and alter many of the jails in England, including the Littledean Jail. Blackburn died when he was only 40, and Littledean was one of his last designs, one of the “most up-to-date, revolutionary houses of correction” of its time.
The first person to be held at Littledean was a 19-year-old laborer who was charged with stealing a spade. Eventually the prison would hold those charged with murder, arson, and prostitution. Some of its inhabitants included children as young as eight years old, and the last woman to be tried for “witchcraft” in Gloucestershire. (She was acquitted, but spent the time of the trial in the jail.)
Converted first to a police station and stables, used as the set of the Hammer Horror film House of Whipcord, and later as a storage facility. In 2003 the 200-year-old prison was bought by current owner Andy Jones. Jones moved into one wing of the prison with his wife and six children and turned the other into something rather appropriate for the space: a crime museum.
Proclaiming it the “Alcatraz of the Forest,” he says that it contains “one of the world’s largest and finest private collections of crime-related memorabilia, ephemera and curiosities.” The museum holds not just crime memorabilia but anything designed to excite morbid curiosity in viewers.
Among the items on display are: instruments of punishment and torture through the ages, a model of Littledean Jail created from 56,000 matches, Nazi uniforms, Ku Klux Klan uniforms, a murder victim’s full skeleton, and voodoo dolls. The museum also holds the U.K.’s largest private collection of British and foreign police memorabilia covering two floors. The layout incorporates the pre-existing cells to display various ephemera by theme; including police weapons, uniforms and Victorian hand-painted truncheons to serial killers and the downfall of newsmakers. There are also signed and autographed materials from world-renowned villains and criminals, banned violent toys, and for no real clear reason, a Dalek model from Doctor Who.
Despite being rather despised by the local Forest of Dean Council planning officers, and having been threatened with imprisonment (though he already lives in a prison) and boycotts, owner Andy Jones continues to build his ever-growing collection of all things criminal, curious, and creepy.
Know Before You Go
When you approach Littledean, the ‘Gateway to the Forest of Dean’, follow the brown tourist signs. Cars can be accommodated at the entrance to the jail whilst COACHES should simply use the Littledean village bus stops as ‘drop off points’. These are situated approximately 80 metres from the entrance to the jail on either side of the road.
There should be a trigger warning prior to entering. The subject matter contained within are disturbing and unsettling. They range from atrocities associated with hardline regimes to celebrity scandals. Those who would find man's inhumanity to man unsettling, may want to give this museum a pass.