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 8 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 prison’s first inmate was a 19-year-old laborer charged with stealing a spade, but went on to include prostitutes, arsonists, murderers, and even children as young as 8, 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 is very much in the dime-freakshow tradition holding not just crime memorabilia but anything designed to excite morbid curiosity in viewers. Among the museum’s items are:
The prison’s Guillotine and Body Cages, instruments of punishment and torture through the ages, a model of Littledean Jail created from 56,000 matches, Nazi SS uniforms, Ku Klux Klan uniforms, a murder victim’s full skeleton, exhibits of Britain’s “maddest, hardest and most dangerous prisoners in the UK” including Charles Bronson and The Kray twins, voodoo dolls, the UK’s largest private collection of British and foreign police memorabilia, including police weapons, uniforms and Victorian hand-painted truncheons, “freaks of nature, oddities and curiosities,” autographed and signed materials from world-renowned villains and criminals, banned violent toy collections, and for no real clear reason, a Doctor Who Dalek.
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 crimnal, curious, and creepy.