Clink Prison Museum review
What do you get for committing a sin these days? Five Hail Marys and a couple of Our Fathers. I haven't been to church for years so I havent got a clue but I'm guessing they don't lock you up in the Clink Prison anymore. Because that's what happened when the Bishop of Winchester was in charge.
Winchester Palace is long gone now but back in the 12th-century the bishop's writ stretched from here all the way down past the Globe and the Rose to the Tate. He wrote the laws, broke the laws, and had two prisons built for all the debtors, lechers and vagabonds that stalked the streets of Southwark. There was one for the men and one for the women. The modern-day museum is built on top of where the men's one used to be before it was burnt to the ground in the Gordon Riots. The only original bit still standing is a 6-foot bit of wall that you'll see halfway round.
It's like a little mini-version of the London Dungeon inside, but without all of those annoying ham actors who pluck people out of the crowd and try and embarrass them -- there's none of that stuff. Parts of it are rather dark but there's nothing to be scared of. You just walk around the rooms taking photos of the waxworks and learn a bit of history from the plaques.
It's all very nicely themed. Once you're through the creaking iron gate and past the chanting monks you'll see a blacksmith hammering some manacles onto a criminal's wrist. A few of the walls are lined like timber-framed streets with strings of dirty washing hanging above your head and sacks and barrels and wagon wheels stacked upon the floor. There's a soundtrack of crying kids and wailing women wherever you go, a few lonely church bells... put it this way, you wouldn't want to spend the night in there.
The plaques tell you a bit about the prison and all the criminals who lived and died here. If you had plenty of money to bribe the guards with then it didn't seem too bad. If you could afford to stump up a few crowns each week then they'd rent you a better bed (a bit like upgrading your hotel room), sell you food and drink for twice the price (a bit like paying hotel minibar prices) and even give you the keys to your cell -- so it was basically the same as staying at a Travelodge. Unfortunately it's position near the river meant it flooded every high tide and the cells would fill with river rats and sewage -- I admit you don't get that at the Travelodge.
Most of the prisoners were just petty criminals but it did have a few superstars. A few of the Pilgrim Fathers got locked up in here -- the famous Pilgrim Fathers who landed in America. Admittedly this was before they even went to Holland so it was quite early in their story, but you can certainly imagine them being cooped up in here, manacles clapped around their ankles, daydreaming about buying a boat to sail across the sea. (You might want to visit The Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe if you're interested in all of that stuff.)
They've also got a nice collection of torture equipment: everything from gallows, racks and manacles to wooden stocks and chopping blocks.
I used to label this place as being good for kids but I'm changing that to just the older kids now because there's quite a lot of reading to do, and there are also a few bits and pieces about brothels and prostitutes. But what are chances of your kids actually reading any of the plaques? Getting them to read educational stuff is like trying to make a man read the assembly instructions.
I’ve been here before…
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