Well, as it is approaching Halloween I wondered if this little story, which first came to light in Wolverhampton’s town hall pub, would be of interest to our members.
It was told to me as a youngster, by a friend of my fathers who worked at
that time in the Retail Market in North Street.
Drinking In The Town Hall Pub
This fellow was a drinking companion he would meet often in the Town
Hall Public House (later known as the Little Civic) next to his friend’s place of work, with the same name on the opposite corner of Blossoms Fold.
He was a chap I would think in his late fifties – I believe he came to
Wolverhampton from London just after the war as fellows that knew him
referred to him as “Cockney Bill” But I knew him as “Mr. Clymo.”
The following story is more or less as told in his own words, truth or fiction I can’t say, but as a naive ten-year-old, I certainly believed him at the time.
A Strange Experience
It was during the earlier part of the Great War that I was instructed by my
department at Woolwich Townhall to inspect certain buildings with a
view to reporting on their suitability, or otherwise, for the quartering of
troops or for other purposes that buildings were so badly required.
Strange as it seems my orders for the day read, “make a complete inspection of His Majesty’s Prison (unoccupied) and report to Department G. Section 14.” the bracketed portion of the memo was particularly relieving, to say the least.
The Train to Brookwood
It had been snowing as I left a rather chilly November day. but having
packed a bag, I proceeded by way of a very slow and noisy train to
Brookwood a village in Surrey which was the nearest point of my
As I arrived close to the address on my brief, a large grey stone building appeared as a miserable uninviting pile, surrounded by the usual extremely high wall.
The Governor’s house stood beyond the wall at the side of heavy iron
entrance gates. It was also supposedly unoccupied, As there were no
other houses to be seen it appeared to be the only contact visible to the
The clang that followed sounded like Big Ben!
There was no sound or light from within, no sign of life, so with a little
trepidation, I gingerly pulled the old chain which was blatantly labeled
The clang that followed sounded like Big Ben! But nothing
happened. I waited and pulled again.
This time the silence was broken by footsteps. The door opened a
fraction and a grey-haired, slightly bent apology for a warder-come-caretaker growled out “What do you want?”
I briefly explained the object of my visit and after much conversation,
which gave me a strong feeling I wasn’t welcome, I was informed that I
could spend a few minutes looking around.
Now whether it was one of those strange feelings that come to us on
occasions, or whether it was the crash of bolts behind me, I can never
decide but a distinct shiver ran down my spine, as I entered.
I had an opportunity I the dimly lit passage, of weighing up my guide.
Very grim, in a dirty old uniform, carrying a huge bunch of old keys and
walking with a curious old shuffle in his worn-out boots.
“Did you say you wanted to see the jail?” he muttered. “I did” I replied.
“What for?” he said, I remember I replied in my most diplomatic fashion,
even suggesting that the premises might be reopened for their original
purpose, if the powers to be, approved my report.
A grunt was then followed by a shuffle, and we passed out of the
passage into the only apparently furnished room. This room had evidently been the Governor’s office.
A Morbid Conversation
There were a few old cabinets, a table and a chest of drawers, whilst in a
corner on the floor was a bundle of dirty blankets which had apparently
been used as a bed of sorts.“Do you sleep here?” I asked, him “Yes,” he said, “I do.”
“Want to see a rope that hung a man?” he said. Before I could reply, he
opened a drawer, and with a grin on his face, displayed his gruesome relic,
with vivid detail of past events which made my blood run cold.
Glad to escape from his morbid conversation I edged toward the door
and vaguely suggested we continue our tour. He reluctantly put away his strange collection and shuffled into a courtyard.
We then entered the central hall, with a desk at the entrance, through
all the galleries, and finally the cells. I can still hear the echoing
footsteps sounding strange in this empty steel and brick vault.
Truly relieved, we, at last, reached the end of the main block.
“Now,” said my guide, in a low whisper, “this is the condemned cell.” I
trod very carefully, I don’t know why.
Out came more keys, opening more locks, and then in a voice which
would give the bravest man the creeps, he flung open a further door “There is the scaffold!”
I cut him short when he started to tell me the sights he had seen, “that’s
quite enough,” I said, “Let’s go.”
He looked very strangely at me, but my words had the effect, he turned,
relocked the iron door, and hobbled after me.
“This way,” he said. I followed and found myself standing on a padded
canvas floor, looking around I realized that this was a padded cell.
The walls were lined and packed in a similar fashion. I was quite
Then there was a crash, and as I swung around, it was too late, he had
gone and locked the cell door behind him.
Yells of the most fiendish laughter greeted me as the grating on the door
was clawed back, and through his yellow teeth he snarled at me like a
My God! I thought he’s mad!
“Take it from me would you”, he shouted. To my dying day, I shall hear his terrible laughter, as he shuffled away from the door. I tugged at it, sweat trickled down my face, I was trapped!
I sat down after my first burst of anger almost bordering on fear and
considered my position. Hopeless locked in by a lunatic, and no one could possibly hear my cries and the one small grated window was too high to reach.
By this time the light was failing, I was in a tight corner. Cold, in fact, I
was chilled to the bone, and the thought of a night in such a frightening
situation, with a lack of food and water, made me sick to my stomach.
Anyway, I must have fallen into a semi-sleep, for when I opened my eyes
it was pitch dark, bitterly cold with strange noises echoing from
beyond the grating in the door.
As the realization of my position dawned on me again, I shuddered!
What hope could there be? Would my mad jailer return in the morning?
Could I persuade him to release me? Would the Office stir themselves when I failed to report? No! that would take to long I must wait for daylight and until then leave my fate in the hands of divine providence.
Just then I heard a voice! It was coming my way and I let out a yell that
must have shaken the very foundations. Flickers of light which were evidently from electric torches came nearer, and reassuring shouts grew closer.
“Here he is!” said a gruff voice.
“Very pleased to find you, sir.”
“Not half so pleased as I am,” I replied.
The local constables assisted me back across the hall to the Governor’s house, and into a waiting taxi.
“Stark raving he is sir,” said the constable, “came down to the village,
and after a couple of pints couldn’t keep his mouth shut.”
Told the company that he had got a bloke locked up as come down here
to take the blasted jail away from him.
We guessed as to how there may be something behind it all so after we
pinched his keys we made a tour of the place as it were.
At Last, I Could Breath Again
I breathed freely once more and thanked them far more heartily than
they expected for their tour.
How blessed these two constables appeared to me, I leave you to guess.
I spent the rest of the night and part of the next day at the local hostelry,
where I fully recovered from my adventure.
I learned later that my friend the caretaker had been placed in a similar
cell to the one, in which but for a couple of pints of beer, I might now
have still been occupying.
My report to the department was of the usual formal type, but contained
the recommendation that the present caretaker should be awarded a
pension, and be kept under observation.
Anyone scanning my expenses chit afterward would have noticed “to
entertaining local police, 10/-.”
Cheap at half the price, Eh?