Restoration works for Aylesbury's ancient Old Gaol Wall

  |  Published: Sep 27th 2018

One of the oldest and most historic structures in Aylesbury is being restored to its former glory as part of works being carried out by Buckinghamshire County Council to improve public space in the town centre. This is part of the collaboration with Aylesbury Vale District Council to redevelop the whole Waterside North area.

Dating back to 1740, the Old Gaol Wall, between Waterside North car park and the Exchange Street cinema complex, formed one of the boundaries of the old County Gaol. The original gaol buildings extended from Market Square to the Bear Brook area, now the Waterside theatre.

A particular feature of old Gaol itself, which housed both male and female prisoners, was a human powered, punishment wheel. Designed to pump water from the Bear Brook to the town centre and also to grind corn, the wheel was a form of hard labour as prisoners were used to rotate the wheel's paddles.

The boundary wall divided the Gaol from the original site of the White Hart Inn, which reputedly had a window opening into the prison yard so it could supply beer to prisoners. The window supposedly allowed it to evade a legal provision against the passage of alcohol through the prison gates!

The Gaol remained open for just over 100 years before being judged unfit following an 1841 report by the Inspector of Prisons, prompting the purchase of the Bierton Hill site of the current prison. The Gaol itself was demolished in the late 1840s and replaced by the Judges Lodgings, which opened in 1850 although thankfully much of the boundary wall remains to this day.

The County Council's property team has been working with Aylesbury Vale District Council, heritage and archaeology officers, planners and neighbouring businesses, together with structural and construction specialists to help plan the restoration scheme.

The works along the 100m stretch of wall include structural repairs, replacing areas of poor brickwork and mortar with like for like materials and installing a new lighting scheme. At night, the wall will be bathed in soft light to show off its magnificent original features.

County Council Cabinet Member for Resources, John Chilver said it was amazing to think the wall has been a focal point of the town centre for close to 300 years. "It's steeped in history and I'm glad we are restoring it as part of our schedule of improvements to the public space between Exchange Street Car Park at Walton Street.

John added, "In addition to the wall restoration, the Waterside North area now has the new family-run Craft Yard selling craft beer and gin, a new restaurant facility coming soon to the former police headquarters building and of course we are currently refurbishing Aylesbury library at the top end of Walton Street to create a brand new, modern facility. All are fantastic investments for the future of Aylesbury town centre."  

The work on the wall is scheduled for completion by December.

Old Gaol Human Punishment Wheel - photo courtesy BCC
A drawing illustrating the Old Gaol's human powered water wheel.
Old Gaol pictured in Illustrated London News - photo courtesy BCC
Image from the Illustrated London News showing the original Gaol entrance and adjoining White Hart public house (to the left of the Gaol)
Old Gaol restoration work - photo courtesy BCC
The Old Gaol wall refurbishment works.
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