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  • Writer's pictureAnn

Child's Play?

Updated: May 12, 2022

When people think 'old prison' in the ghosting sense, they'll usually plump for rough, tough and evil inmates (usually male) with regard to attempted communication. And, whilst indeed Shepton is crawling with male entities keen to threaten and be rather unpleasant, I've found a good mix of other sorts too - many clear female EVPs have been captured, music, barking dogs, and also the voices unmistakably, of children.

This upsets some visitors, the fact that children were kept here. It must go against their TV-primed conditioning where the only cons you get are deserving muscled and tattooed types that would slash their fellow inmates with a shiv as soon as look at them... But young children, and I'm talking pre-pubescent too, here, really?! Of course!

I had a lady during a paranormal event come up to myself and my friend and colleague Kate on their 'lunch break' at 1am. She was with a very tall gent' wearing a grey tracksuit, which was rather ironic because he was also sporting a sturdy belly, so I had strong doubts as to if the suit had ever in actuality, been anywhere near a track.

The lady approached me at the desk and tearfully asked, "You didn't have children here, did you?" I presumed she meant 'the prison' rather than did I give birth within its walls, and thus rather surprised, answered her with "Yes, probably hundreds if not thousands." Aghast, the lady walked away with tears welling, and Mr belly explained why she'd asked.

Apparently they'd been on the Ouija board and a child of 8 years 'came through' and said he died there. This greatly surprised the couple, for they had no idea that young-uns would have been behind bars. They thought that this was proof that the board was in fact, lying to them. What silliness! It's like asking for confirmation that no animal ever feels pain in the slaughterhouse. Of course they feel pain, and of course there were kids here. Wishful thinking, no? Sometimes you do have to question the nievety of some folks. I'm sure they were absolutely lovely, but come on. Another fella came up that night/morning and asked, "Was there a man called David here?" You couldn't make it up.

So let's put this out there - the prison opened in 1625 (it was a house of correction from 1610 when it was initially built though, and a factory of sorts before that) and took in all sorts, men, women, children, for a variety of crimes and non-crimes. I believe it wasn't unheard of for children to be put in un-beknown to them as to why (see my piece on Eddie and the Ouija board on the Gate Lodge case studies page) and be used as scivvies or worse. Street urchins for example. If the families didn't have money likely their inmate relations would remain inside and continue to be badly treated, and probably die inside. Little people had virtually no chance. Especially if they were living wild and poor on the outside, if that's why they were admitted in the first place. Families may even have relished not having another mouth to feed.

During the early days right up until the post-Victorian era there would have been youngsters banged-up at Shepton. Some would have committed actual crimes, likely on behalf of somebody else and got caught, or else unfairly so. For stealing a bread roll for example. These almost-innocents (and actual innocents, framed scapegoats) would then be hurled into a cell with probably many other people, mixed genders, mixed crimes, mixed health, and mixed attitudes. Imagine slinging a child of six years into a cramped smelly and dirty cell with ten other people, including rapists and murderers? It doesn't bare thinking about. For any prisoner, actually. Add in rats and dysentry, stagnant urine, menstrual fluids, body odour, rotten teeth, and what you have is an abominable scenario. Quite literally a fate worse than death I imagine. Because of the standard of 'hygiene' in these early days before prison reform and prisoner welfare became A Thing, inmate deaths were so common that they were not even recorded, so to divulge exactly how many died on site, is an impossibility. And you'd have to factor in murders and suicides too. So in answer the second gent's question, Yes, I do think that there has very likely been hundreds of men called David on site.

Back to the children...

I have now got quite a collection of small people on my recordings, and so far I can report that only one of those sounds horrendously unhappy - that's the child screaming in B Wing. The others range from playful to aggressive, excited, even jolly. In what is now Healthcare (at the back of the morgue) was once the boys' wing. It's where my guitar got smashed (see blog Don't Ever Play It Again). Imagine the mischief that was dished out there! And let's not forget that it wasn't just 'in the old days' that children would have been here - the governors' families, the caretakers' families, the gatekeepers' families, also all on site. So it's hardly surprising when you think about it, that there is an abundance of children here. Some of them having a good time it seems!

I have also managed to capture a photo of a little boy in shorts in the execution room, running right to left. It's blurry because it was on a night setting and took ages, and as it clicked I was just about to fiddle with the camera to see what the heck was going on. But he's there alright.

So to round up, here are a few of my best captures... Bye for now!

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