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  • 18th Century Dungeon

    Posted on December 5th, 2010 admin No comments

    Prisons have been used throughout the centuries as a place to keep a criminal secured after being convicted of a crime.  The word prison has its origins in the Latin word, prehensio, meaning seizure.  They have been used as holding places for pre-trials and as dungeons, torture chambers for convicts.  Prisons have always been regarded as a necessary part of keeping the peace in a society.    

    Prisoners had to endure some of the worst human conditions throughout the medieval period.  They were left starving and thirsty for as long as the guards felt necessary.  They were chained to walls or left in squalid holes.  Their beds, if any, were rotting piles of straw. Rats and insects took over every crevice of their living space as well as their bodies.  Prison beatings and abandonment were also common occurrences.

    History has shown us that human beings are not kind individuals all of the time.  Simple imprisonment and never-ending hard work were not good enough a life sentence for some criminals, so torture was instituted into many prisons.  Some methods of torture included mutilation, constant physical pain, exile and slavery.  The masters of the prisons, although they rarely actually carried out these duties themselves, thought them necessary to make life in prison less of a holiday.

    Often, the prisoners were innocent, framed by neighbors or creditors.  They were often blamed for having unpaid debts, which once in prison, they could not repay and so remained in prison their entire lives.  This created a never-ending spiral of debtors being forced in jail because a family member could not fulfill their debt. They lived in the horrible conditions as a result of a misunderstanding, or simply because they were related to a prisoner.  In June of 1215, the Magna Carta was created in order to eliminate the corrupt from imprisoning the innocent, but it was not strictly followed or enforced. 

    Freedom after prison was a very rare occurrence in this time period. Even if found innocent, the masters of prisons did not make it a priority to release the individual. Most died of starvation, disease or as a result of the torture they endured.

  • Torture Dungeon

    Posted on June 12th, 2009 admin 2 comments

    The Dungeon of the castle was the basement or lowest level and was normally used as a prison.  It was no accident that this location was the most fortified and impossible to escape from.  This area was also called the “keep” because it is where prisoners were kept.  Bishop Gandolf of Rochester is given credit as the original developer of this architecture design when he created the White Tower. The tower was commissioned by William the Conqueror who demanded the fortress be made of Caen stone which had to be imported from France. In 1087, the White Tower was finished by William’s ancestors in 1087.

    The White Tower was a royal palace as well as a prison primarily for high-ranging prisoners.  Many princes, queens and the like spent time in its dungeon.  The tower was known as a place of torture and execution for criminals and heretics.

    Torture devices were used in the White Tower to gather information from prisoners in regards to possible revolts or threats to the royal crown. The Rack was one of the more common torture devices.  The victim was placed on a slab, their arms and legs tied at either end, and then stretched until their joints dislocated.  Another common practice was to hang a prisoner by their wrists in shackles bolted into a wall. The block and axe were commonly used to decapitate uncooperative prisoners.  The Skeffinton Irons were also used to completely crush a prisoner if they did not comply with the demands of the interrogator.  In the 17th Century, torture was dubbed as far too cruel for society and outlawed.

    The White Tower stands today adjacent to the Thames River.  It is more of a museum and attracts tourists from all over the world.  A visitor can see the vast collection of weapons the castle had collected through the centuries along with Medieval Armor from past kings.

  • Shackles and Handcuffs

    Posted on June 5th, 2009 admin No comments

    Shackles were used as a method to capture and subdue a prisoner.  They are fasteners used on a person’s feet or hands to keep them from escaping.  They have been called swivels, manacles, swivels and handcuffs. Older models were one size, heavy figure eights of iron.  Present day handcuffs are much lighter in weight and are easily adjusted to fit most offenders.

    Leg shackles have also changed throughout history.  They began as heavy iron rings cuffed around the ankle, attached together with an iron chain.  The iron shackles dug into prisoners ankles.  Often they were attached to a ball-weight as well.  Bilboes were a style of iron leg shackle that attached the cuffs with an iron rod, making movement awkward and difficult.  They have also become lighter and less cumbersome in present day, but they still make movement difficult.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Skeleton Keys and Antique Locks

    Posted on June 5th, 2009 admin 1 comment

    Locks are designed as a bolt-action mechanism requiring precise conditions to unlock.  The conditions are usually met by a key or code being inserted into the lock.  Locks have changed drastically throughout history.  They have ranged from skeleton key padlocks all the way to computerized password coded locks used today.

    China is given credit for the origin of locks because ancient Chinese locks have been found throughout the region.  Egypt holds the other most ancient lock known.  It is thought to have been in use over 4,000 years ago.

    In 18th century Europe, the lock was simplified into a bolt-and-spring pressure system.  This type of lock had a fairly intricate, but easily manipulated, unlocking system.  A skeleton key would pass through several chambers before the item would unlock.  The lock could easily be picked by using a blank key and sending it through the chambers.

    Jeremiah Chubb was the most successful and popular locksmith in his time. He created the “detector lock” which prohibited anyone from tampering with it.  If an attempt to pick the lock or use the wrong key in the lock occurred, the lock would become inoperable until the owner used a special regulating key to reconfigure it. His invention grew to be popular not only for personal locks, but also for use in bank safes and on other high-theft articles, such as museum artifacts.

    Chubb’s indestructible lock system was defeated by a professional lock picker, Alfred Charles Hobbs.  He learned how locks worked and then easily manipulated them.  His method of picking locks was known as “tickling” the lock.

    Throughout the centuries, different locking mechanisms have been developed. Older locks were created so all levers within the mechanism would move to one side when a key was inserted.  Once this was realized, lock pickers could easily manipulate a lock and break into whatever it was they were after. A newer version was created to avoid this easy manipulation.  Keys have unique designs on each side of them which make different levers within the lock move in opposite directions.

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