Disturbance in Berwick Town Gaol

20 Oct 2017

Riotous behaviour broke out inside Berwick’s eighteenth century gaol earlier this Autumn. 

Shouting and bawling could be heard from the street below, as a new drama production was recorded for the Berwick Literary Festival.

Originally written for radio by local writer Colin Fleetwood, the drama interweaves a story based in present-day Berwick, focusing on the 1823 incarceration of Grace Griffin.

Griffin was accused of murdering her husband, and was the last person to be hanged in Berwick in 1823 at Gallows Knowe.

Colin Fleetwood said: “I became interested in Grace’s story while carrying out research for a different project at the Record Office. The Archives in Berwick are a special resource, and it is easy to get side-tracked. Linda Bankier, the town’s archivist, mentioned to me that she had produced a summary of the Grace Griffin trial. When I read it, I was hooked.”

Fleetwood researched the case using original copies of the Berwick Advertiser from 1823 and a pamphlet of the sermon preached by the vicar of Holy Trinity and St Mary’s on the day after the execution.

The resulting drama, titled A Kind of Justice, questions whether Grace was guilty of the crime she was accused of, and raises issues which are just as relevant today as they were almost two centuries ago.

Fleetwood obtained permission from the Trustees to record in the Gaol, which has been preserved in the condition that prisoners would have found it in the 19th century. 

“It was fantastic to be able to record in the actual gaol cell where Grace was imprisoned,” said Fleetwood. Berwick Gaol is a real historical gem. The dialogue really came to life, and there were one or two spine chilling moments.”

Northumberland County Council manages the county’s archive and modern records service. Cllr Cath Homer, cabinet member for culture, arts, leisure and tourism at the council, said:  “This is a great example of a very creative use of the archives and records, and also of a Northumberland building with such a fascinating history.”