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Buckingham Old Gaol & Museum

Step inside the Buckingham Old Goal & Museum and experience life in the 18th century whilst the 21st century flashes past in the busy blink of an eye outside. This CityLocal can easily see why the Old Gaol & Museum is perhaps one of Buckingham's most popular tourist attractions and the jewel in this historic market town's crown. It's a fascinating trip back through rural times, a journey from "Lark Rise to Candleford" with a simply beautiful exhibit dedicated to author Flora Thompson containing personal memorabilia such as photographs, first edition books and letters written by Flora.


The Buckinghamshire Military Trust also host exhibits, there is a number of original cells and sixteen fascinating zones of artefacts to explore and historic stories to unravel including:

  • The Governor's House
  • Buckingham Now and Then
  • Fossils to Romans
  • Anglo Saxons to Tudors
  • Civil War and Agriculture
  • Victorians, Edwardians and Civic Pride
  • WW1 and WW2
  • Webbs Stores
  • Buckingham's Early Police
  • Tradesman's Tools
  • Lace
  • Roads, Rails and Canals
  • Prison Life
  • Bucks Military History
  • Home of Flora Thompson
  • The Courtyard - Former Exercise Yard

Of course no trip to the Old gaol and museum is complete without a leisurely browse in the second hand bookshop and a treat or two from the gift shop to commemorate the visit. Housed within the Old Goal is the Tourist Information Centre a cornucopia of well-placed information, stocked with pamphlets, maps, and friendly staff on hand to guide and advise.

Any touring guide of Buckingham should really start, in my opinion, at the Buckingham Old Gaol & Museum nestled at the nucleus of Buckingham town. History books confirm that Buckingham was indeed once the county town of Buckinghamshire declared so in the 10th century when the shire of Buckinghamshire had recently been created after Edward the Elder in 914 went to Buckingham and the Danish Earl submitted to him as did many of the Danes in Bedford and Northampton. However, in the early part of the 18th century following the great fires in Buckingham where hundreds lost their homes Aylesbury took over the mantle as hub of administration and county town.

The original gaol has a somewhat curious architectural design resembling a medieval square-shaped castle but it was actually built in 1748 after local landowner Browne Willis with the backing of Lord Cobham of Stowe returned the Assizes to Buckingham, the same Assizes which had been lost in 1707 to Aylesbury along with a lot of the towns trade and so the first purpose built gaol in the country was born to detain criminals before trial although the gaol was not always successful at detention with one notable escape attempt in 1884 which I shall elaborate on later.

During the Victorian Era the first Chief Constable of Buckingham Borough Police Force and his good Matron wife used the old gaol as lodgings and so four extra rooms were added and a more rounded exterior created. In 1839 local architect George Gilbert Scott was commissioned to design the addition and later these rooms morphed into extra cells which still remain today, and as for Mr Scott's fate well he went on to design the Albert Memorial and St Pancreas Station.

So now onto the great gaol escape of 1884 and Victorian William "Coiner" Varney who was languishing in the old gaol in February of this year for the forgery of false money managed to force the lock on his cell using tools he had found and escaped up a poorly placed ladder left behind after the whitewashing of the prison walls. He disappeared down a dark street and wasn't seen again until two weeks later he was found in Rugby and promptly brought back to Buckingham to stand trial by which time he had become a bit of a local hero.

Sadly after sixty years of service as the Buckingham Police Station the Force integrated with the County Police and a new station took over on Moreton Road leaving the old gaol empty and somewhat redundant. From 1892 the old gaol has been used for a variety of purposes including the Fire House. In those days to call the brigade you needed to pull the cord attached to one of the towers and the Fire Engine stored in the old gaol would rumble to life. Also during this period and up until 1926 one of the cells becomes an ammunition depot for the Royal Hussars and in 1907 public toilets were installed.

The first proposal to make the old gaol into a museum was aired in 1937 but was thus rejected on the grounds there was insufficient space and with the break out of World War 2 the empty cells were utilised as air raid shelters perfect protection against errant bombs. Post war ironically saw this great antiquity become home to an antiques shop and cafe and by 1964 the public toilets were requisitioned by the East Midlands Electricity Board as an electricity sub-station which is still present today.

As the years passed the Town Council considered pulling the building down but when it became the responsibility of Aylesbury Vale District Council in 1974 the townspeople could breathe a sigh of relief and the old gaol continued as before but they could not relax for long a decade later in 1984 AVDC, under protest, put it up for sale and the fate of the Old Gaol was once again uncertain.

In 1993 the old gaol reopened its doors after years of hard work and dedication by The Heritage Trust a registered Charity and company limited by guarantee set up by local businessman Clive Birch with the backing of the Mayor. Painstaking restoration started in 1985 and eight years later the old gaol once more opened but as a museum with a Tourist Information Centre. Now the old gaol organises special events and lectures organised by the Heritage Trust and Friends of the Old Gaol to help raise funds for the Old Gaol and supporting these events is vital to see what's on go to www.mkheritage.co.uk/ogb/events.html or check out our CityLocal Events page. You can also hire out the split-level Old Gaol exercise yard for a unique venue for both private and corporate events.

Contact Details

The Old Gaol

Market Hill


MK18 1JX


Tel: 01280 823 020

Email:  info@buckinghamoldgaol.org.uk

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