London Drum

Clink Prison Museum – London’s Medieval Gaol

Where? Clink Prison Museum, 1 Clink Street, Southwark · Web: Opening times? 10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun); Last entry 30 mins before closing Visiting hours may change Price? Adults £8.00; Children £6.00 (under-16); Family ticket £23.00 Entry charges may change Time required? A typical visit is 30-45 mins Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 17, 21, 35, 40, 43, 45, 47, 48, 133, 141, 149, 381, 521, RV1 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is London Bridge Jubilee Northern Other nearby stations: Cannon Street, Mansion House and Monument Train fares

Craig’s review… What’s the punishment for committing a sin these days… five Hail Marys and a couple of Our Fathers? I haven’t been to church for years so I haven’t got a clue, but I’m guessing they don’t lock you up in the Clink Prison anymore. Because that’s what happened when the Bishop of Winchester was in charge.

The Bishop of Winchester

Winchester Palace is long gone now but back in the 12th-century the bishop’s writ stretched from here all the way down past the Globe and the Rose to the Tate. He wrote the laws, broke the laws, and had two prisons built for all the debtors, lechers and vagabonds that stalked the streets of Southwark. There was one for the men and one for the women. The modern-day museum is built on top of where the men’s one used to be before it burnt down in the Gordon Riots.

The original medieval gaol

There’s hardly anything left of the original prison anymore. All that remains of the medieval gaol is a solitary wall that survived the fire of 1780 so you’re not walking around anything historic. It’s just like a mini-version of the London Dungeon inside, but without all those annoying ham actors who pluck people out of the crowd trying to embarrass them – there’s none of that stuff. You just walk around the rooms taking photos of the waxworks and learn a bit of history from the plaques.

Once you’re through the creaking iron gate you’ll see a blacksmith hammering some manacles onto a criminal’s wrist. Then you walk around a few dimly lit rooms with fake flames and orange lightbulbs illuminating the walls. It’s all quite nicely themed, a couple of the corridors look like timber-framed streets with strings of dirty washing hanging above your head with sacks and barrels piled up on the floor. Every time you turn a corner you see a waxwork prisoner lamenting and repenting and there’s a constant song of crying kids and blokes moaning, women wailing and little pigs squealing and squeaking coming out of the speakers… put it this way, you wouldn’t want to spend the night in there.

The plaques tell you about the history of the prison and all the criminals who lived and died there. If they could afford to stump up a few crowns each week to bribe the guards then they’d rent them a better bed (a bit like upgrading your hotel room), sell them food and drink for twice the price (a bit like hotel minibar prices) and even give them the keys to their cell – so it was basically the same as staying at a Travelodge. Unfortunately it’s position near the river meant that it also flooded every high tide and their cells would fill up with river rats and sewage – I admit you don’t get that at the Travelodge.

America’s Pilgrim Fathers

Most of the prisoners were just petty criminals but it did have a few superstars. A few of the Pilgrim Fathers got locked up in here – the famous Pilgrim Fathers who sailed to America. This was before they even went to Holland so it was quite early in their story, but you can certainly imagine them being cooped up in here, manacles clapped around their ankles, daydreaming about buying a boat to sail across the sea. (You might want to visit The Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe if you’re interested in all of that stuff.)

Exhibition of torture equipment

They’ve also got a nice collection of racks and manacles, wooden stocks and chopping blocks. Don’t tell anybody that I said this (because it’s supposed to be a secret) but I’m actually a big fan of torture, and I’ve even dug myself a dungeon in my basement so I can punish anyone who gets on my nerves (which basically means everybody). And I’ve certainly learnt a lot of fantastic new techniques at this museum. I think my new favourite form of torture is the Oubliette because it appeals to my laziness. All you have to do is kick them into a big hole and wait for them to die – nice and simple. The Morning Star is more for psychos. It’s a solid metal mace that you swing ten times around your head and then smash into their skull (it makes a lot of mess, that one). Or how about the Scold’s Bridle – a cage for their face. You wrap a birdcage around their head and then tighten it up until their bones splinter through their cheeks. And these are just the nice ones!

In previous reviews I labelled this place as being good for kids, but I’ve decided to amend that to just the older kids now because there’s quite a lot of reading to do, and there are also a few bits and pieces about brothels and prostitutes. But what are the chances of your kids actually reading any of the plaques? Getting your kids to read educational stuff is like trying to make a man read a map.

Worth a visit? Value for money? Good for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try London Bridge Experience (you can walk it in 4 mins); London Dungeon (walk it in 26 mins or travel from London Bridge to Waterloo by tube) and Madame Tussauds (travel from London Bridge to Baker Street by tube). If you enjoy scary attractions then you’ll find some more torture equipment at the Tower of London. Or how about a Jack the Ripper Tour, Ghost Bus Tour or Ghost Tour of Hampton Court?

London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

Your comments and questions

Melissa Hello. Would you recommend the Clink Prison Museum for children? We have an 8-year old who will probably enjoy it a lot but I am worried it will give him nightmares! Thanks for your help

Craig Hi Melissa. On their website they say it's suitable for ages 7 years and over, so 8 should be okay. It's mainly waxwork prisoners behind bars. You can see a few being tortured, hung up on chains and stuck in a hole in the ground, but there's nothing too scary. It's quite dark inside and you can hear moans and groans coming out of the speakers etc. There is a fair amount of reading to do, though. Adults will probably want to read the plaques to find out about all the historical stuff like the Bishop of Winchester and Gordon Riots etc, but I doubt a kid that age will be interested. I have quite a soft spot for this place, and think it's worth a visit. It's certainly a lot less scary than the London Dungeon, which might frighten a young kid.

Ben Is it worth booking tickets in advance, or can you just turn up?

Craig Hi Ben. It's always been pretty empty when I've went, so I would say no, but I suppose you might get unlucky and get stuck behind a big group because they put on occasional school tours. You could book in advance to be safe.

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