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Page last updated at 13:58 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 14:58 UK
A night in the cells for Dougie
Tim Dale
By Tim Dale
BBC York & North Yorkshire

Dougie Weake & Dick Turpin
A night in an 18th century cell will give Dougie a taste of how Dick Turpin felt

BBC Radio York's Dougie Weake has taken on his biggest challenge. He's spent a night in a cell.

York Castle Museum's condemned cell was where prisoners facing the hangman's noose were kept before their execution.

Perhaps the cell's most famous occupant was notorious highwayman Richard Turpin who was executed 270 years ago.

Unlike the cell's previous occupants, Dougie was expecting a pardon come the morning.

New research has revealed that the dark and dank cell was once part of the condemned day room where Turpin spent his last hours. This is in a different part of the prison than previously believed.

The room also has the remains of the door Turpin would have walked through to his death on 7 April 1739. Dougie's stay will mark the opening of a new experience at the museum, looking at its fascinating history as an 18th and 19th century prison.

Dougie Weake in the cell at the Castle Museum
at 4.30 there was a definite noise in here which woke me up and then whether it was my imagination, I felt the room go colder.
Dougie Weake

Katherine Prior, the project researcher at the Castle Museum, said: "It has been a long time since anyone has slept in this cell. It has had many uses over the years and the last people to sleep in it would have been debtors in the 1860s.

"But after uncovering a map in East Riding of Yorkshire Archives, we now know this would have been part of the condemned day room while a certain Mr Turpin was here. He, and other felons, would have spent their last hours in this room before walking out of the cell's door ready to make the short trip to the gallows across the city."

York Castle Museum was built as a prison and opened in 1705 to house the worst felons from across Yorkshire. It is built on the site of York Castle, where prisoners have been kept since the 1200s.

Dougie entered the cell at 9pm on July 20 and spent the night with a colleague. All they had with them was a sleeping bag, bedding and a small candle light. Unlike prisoners at the time, they did have the luxury of using a proper toilet and knowing they were free to leave the following morning.

Debtors Prison at York Castle Museum copyright York Museums Trust
The prison held many of the worst felons in 18th century York

Dougie said: "The cell where Dick Turpin spent his last hours wouldn't be my first choice for overnight accommodation. To be the first person to sleep in there for well over a hundred years does have a certain ring to it though."

"The overriding question which is playing on my mind is what if the ghost of Mr Turpin wants to pay a visit to his last abode?"

Katherine Prior from the museum said: "It is fair to say that some of the nastiest people in Yorkshire during the 18th century would have been imprisoned in this room. Dougie is a braver person than me!"

Dougie settled himself down for the night on a camp bed borrowed from the army, slightly more comfortable than anything the previous occupants of the cell would have had. Staff from the Castle Museum were on hand through the night just to make sure everything was OK.

Around five in the morning, BBC Radio York's Russell Walker played a dirty trick on Dougie and rattled some chains down the walkie talkie which woke Dougie up.

Despite the rude awakening, how did he feel the morning after the night before?

We've not had a particularly comfortable evening, it's very strange because it's deathly deathly quiet but I haven't heard David and Denise coming round doing the check ups.

Every so often you hear a little noise, no matter what it is and you're fully wide awake again because you're not sure what's going on and that's been happening for most of the night. David and I have been tossing and turning all night

Dougie Weake in the cell at the Castle Museum
Dougie had a disturbed night in the cell

Then at 4.30 there was a definite noise in here which woke me up and then whether it was my imagination, I felt the room go colder. It sounded a bit like the crackle of interference on a radio but more rapid."

Dougie accused Russell of tapping on the window, but Russell was adamant it wasn't him and Denise from the Castle Museum confirmed there had been no-one around at that time!

Dougie however, is not to keep to repeat the experience anytime soon! "It's very strange knowing that I'm the first person in 141 years to stay here. Dick Turpin was here over 200 years ago and the history of this room is phenomenal. It's been great to do it, but I wouldn't want to do it again to be quite honest!"




SEE ALSO
Not such a dandy highwayman
16 Jul 09 |  Arts & Culture
Police release Dick Turpin e-fit
17 Jul 09 |  North Yorkshire

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