7 May 2003
Written By Garry Ross (Gaztrix)
CLERKENWELL HOUSE OF DETENTION - SERIES 2
This episode has to be the one that is most talked about each time it's repeated, we have a few things to get people going in this one ... evil turnkeys murdering people, a little girl running from evil characters, a bomb plot and a bleeped out surname ... not forgetting human bones said to be underneath the place after bodies were disposed of. Oh where to start?
At the time I was joined by other people who had decided to do their own bit of research straight after the very first screening of this programme and we shared our results with anyone that was willing to listen, unfortunately in this business some people decide to ignore the true concrete facts for the ramblings of someone who just happens to be on tv and gets the hero worship that goes with it - sign of the times really I suppose?
What we did in researching was really what any paranormal researcher should do after any investigation, and that is to get into any archives possible and research all the findings until everything is covered. I was joined in the research by another member of my paranormal research team, Sue, who had been doing her own bit of research and we ended up swapping info that we'd found. After a while things didn't add up with what was shown on MH so I decided to get in touch with two experts in historical crime. The first person I contacted was my friend Ivor Edwards who has written a book on Jack The Ripper and is also very knowledgable on the prison system at the time. I also contacted respected historian Martin Fido who is now teaching in the US. Some of the things Martin told me made me question even more what was said during the programme.
OK, a quick run down on the earlier 'events' during the programme. We get an evil man from the 1600s who a little girl runs from ... this is said to be Jack Sheppard, who was a small time highwayman and robber who was also a bit of a ladies man ... Derek Acorah said he was one of the few active spirits there.
In 'S' wing it's said that a man was brought into there and after many years he was given trust to roam about and act like a jailer ... strange for a place that was just a holding prison until they were either moved elsewhere or released after a few days or weeks. Confusion with the Clerkenwell House of Correction towards the back of the place? Derek mentions the Fenian bombing after accounts of a sexually perverted man. A man comes through who tells them to go and then says he's going to do some weird perverted things to Yvette.
After a short break Derek says the mans name is Michael and he's been there since 1867 (the year of the Clerkenwell bombing), he has 2 'co-horts' ... ho ho, here we go!
The surname gets bleeped out as Derek starts marching about the place telling this 'spirit' that he can't harm the women or any of the others. Derek says he's found him standing with his arms folded and shouts abuse into thin air. "He's the evil one" says Derek, and also says the little girl and children run from him. (hang on..wasn't it Jack Sheppard she runs from? oops!)
Later we get the first co-hort who is said to be a friend of this Michael, Joseph. He manages to blank Dereks mind apparently ... so Derek takes a break and goes outside after Karl gets a scratch to the head.
Derek then says that Michael has 2 people with him helping him, Joseph and Richard. He also says that these two never did anything like what Michael had done in life but he had some sort of control over them - more on that later.
Then we hear about all these bodies that had been disposed of by this evil Michael and one day their bones will be found... I put this to Martin Fido who said "Utter nonsense, maybe he was getting confused with nearby Newgate which has many rumours of this sort of thing, certainly not Clerkenwell".
The Michael Derek named was Michael Barrett who was tried for the bombing and hanged, he had no part in the bombing at all, he was sentenced to death on the testimony of a man who had previously given false testimony against three other men, and in spite of the evidence of eight citizens who made the journey from Glasgow to prove that Barrett had been there when the explosion had taken place. It was said just afterwards that "The English have no scruples when it is a question of hanging a man -- especially a Fenian."
There are no records of mistreatment 'out of the ordinary' at the House of Detention, a turnkey was dismissed from the House of Correction for assaulting a male prisoner. Despite what we're led to believe, prison wardens weren't left to their own devices and overlooked at all ... even back in the dark days. A renowned pornographer was imprisoned in the House of Correction where he died - this was a big case at the time and quite well known even today ... his name wasn't Michael either.
Other vigils that took place at the House of Detention haven't mentioned anything like Derek said was going on there although he did mention a few things that they'd come up with - the more well known 'hauntings'.
BUT when he mentions Michael Barrett as being the 'evil one' and then brings in the 2 Fenians that were in there awaiting trial then you have to look at it and ask yourself if he can be so wrong on that, then what else has he got wrong?
In that episode alone he got a lot wrong and in others before and since.
Let's look at the official facts of the bombing itself and see how that differs from how it was portrayed on that episode:
Ricard (note the name ... not Richard) Burke and Joseph Casey were arrested and sent to Clerkenwell to await trial (they were arrested separately). While in there 15 men from the 'Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood' plotted a way to get them out, on the 12th December 1867, 3 of them had got the gunpowder (bought from Curtis and Harvey in London, these people were Jeremiah O'Sullivan, Patrick Casey (brother to Joseph) and a woman whose name I've forgotten.
The plan was to blow a hole in the 25 foot high NW outer wall opposite Corporation Lane while Burke was in the exercise yard (the times they were allowed exercise was between 3 and 4.30pm) Burke himself smuggled out instructions on how to carry this out.
A kerosene barrel was wheeled to the wall on a barrow and placed where brickwork had replaced masonry on the outer wall, a little white ball was thrown over this wall into the exercise yard as a signal and Burke ducked down waiting for the blast by pretending to tie his shoelace. A prison warden picked up the little ball and pocketed it to give to his kids. The woman involved lit the fuse but it fizzled out, they panicked and decided to come back later.
An informer had relayed the plans to an inspector Ryan in Dublin who had passed on to the Home Office every little detail of the planned break-out...even down to the little white ball.
That night the guards were armed and ready.
The following morning the prisoners exercise was switched to the morning rather than the afternoon. Burke took his exercise in the 'female airing court' alone after breakfast.
That afternoon the barrel was rolled to the same spot and they tried again, a passing policeman walked past the barrel, which was covered by a white sheet, as he'd been told to look out for evidence of mining under the wall.
At around 3.40 another little white ball was thrown over the wall - into the empty exercise yard. The fuse was lit and around 30 seconds later 548 pounds of high-grade gunpowder exploded and 60 feet of the wall was demolished.
The blast wave sliced through the tenement buildings of Corporation Lane damaging quite a few as it did. 6 people in these buildings were killed outright, 6 more died from the effects - the prison itself was untouched (apart from the outside wall), hence the escape plan had failed.
O'Sullivan clubbed a drunken drayman, who later died and ran through London with armed policemen chasing him. He managed to escape to New York using an alias.
A month before Barrett was charged with the bombing (which he had no part in) Burke and Casey were in court, Burke was sentenced to 15 years penal servitude for treason-felony and Casey was released. Joseph Casey left for Paris with his younger brother Patrick.
In 1889 in secret Home Office papers it was disclosed that Patrick Casey was working for the British Govt as a spy along with a number of other people who were also named as top men in the 'Fenian Brotherhood' etc.
If you do a search on the net for Clerkenwell, you'll get a lot of links to the bombing which doesn't go into much detail and tells you that Michael Barrett was found guilty and hanged. If you were only to scratch the surface you could just accept that fact and weave a nice little story into it if you were that way inclined. Not many mention the fact that on the day of his hanging his childhood sweetheart was in the crowd, he was planning to marry her and she was hoping to hear that he'd get a reprieve and wouldn't be hanged - sadly this never happened and she saw him die that day.
Michael Barret NEVER set foot in Clerkenwell at all so why would he be waiting around in a place that is only linked to him by a bad association?
What of Colonel Burke and Casey? They were up to their eyeballs in plots etc but Derek claimed they were different to the evil Michael ... oh they were different alright, they were actively involved in the Fenian uprising whereas Michael Barrett never had anything to do with it at all.
My conclusion on it all? I have to say that to me it looks like very bad research and play acting with a nice confused story woven all around it.
My verdict: Complete and utter Bullshit.
Am I surprised that people still insist it was one of the scariest episodes of MH? Not really, they'll believe anything that's put in front of them until they look into things just a bit deeper...but they'll still insist that the facts are wrong and Derek was right. You can't win when people can't see what's in front of them.
I've been asked many times about this episode since it was first aired and this is the final time I will be commenting on it, but for any questions on anything else I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org I'd be especially interested in any reputedly haunted places we'd be able to get into of course, that's one of my jobs after all.
I'll leave you with a link to a letter from a convict who was sent to Australia after spending a bit of time in Clerkenwell House of Detention and you can judge for yourselves whether this place was the evil den that was portrayed on MH or not (It wasn't btw).
Garry Ross (Gaztrix)
Team Leader of Lincs Paranormal Research Team August 2004.