Oct. 11th, 2012

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It's Thursday evening, and because it's pouring with rain outside, my usual Thursday evening walk is postponed until tomorrow. 

So I'll post instead!

I promised you a follow-up post on Lancaster Castle, and here it is. 

I originally intended to include a shot of the ghastly medieval cellar where the poor old Pendle witches were incarcerated, but unfortunately my one decent photo was cluttered with people (including children), so I didn't think it appropriate to include it.

The 19th century prison is a different matter...

Years and years ago, when I first studied Archaeology at Uni, I attended a brilliant series of lectures called The Archaeology of Religion, Magic & Burial, presented by the one and only John Barrett (of Fragments of Antiquity fame - if you haven't read it, and you're interested in British prehistory, then go find a copy. It's just like having a potted version of the lectures to hand!). 

Throughout this course, we were encouraged to read all manner of works by anthropologists (like Levi Strauss), sociologists (like Giddens and Bourdieu) and philosophers (like Barthes and Wittgenstein).  This breadth of reading certainly gave us a fascinating insight into the past which was completely at odds with the Processualist school of archaeology which remained the dominant paradigm at the time and placed the acolytes of 'Barrettism' (I'd happily count myself as one!!) in the realms of the post-Processualist movement.  Scary to think that I'm now talking of post-Processualism in the past tense, though to be honest I'm not sure what's replaced it!

One of these lectures was devoted to the works of Michel Foucault, who wrote an in-depth study of the changing history of punishment.  As an undergraduate I never read this book, which is entitled DIscipline and Punish, if I remember right, but I do remember a contrast being made between 'medieval' modes of punishment, which usually involved the physical destruction of the body (the example quoted was the horrific torture and execution of a fellow who tried to assassinate a French King in the 17th century - We were subjected to a detailed excerpt from the book which detailed the death and it left a deep and lasting impression on Meek Little Student-me...).

Foucault contrasted this means of punishment with the 19th century belief in correction and confinement, with its roots in the post-Enlightenment period, and cited as his example that typically 19th century institution the 'panopticon' style prison.  Here you have your inmates under constant surveillance by a central warder, who is located in a way that they can observe their charges at all times.

The prison block at Lancaster is a good example of the panopticon style. This photo is taken from the central point in the cell bay, where the warder would have been located.  Bear in mind that the solid doors are a very late addition, and that originally you would have been able to observe the inhabitants within a barred door:-


This view shows the interior of a cell - complete with a later addition, a ceramic toilet bowl.  (I'm sure slopping out would have been carried out until quite recently, judging by the modern style of the toilet bowl...)


It looks palatial, but I'm not convinced that this cell would have provided accomodation for just one individual.  Instead, we might have had a few unfortunates crammed in here, though whatever happened to them there would have been a marked improvement on the fate of the poor (and, I believe, slightly deranged) Frenchman.

PS. This is partly a nostalgic photo, because it reminds me of the little Ayrshire police station I surveyed with The Classicist a few months back....  I should probably send a photo of it to the Classicist with one of those 'I saw this and I thought of you....' messages, though these cells have much bigger windows than ours, and the toilets in the provincial police station were tucked tidily away beside the door where you could at least get a bit of privacy....


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