Carmarthen is the oldest continuously inhabited town in Wales, pre-dating the Romans in 2 AD. Only the street layout and amphitheatre betray its Roman past. It's also Merlin's alleged birthplace. Carmarthen in Welsh is Caerfyrddin. Caer meaning fort and Fyrddin is the mutation of Myrddin – Merlin's Welsh name. He clearly started a trend for celebrities naming their offspring after their birthplace.
A castle has occupied the present site since 1105 and there's been a gaol since 1532. In 1774, when John Howard, the famous penal reformer visited Carmarthen, there was one gaol inside the castle, partly in the Keep, and the debtors' gaol, East Gate, or Prisoner Gate, was between King Street and Nott Square. Disease was prevalent as both prisons had damp, muddy, barren cells, with no glass in the windows and no fuel for fires. Prisoners relied on families or Poor Law Guardians for food and medicine, and the Head Gaoler (who lived miles away) for water. Water ran down the walls in the freezing condemned cell. Gaolers earned money from release fees and bills paid by prisoners or their relatives. Men, women and children were incarcerated together until rape became so frequent, they were separated, but the doors were left unlocked.
In 1788, John Howard demanded both gaols be torn down and replaced by one new gaol. This was built inside the castle wall in 1789 and finished three years later. The architect, John Nash, later designed Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch, Regents Park and Street, Trafalgar Square and Brighton Pavilion. A new town lockup, The Roundhouse was built in 1803 and opened in 1810 on the Old Bowling Green, now John Street, where M & S stands.
The gaol was demolished in 1938 and replaced by council offices in 1955.
Castle House lockup was built in 1860 on the site of the gaol infirmary, to avoid transporting prisoners through the town to the courthouse. It served as a substation for Borough and Constabulary Constabularies. It's the only lockup of its kind still existing in Wales. When the police forces amalgamated in 1947, the lockup was vacated. And we were going to spend the night ghost hunting there on Friday 13th.
At 8 p.m., Lowri Jones, head of Tourism gave us a tour and told us a staff member and a builder saw a shadow in the upstairs corridor. She showed us the tiny exercise yard, where prisoners were allowed for 20 minutes a day. She gave us the keys and left.
We began our investigation by dressing in police uniforms and posing with the mannequins. We named the desk sergeant Steve and the mannequins in cell 2 Bob and Gerald. They weren't impressed at our shenanigans. Criminals' faces taken from the felon register adorn cell 2's wall, set at their recorded heights. They were our height! We thought our small stature came from our mining ancestry, but maybe we were meant to be 19th century criminals.
Neen stayed in cell 2, Cat in cell 1 and Lynx in the gift shop. Nothing paranormal happened although the mannequins were becoming quite frisky. Neen moved upstairs and Cat took cell 2. She heard a bang on the wall between the cells but the area was deserted. We kept hearing voices; however the lockup is surrounded by pubs.
We regrouped then Lynx took cell 2, Neen sat in the gift shop and Cat patrolled the original entrance corridor. Steve seemed intent on booking her in. It must've been a slow night. She heard running footsteps behind the gaol wall but it was probably a drunk. Or an escaping mannequin. We sat in the shadow corridor doing a vigil with a crystal. Then we heard a kettle switching on and boiling. Sadly we weren't being visited by a tea-making ghost – it was the water boiler above the sink.
We concluded the night in cell 2 with a Calamityville Horror tradition – Zumba dancing. Bob and Gerald refused to participate. We didn't experience anything paranormal but we had a great night. It's a fantastic location and they have big plans for the place. We suspect Bob and Gerald may be receiving therapy. But it's not ghost hunting if someone isn't scared.