The Newchurch Dungeon.

Rossendale Free Press 14th April 1960

A REMINDER OF THE OLD DAYS. (Recalled by a "Free Press" Reporter).

Recollections of the days when Newchurch was the hub of life in Rossendale are brought to mind by various 'buildings in the village. Most of these are visible to the casual observer taking a walk along Church-street, once part of the main highway through Rossendale. There is, however, one reminder of the "good old days" - a rather unpleasant one it must be admitted - writes a " Free Press" reporter, that is probably unknown, except to old "Kirkers," and that is the old dungeon, in which offenders against the peace of the village used to be incarcerated until they were ready to appear before the magistrates.

Indistinguishable from a number of outbuildings, this relic of bygone days, when Newchurch was not quite so peaceful, is hidden away behind some old-time houses, fronting upon Church-street, and lies a few yards to the right of Dark-lane as one goes down the lane. Built of stone, now blackened and yellow with age, it is a squat, ugly, building, roofed with great stone flags, and ranging in height from about eight feet at one end to four feet at the other. Apparently no light was allowed to enter as there do not appear to have been any windows.

It is extremely doubtful whether the dungeon possessed any of the " comforts" of the modern police station cell, in fact, it was probably a most uncomfortable and unpleasant place in which to spend a night. It is also likely that at times more than one offender was housed within its precincts and that there would be no other place but the floor upon which to lie, if that were possible within its limited space. But no authentic information is available on these points, as the dungeon has not been used for its original purpose for at least half a century. For a number of years during this period it has been converted to other uses, and of late years has been used as an ashpit.

The origin of this dungeon at Newchurch has been lost in the mists of time and a diligent inquiry and search of local history has failed to trace the date of its erection. The latter part of the eighteenth century or the early years of the nineteenth are the most likely, if cognisance is taken of a minute, recorded by one historian, of a public meeting held on Nov. llth, 1788, when it was " decided that dungeons should be built at Goodshaw Chapel and Newchurch, whenever the inhabitants thought proper."

Though mention is made by the same historian of a dungeon being built subsequently at Goodshaw, he confesses to an inability to trace the erection of one at Newchurch. The full minute of the public meeting held in 1788 will be perhaps of interest. Headed " Public meeting, Nov. 11th, 1788" it states : "Note, that it is agreed by all those present that two dongeons be made whenever the inhabitants of Newchurch and Goodshaw Chapel think proper, that is to say, one at each place, is agreed by us at a public meeting on the date aforesaid."Then are appended the signatures "J. Shorrock, Jno. Hargreaves, Lawce. Ormerod (High Constable)” and 14 others.

In the days of the dungeon there were only two policemen for the whole of Waterfoot and Newchurch, and no doubt they were kept quite busy, particularly on market days and Saturday nights, in the village. The magistrates at that time sat at the Boar's Head Hotel or at Bacup. The sittings at the Boar's Head were held in an upper room, and, judging from the provision made for the attendance of the magistrates, the dispensation of justice was a rather thirsty business .It is recorded that they (no mention is made of the number of justices) were granted a gallon of beer, 2Ibs. of cheese, and five loaves. Coroner's inquests were of course frequently held at inns in those days, and also in much more recent times.