Giant prison could hold the entire population of Liverpool’

A huge recreation ground now occupies a site once famous for crime, prisoners and executions. In the 19th century, the area was home to a large prison called the Kirkdale County Gaol and House of Correction. The gaol, which opened in 1818, was so big that it had it own courthouse within the premises.

When it opened, it was said that the gaol could hold the entire population of Liverpool. Public executions were also a common event outside the prison after it opened - and it is believed the hangings gathered more than 50,000 people. Railway firms ran special trains from other parts of Lancashire and across the North West for people to witness the grisly events.

: The 14 Merseyside place names people cannot pronounce correctly The prison was first opened to house criminals of the West Derby hundred, which is one of the six subdivisions of the historic county of Lancashire. The area covered the ancient parishes of Walton, Sefton, Childwall, Huyton, Halsall, Altcar, North Meols, Ormskirk, Aughton, Warrington, Prescot, Wigan, Leigh, Liverpool, and Winwick.

Kirkdale Gaol

The case of John McGrave, Michael Mullen and Patrick Campbell

One famous case which led to a public hanging of two criminals was the murder of Richard Morgan - a 26-year-old porter.

John McCrave, Michael Mullen and Patrick Campbell were known for being members of a notorious 'Cornermen' gang. It was believed the gang members ruled the streets of Liverpool. The three members stood trial at St George's Hall for the murder of Richard Morgan.

In 1874, Richard, his brother Samuel and wife Alice were walking along Tithebarn Street when they were approached by 20-year-old John McCrave.

Giant prison could hold the entire population of Liverpool'St George's Hall Crown Court.(Pic Andrew Teebay).

McCrave asked if he had six pence for a quarter pint to which Richard asked McCrave if he had a job. Richard who was described as a 'hardworking' man, told McCrave if he was working, he would not need to beg and started to walk away. However, Richard was suddenly punched in the back of the head, which caused him to fall to the floor.

A vicious attack

A vicious attack began on Richard by McCrave, which was likened to that of "being kicked like a football".

19-year-old Patrick Campbell and 17-year-old Michael Mullen who were also part of the Cornermen gang joined in on the assault on Richard. Both Samuel and Alice tried to fend off the attackers, but this resulted Alice being either kicked or punched in the head. The blow was so hard that Alice lost her hearing permanently.

Despite her injuries she screamed for police - but the attack gathered a crowd who egged on the attack instead of calling for help.

Giant prison could hold the entire population of Liverpool'Tithebarn Street

Richard was taken to hospital, but he was pronounced dead on arrival. It was found the porter had a heart defect, that would not cause death, but doctors concluded he died from shock as a result of the brutal beating.

Sentenced to death

McCrave was identified as being one of the principal offenders and arrested. The other two, Campbell and Mullen, were also in custody within days.

At the trial the defence claimed a verdict of manslaughter was more appropriate, however all three were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Two days before his execution, Campbell had his sentence changed to life imprisonment. McCrave and Mullen were hanged at the Kirkdale gaol on January 3, 1875.

It was reported that the gang ringleader, McCrave displayed great terror at the end, but Mullen remained calm and indifferent throughout. Richard's brutal murder became known as the Tithebarn Street Outrage and shone a light on the 'inefficiency' of the police at the time. The public executions eventually stopped in 1864.

Prison officers always watching

Unusually, the prison was laid out using the 'Panopticon' model, with prison officers being able to watch the prisoners in their cells without them knowing when they were being watched.

The prison was demolished in 1897 and the area it once occupied is now known as Kirkdale Recreation Ground.