There is a happy land, doon Duke Street Jail
Where a’ the prisoners stand tied tae a nail.
Ham an’ eggs they never see, dirty watter fur yer tea;
There they live in misery, God Save the Queen
In 1825, Glasgow City and Lanark County decided to build a new prison in the grounds of the old House of Correction in Duke Street. It would accommodate around 300 prisoners from the city and from the Lower Ward of Lanarkshire. When Barlinnie Prison opened in 1882, Duke Street became mainly a women’s prison, remaining as such until its closure in 1955.
Until 1865, executions took place in public, in front of the Judiciary Buildings at Jail Square, where the commemorative obelisk to Lord Nelson stands. For generations, irritated mothers would threaten recalcitrant children with the words “Ye’ll die facing the Monument”. Events overtook the mothers, and the execution of Patrick Docherty in 1875 was the first private hanging, held in the grounds of the prison. A total of nineteen executions took place in Duke Street Gaol, the last one in 1928.
The bodies were buried within the confines of the prison. Opinions differ as to where the burial place was located, either in ground adjacent to the north west wall of the prison or near the south east walls, the base of which still remains. Duke Street Gaol was demolished in 1958 to make way for the Ladywell housing scheme, erected in 1961-4. The layout of the scheme included an area of soft landscaping, and local legend has it that the developers left this untouched because of a reluctance to build over a burial ground.
[Image of the old gate Duke Street prison courtesy of Glasgow Archives]