If you linger by the Martyrs’ Memorial column outside Westminster Abbey you will be standing on the site of the notorious Gatehouse Prison. Built in 1370 as the gatehouse of the Abbey, it served for many years as a double-fronted jail for secular and religious offenders.
At times, it might have been called the Poets Prison. It was here that Richard Lovelace, while imprisoned for trying to get rid of the Clergy Act of 1640, wrote these famous lines:
“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take,
That for an hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
—Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.”
It was here too that Sir Walter Raleigh penned his last poem on the final night of his life before his execution around the corner in Old Palace Yard on October 29, 1618. It ended:
“While we live, the waking sense
Feeds upon our difference,
In our passion and our pride
Not united, but allied.
We are severed by the sun,
And by darkness are made one.”
Among other alumni of the Gatehouse were Samuel Pepys, who spent three weeks there “on suspicion of being affected to King James”, and the celebrity dwarf Sir Jeffrey Hudson, who was imprisoned for his Popish tendencies.
The Gatehouse was demolished in 1776 following complaints by Dr Johnson and others, having lasted for 406 years.
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