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Lock Street

East London's second gaol

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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The prison at Lock Street was built in 1880 to replace the old gaol on the West Bank which had long been overcrowded and unhealthy. It was abandoned in 1980.

The gaol was commissioned by the Public Works Department of the Cape Colony and was built by James Tyrrell. The buildings and outer walls were constructed predominantly from stone collected from quarrying which was taking place at the harbour. Bricks for the inner buildings were purchased from three local brick makers.

The original gaol comprised an officers quarters, an administration block, a hospital, kitchen and two single storey cell blocks designed to hold 100 prisoners.

The first execution happened in 1882, for which a drop gallows was placed in the hospital yard. In 1905 a gallows block was built, and with it came three death cells and an execution chamber.

In 1909 more cells were added, converting the single storeyed cell blocks into double storeyed units.

After 1935, when executions became centralised in Pretoria, the death cells began to be used as extra prison accommodation, while the gallows chamber was converted into a work room.

In 1956 the prison began to be used exclusively for women, while males were transferred to the new Fort Glamorgan prison on the West Bank.

The Lock Street gaol was abandoned in 1980. In 1985 the complex was taken over by the Small Business Development Council which converted it into a shopping centre and museum.

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