Richmond Castle’s Cell Block explored further by Paula Allen, Collections Volunteer.
At the English Heritage Exhibition, Richmond Castle; The Cell Block, currently on at The Peace Museum, you can uncover the stories behind the 1000s of pieces of graffiti drawn and written on the walls of the cell block. The graffiti is from the late 19th century to the late 1960s but most dates from 1916 and 1939-40. It includes images of landscapes, loved ones, battle scenes and even score sheets from games as well as written testimony, which ranges from declarations of religious and political objections to war to the simple assertion that: “Murray was here”!
The exhibition features internationally significant graffiti inscribed by the conscientious objectors, a term first used in WW1 to describe those who object to war on political, moral or religious grounds, who were held at Richmond Castle in 1916 before being Court Marshalled.
The graffiti gives voice to their convictions and insight into the reasons they objected to serving in the Armed forces. One of these was John Hubert (Bert) Brocklesby who etched this portrait of his fiancée, Annie Wainwright, later labelled My Kathleen, on the walls when imprisoned at Richmond Castle.
This ties in well with the Conscientious Objector Gallery in the permanent exhibition at the Peace museum which covers the history of Conscientious Objection up to modern times and contains a set of three sculptures created by Malcolm Brocklehurst; the nephew of John (Bert) Brocklesby entitled “The Prisoner of Conscience”.
You can learn more about the sculptures here:
It is currently not possible to visit the cells in Richmond Castle as they are undergoing conservation work to preserve the Graffiti, but with the Virtual Tour, you can wander through the cell block, and get up close to the graffiti; the example I found most captivating was a battle scene which has been animated in the virtual tour and accompanied by music– this graffiti was created between 1900 and 1950, added to over time: it started as a seascape with a lighthouse and a gunship and then in WW1 it was developed into a full naval battle and again in WW2 a U-boat and aerial dogfight were added creating a representation of war that spans fifty years.
You can also Leave your mark through interactives which invite you to draw or write on the Graffiti wall and to consider what you would write, if for example, you were imprisoned for your beliefs. Like the voices represented in the graffiti at Richmond Castle, I imagine that I too would want others to know what I believed in and that I would take solace in pictures of home or loved ones sketched on the walls.
Written by Paula Allen, Collections Volunteer.
The exhibition is open until Friday 26th October.
Museum opening times are Wed-Fri 10am – 4pm. Entrance is free, donations are welcome. Entrance to the museum is up 60 steps.
The Cell Block is a travelling exhibition created by English Heritage and is supported by Heritage Lottery Funding.