The grim reality of crime & punishment in 17th & 18th Century Buckingham

The Old Gaol Museum Trust is continues to assemble some incredible material specific to the lives and tales of those who were imprisoned in and who worked within Buckingham Old Gaol.

Tales of murder, tragedy, injustice and repression will be revealed as will instances of daring escape, forced labour and police brutality.

As the DNA of the Old Gaol, these tales will be given tremendous focus in the coming weeks and months, and we look forward to presenting them to you.

Learn More

Following the success of our 2018 summer exhibition, 'Dippers, Drunks & Poachers' find more information on former inmates of the Old Gaol within the museum. Ask one of our friendly volunteers for more information as you enter.

Inmates of the Old Gaol

The tale of William 'Coiner' Varney; Forgery, escape and tragedy.

William Varney was born in 1852, one of eight children. Like so many children of the time he was without formal education and thus without prospects. The young William would help out at a local mill where he learnt about machines. He was, as his brother described him,’ ever busy in tinkering something up’.

William invented tin handles to attach to the earthenware jugs then used in public houses and because he needed a source of intense heat, he produced his own coal gas. This ended in an explosion and poor William had to find new lodgings in Norton’s Place. Here he continued his tinkering but his need for cash forced him to begin his life of crime. He was soon caught and punished for his various robberies.

After two convictions William planned to go straight but he was unable to obtain a Hawker’s licence because of his previous record. He returned to his old ways and he made his own coin dies from Plaster of Paris. With these he started his own Mint and soon deluged Buckingham and the surrounding area with counterfeit coins. The authorities quickly learned the source of this flood and William was apprehended by Constables Lait and Wate, who also found his dies hidden in the chimney.

William’s previous stays in the Gaol gave him the insider knowledge to help him escape the clutches of the law. He had hidden oil to quieten the locks and a knife to remove screws, about his person. The screws were replaced by wet bread camouflaged with soot. 

Gaoler Nobes carelessly stored his ladders outside William’s cell and on one dark night the escape took place. Protected by friends, the police sought him everywhere. However, he finally turned himself in and received seven years. 

On his release he was soon back in trouble and back inside the Gaol after an attempted break in. Whether it was during the robbery or at the hands of his captors, we shall never know how William sustained a fractured skull, but he ended up in Stone Asylum where he ended his days. 

 From research by Ed Grimsdale, Honorary Local Historian @ Buckingham Old Gaol