This jail was located on the side of the public square (the square where the Court House now stands) beside today’s 5th Street which was called Sublimity Street in 1895. We have a map of London dated November 1895 which clearly shows the jail located there. The jail and the Jailer’s residence appear to be attached on the map. The Court House is centered between 4th (Manchester) and 5th streets but it is closer to Main than Broad (Broadway).The Jailer’s residence faces Main Street. There are buildings behind the jail. The closest one is probably a public toilet. The building near Broadway was for coal storage. The corner of the Public Square at Manchester and Main contains a small building with two offices. This is the corner where I thought the first jail was located. They may have been using the old jail building for offices or they may have torn it down and built the offices there or I may be wrong about the location of the first jail. Regardless, one office was used by the Clerk as this March 1, 1895, newspaper excerpt indicates. “Jailer Carrier is making some needed improvements in the court house square, trimming up shade trees, and has removed one land mark familiar to all. He has taken up by the roots the old locust tree in front of the clerk’s office.”
This jail was completed in November 1883. Seven months later The Mountain-Echo reported in the issue of June 13, 1884, “The cage in the new jail is being raised eighteen inches above its original position. It was originally placed with the floor of the cage about eighteen inches beneath the surface of the ground upon which it was built; the result of which was, the water arose every time it rained and made the jail a very low, damp and unhealthy place.”
Twenty years later Florence M. Campbell wrote this letter to the editor as published in the January 8, 1904, issue.
London, Ky, Jan. 5, 1904
To the Editor Mountain Echo.
I wish to draw the attention of the citizens of London and of Laurel County to the condition of our county jail. Most of us know that this jail was condemned by the Circuit Court four years ago, as unfit for use, both because it is an unsafe place for criminals as several have escaped at different times and also because of the unsanitary condition of the buildings. Very few of the citizens of Laurel county have ever seen the inside of this jail. As to the sanitary arrangements and condition, I know that the place is unfit for human beings. I wish that more of the people would go and see for themselves the state of that place of confinement. In the visits we make there, to hold religious services, we have the opportunity to know the unwholesomeness of the place. God gives his blessed sunlight to shine on the good and on the evil, but inside that brick jail I believe I only saw one ray of sunshine. Most of the time it is so dark that it is almost impossible to read when we go in there out of the light. It is really a dungeon, and is endangering the health and even lives of those kept there, for no one can be healthy without sunshine.
The floor is so damp that often the feet are wet after being in there, and it is cold and chilly. Even in the hottest part of the summer we need wraps while in there. That might not be so bad, but when there is such an unwholesome odor as there always is, it is not at all pleasant. It is unclean, unhealthy, dark, damp and cold.
Men are put in there to await their trials. They may be innocent, for our law does not condemn a man untried. But grant he is even the deepest dyed criminal, has the law any right to jeopardize his life? No. I have seen the strength sapped out of strong young men placed in that dungeon. I have seen their faces grow paler and paler, their forms weaker and weaker and muscles more flabby, denied the sunshine and air which is God’s free gift. They have no room for any kind of exercise. They sleep in the iron cage, which is also dark and filthy, and infested with all sorts of vermin. Round this cage is a narrow walk, where two persons could barely pass one another. There is a stove at one side, while the other side is very cold.
Florence M. Campbell
I do not have access to the Circuit Court records but this letter must have succeeded in getting the public’s attention. On October 20, 1904, the Echo reported, “(Circuit) Judge Faulkner’s talk to the grand jury about a new jail for Laurel County is apt to do some good. He told the grand jury to indict the Fiscal Court if they did not provide a levy for a new jail.” Apparently the Fiscal court ignored this because they were eventually indicted. The Echo dated June 1, 1905, said the Laurel Circuit Court had returned an indictment against B. G. Reams and others for failure to keep jail in good repair. Mr. Reams was the County Judge and I am sure the others were the magistrates. The indictment got the attention of the Fiscal Court. According to Court Order Book L, page 150 on June 3, 1905, Judge B. G. Reams “Ordered that summons be issued calling the Fiscal Court of Laurel County to meet in the court house in London on the 6 day of June 1905 for the purpose of laying a jail tax for the purpose of building a new jail.”
Next week I hope to write about some of the escapes from this jail. You may contact me through the Laurel County Historical Society by calling 606-864-0607 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org (The first character is a lower case L as in Laurel.) The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 West 3rd Street in the old Health Department Building. We are open on Mondays & Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. We will open on other days by appointment. Please contact us far enough in advance to schedule a volunteer to open the library.