Daring Escape From The Dana

1897: Notorious criminal Walter Roach had been quietly planning his escape from the Dana prison in Shrewsbury for weeks.

prison Leicester Chronicle - Saturday 20 November 1897He was awaiting trial for a burglary at a post office at Grindley Brook near Whitchurch. On Saturday 30th October, at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon he decided now was the time. He sprung the lock on his cell door.
He headed down a set of stairs towards a water closet and went in.

He quietly filed away a bar at one of the windows with a piece of metal. And it came loose.

For two weeks Walter, a 37 year old native of Breconshire, had been planning his escape. He was a tailor and a skillful workman to boot – he’d managed to gather enough rags and material to make a long length of rope with which to lower himself down – he tied it to one of the bars.

But actually getting through the window was another challenge. Unable to go head first he did a hand stand…

DANA PRISON
Dana Prison Yard

And pushed and pulled and squeezed feet first through the window. He gripped the rope and lowered himself down in to the yard. He then climbed over a few buildings and found a scaffolding pole which he propped up against the outer most walls. He scrambled up it – and broke free from the Dana and fled.

His first stop however was at public house in Shrewsbury – presumably to toast his escape.

By the time the guards knew he was missing he was well gone.

arial view of prison
Aerial view of the prison. (pic Britain From Above)

That night he’d managed to get as far as Shawbury, still in his blue prison overalls.

He broke into the house of a Captain Arthur Henry Cope. He cut a hole in one of the shutters to get in and took a green cloth dress and dark and gold check skirt.

escape The Chester Courant and Advertiser for North Wales Nov 2 1987
The Chester Courant and Advertiser for North Wales Nov 3 1897

He would need food to keep him going while on the run, so grabbed a bunch of grapes, some pears, bread, butter, ham and a large piece of cheese and some cooked chicken.

He left and headed to Hodnet where he remained hidden. During the day on Sunday he transformed the dress into a well-fitting jacket, and the skirt into a pair of overalls – he didn’t have enough material to craft a decent pair of trousers. He then took two ladies straw hats as he left.

But word of the burglary at Captain Cope’s house had spread – and the search parties were out!

A description was circulated:  “height 5ft. 71in., dark brown hair, clean shaven, and of medium build. He has a large mark from burns on the front of the left leg.”

The police and militia scoured the area.

shrewsbury to hearne farm
The route Walter Roach took from Shrewsbury Prison to Hearne Farm, Hodnet. (Google maps)

Sargent Instructor R. Burke (of the 1st Volunteer Battalion King’s Shropshire Light Infantry) and two other men spotted someone on the road near Hearne Farm and they became suspicious. They detained him and handed him over to the police – and he confessed.

Next day, Monday, he appeared before magistrates – was charged with burglary and remanded.

It turns out this wasn’t the first time he’d escaped from prison. In the past he’d got out of the jail at Cardiff.


Sources:

British Newspaper Archive

Britain From Above

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