Ancestry UK

Borough Gaol, Banbury, Oxfordshire

What was to become the core of Banbury's Borough Gaol was built in 1610 as Wool Hall, at 3 Market Place, Banbury. Its use as a gaol began in about 1649, was extended in 1710 and eventually occupied 3-10 Market Place, Banbury.

In 1784, John Howard described the gaol, which was also being used as a bridewell:

This prison has two rooms below, one of which is called the gaol, the other the bridewell; and one room up stairs for debtors who can pay 2s. 6d. a week . Allowance to felons 4d. a day. Clauses against spirituous liquors not hung up. Salary none: gaoler keeps a public house, and pays rent £6 a year. Fees, debtors and felons 13s. 4d. bridewell prisoners 6s. 8d.

1782, April 30, No prisoners.

In 1791, Howard noted:

The prisoners are not permitted to have any fire, their bedding being straw. Keeper now pays no rent, and has a salary of £15 in lieu of the tap. 1788, Feb. 16, Prisoners 3.

In 1812, James Neild reported:

Gaoler, Joseph Wise. Salary, 15l.

Fees, for Debtors and Felons, 13s. 4d. For Bridewell Prisoners, 6s. 8d.

Surgeon, when wanted, from the Town.

class="hangin">Prisoners, 1803, August 20th. Debtors, none. One Woman Felon,

Allowance, to Debtors, none. Criminal Prisoners have sixpence per day.


This Prison appears to have been built in 1706. It has two dark and offensive rooms below; one of them called The Gaol, the other The Bridewell; with straw upon the floors to sleep on.

The Debtors confined here are by process issuing out of the Borough Court; and in the Keeper's house there is a room above stairs, for such as can pay 2s. 6d. per week. Here is no court-yard, but one might be made out of the Gaoler's garden, into which the iron-grated windows of the Prison look, and of which the back part of his house commands a view. No water accessible to the Prisoners; nor any employment provided for them. Neither the Act for Preserving Health, nor the Clauses against Spirituous Liquors, hung up.

In 1817, some adjoining rooms were taken for the purpose of enlarging the gaol. In 1824, it was reported that as a means of hard labour, stones had been brought for some of the prisoners to break on the road in front of the prison. As this has not had the desired effect, hand-mills for the prisoners to grind corn inside the gaol were to be erected. Two years later, it was noted that a mill been provided but was not much used. A pump had by then been erected in the yard and separate rooms for the female prisoners had finally been provided. The allowance for each prisoner was then sixpence a day. Debtors were not confined in this prison but were sent to the county gaol at Oxford. A tread-mill was installed in around 1832.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

Prisoners sentenced at Sessions to hard labour are sent to Oxford. The prisoners committed to the Borough Gaol are Debtors, Prisoners committed for trial, summarily convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment only.

There are three floors. On the ground floor is a day-room for Men, 16 feet by 13 feet, and 8 feet high. This room has a Window, the only means of admitting Air, 2 feet by 1 foot 10 inches.

On the same floor is the sleeping room for the Men, 13 feet by 14 feet 6 inches, and 8 feet high; it has a window, 2 feet by 1 foot 3 inches. In this room there are three bedsteads, each 6 feet by 4 feet. There have been as many as 10 Men confined in this Apartment at one time.

On the first floor is a room 14 feet 6 inches by 8 feet 6, and 10 feet 6 inches high. There are four Windows, about 14 inches square. This room is generally appropriated to female prisoners. Adjoining is a small tread-wheel.

On the upper floor are three garrets. No. 1,12 feet 6 by 6 feet 6, and 7 feet high, having a Window, 1 foot by 1 foot 10 inches. No. 2, 12 feet 6 by 6 feet, and 7 feet high. No. 3, the same.

These rooms are divided merely by lath and plaster walls.

The Windows of all these Apartments, excepting those on the ground floor, look into the market-place, and the Prisoners can hold communication from persons outside without difficulty. A bag containing tobacco was not long since attempted to be conveyed into the prison by one of these Windows. The prisoners can also hear almost everything which passes in the Yard below.

This Yard is 18 feet by 13 feet. Here we found a male and female prisoner washing clothes. The privies are very offensive. There is evidently but little personal separation between the Sexes during the day; nor indeed does the nature of the Building admit of its being otherwise.

There were 43 Prisoners committed to this Borough Gaol in the year 1836, of whom 10 were females. The greatest number in confinement at one time was 14.

The following year, the Inspectors recorded:

Construction.—There is one yard, one day-room, and one large sleeping cell for the male prisoners. There are three bedsteads in this sleeping cell, and on the night previous to my visiting this prison, two prisoners slept together on each of the bedsteads; the cause of the prison being thus crowded was the event of an election. Above is the tread-wheel, and on each side of it there is a room; in one of the rooms were placed two beds, one of which was occupied by a female prisoner. It would be far better if the women were entirely confined to the second floor, which comprises three cells, in one of which there is a bedstead. The bedsteads appear almost all to have been made for containing two persons. There are fire-places in five of the rooms. There is one privy for the men, and ope for the females. The great defect is the want of a yard for the use of the female prisoners. There is a pump here. The building is not secure, and is extremely contracted in its limits.

Management.—At present, the only prisoners detained here are those for trial, and summary convictions. Those who are sentenced at the sessions are sent to Oxford. The matron, who is the keeper’s wife, receives no salary. There are no rules, and the discipline is of that uncertain kind which depends principally on the personal character of the gaoler and his family. All letters arc previously read by the keeper. The prison is tolerably neat and clean; but many things must be corrected before this can become a place likely to deter offenders. Tobacco is allowed. There is no check on association. The contract sum paid for prisoners sent to the county gaol at Oxford is 1s. 4d. per head daily.

Labour.—The tread-wheel is the means of employment here; it acts as a force pump, and has had five prisoners working it at a time. A mill was attached for the purpose of grinding, but it was discontinued upon account of its shaking the house too much. The female prisoners wash; but there is no laundry nor convenience for washing. The women have sometimes I believe, been placed to work at the tread-wheel, but this is a custom which it would be better to abolish.

Diet.—The allowance of food given to each prisoner consists of 1½ lb. of bread, which is of the second quality, daily; 1½ oz. of cheese daily, 1 pint of gruel in the morning for breakfast, and also for supper at night. On Sundays, each prisoner has half a pound of meat, and a quarter of a pound of potatoes allowed him. The gaoler sends in his account every month to the town, of the expenses of the diet of the prisoners; also all the other bills which may be due.

Bedding and Clothing.—There are six rugs, five straw mattresses, and ten blankets, which are rather old; more will be required for the winter. There are about three or four suits for the men. Some clothing for the women is much wanted; there are at present only two shifts for their use.

Religions and other Instruction.—There is no chaplain here, nor chapel; but there are some religious books for the use of the prisoners.

Salaries.—The gaoler receives 40l., he has no coals nor candles allowed him. For deserters and prisoners from the country he receives the payment of 1s. a-day; and also 6d. a-day for their food.

Escapes.—One woman made her escape, within the gaoler’s recollection, but was retaken. Letters.—All letters are read by the gaoler.

Care of the Sick, Disease, and Mortality.—The surgeon has been in office seven years. He receives no salary for his attendance upon the prisoners. He sends the medicines which are necessary, and charges for them accordingly. There was no influenza here in the spring; no malignant cholera occurred here. The prisoners sometimes sutler from the itch. No women have been delivered here. No death has taken place here during eight years. There is a great want of a bath for the use of the prisoners

The prison finally closed in 1852. Part of the original 1610 building survives, currently part of an estate agent's premises.


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  • Prison Oracle - resources those involved in present-day UK prisons.
  • GOV.UK - UK Government's information on sentencing, probation and support for families.