Ancestry UK

County Bridewell, Beccles, Suffolk

A Suffolk County Bridewell, or House of Correction, was in existence at Beccles by 1679. It occupied a building on the "Game Place" in Newgate Street, Beccles.

In 1784, John Howard described it as:

A room on the ground-floor, called the ward, a chamber for women called the upper ward, a day-room with a fire-place; and a dungeon 7 steps under ground. In the ward is a window to the street which is highly improper, as I have always seen numbers of idle persons crowding about it. separation of the men and women. Only one court. The keeper has a large garden.—Salary, £11 : 10 : 0. Licence for beer (a riotous alehouse). Clauses against spirituous liquors not hung up. Fees, 6s. 8d. Allowance, a two-penny loaf a day (weight, July 9, 1782, 20 oz.). Thirty shillings a year for straw.. £5 a year for coals. When prisoners work they have half the profit.

1776, Feb. 6,Prisoners 3.
1779, April 2,"  9.
1782, July 8," 15.

At my visit in 1779, the keeper shewed me an old table of fees on parchment, which I here copy.

The Gaoler's Fees for the County of Suffolk agreed upon 29 of March 1676 by the Justices of the Peace underwritten.
£ S. D.
Inprimis for every person committed in court0  1  3
Item for every person committed out of court0  3  4
Item for every person committed upon warrant or process0  3  4
Item for every person committed upon execution0  6  0
Item to the turnkey0  1  0
Item for every person upon his acquittal for felony0  6  8
Item for every person committed upon outlawry0 10  0
Item for the every house prisoner lodging in the gaoler's bed for every night taking no diet in the house0  0  6
 Taking diet0  0  4
 If he find his own bed and take diet0  0  3
 If he take no diet0  0  4
Item for every prisoner that is not a felon that will go into the ward and lye there for every night0  0  2
Item if two lye in one bed and take diet in the house for both0  0  6
 If they take no diet0  0  8
For the two best chambers in the house as they can agree. 

In 1791, Howard reported an enlargement of the premises:

Many new rooms are added (twelve feet by seven) in which are bedsteads; but even these rooms were not clean. A good court, with a pump, is enclosed for men; and a smaller one for women. Spinning wheels and blocks are now provided by the magistrates: prisoners have no part of their earnings. Keeper's salary £35 .

1787, Sept. 25 , Prisoners 3.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, William Cadmore, Salary 35l. now Samuel Drewell, Salary 42l.; with Coals for his own use, and 14s. per week for a Turnkey; paid by the Beccles Division of the County.

Fees, for Felons, 13s. 4d. No Table.
Conveyance of Transports to Ipswich, one shilling per mile.

Chaplain, Rev. John Penn. Salary 10l. 10s.

Duty, Prayers on Tuesday and Friday.

Surgeon, Mr. Crowfoot. Salary, none; makes a Bill.

No. of Prisoners, 1805, Sept. 10th, 7. 1807, Dec. 17th, 5. 1810, Sept. 15th, 6.

Allowance, one pound and a half of household bread per day, sent from the Baker's, which I found to be of full weight.

Dietary, Breakfast, each day, oatmeal gruel.

Dinners, on Sunday, half a pound of meat,
    and one pound of potatoes.

Monday, three-fourths of a pint of pease, or rice in stead, when pease are dear; with broth from meat of the preceding day.
Tuesday, rice, or oatmeal, made into porridge, with leeks or onions.
Wednesday, two pounds of potatoes.
Thursday, as Sunday: Friday, as Monday.
Saturday, as Tuesday.

When a Prisoner is sick, extra food, or bedding, supplied at the Surgeon's discretion.


Great part of this Prison has been lately built: But the brick-work is not substantial: The mortar appears to be badly made; and the wood, not having been well seasoned, has shrunk, so as to leave considerable interstices. The Gaol, therefore, is not secure.

The boundary-wall, seventeen feet high, incloses an area of 180 feet by 108. It fronts to the South; and over the gate the following motto is very suitably inscribed on stone, "PROHIBERE QUAM PUNIRE." "'Tis better to prevent than punish crime."

On the right-hand, at the entrance, is a room called The Cage, for the temporary confinement of what are termed assaults, or night-charges. On the left is the Turnkey's sitting-room; and over both of these is his chamber. A foot-path of 42 feet long leads to the Prison; and the residence of the Keeper being in the centre, the windows of his two rooms command a view of the Men's two court-yards, which are nearly 70 feet each by 30, and in one of them a pump and stone-trough,, inclosed by a wooden paling, not more than five feet six inches high; upon which, as the Keeper justly observed, he could lay his hands and jump over. Here is also a small court-yard for the Women, of 24 feet by 12 feet 6, of which the Keeper has no view. They have all gravel bottoms.

On the ground-floor are two day-rooms for Men, about 10 feet by 9, with fire places and glazed windows; and six sleeping-cells, about 12 feet by 7, with glazed and grated casement windows, and 9 feet 6 inches high, to the crown of the arch. Also two other cells for Women, of nearly the same size; the doors opening into a well ventilated lobby, 4 feet wide, in which are two iron palisaded gates, to separate convicts from those who are not yet tried; and a wooden door excludes the Women from both.

On the first story, in the centre, is the Chapel, which is very small, where the Prisoners are seated in full view, and almost close to each other. The two prison lobbies open into it, each containing five sleeping-cells, similar to those before described; and in one of them is a fire-place.

The attick-story of each wing has two spacious rooms, with glazed and grated windows; which have fire-places, and may serve occasionally for Infirmaries or Store-Rooms.

Every cell that is occupied has a crib bedstead, with straw-in-sacking bed, two sheets, cleaned monthly, and two blankets. The Men Prisoners are clean shirted and shaved every Sunday morning; and cloth is ready provided for twenty suits of County clothing.

A forcing-pump throws water to the top of the building, and cleanses also the sewers and drains, which the Keeper informed me were not offensive.

The circumjacent ground, betwixt the court-yards and the boundary-wall in front, affords the Keeper a convenient garden for the growth of vegetables: The back part consists of a hog-cote, with about half a dozen pigs in it. Ducks also range about at large. The Keeper, who is a cabinet-maker, assured me, that if he did not procure work at his trade, his salary was not adequate to support his family.

The total amount of Prisoners confined in, and discharged from, this House of Correction, between the 12th of July, 1802, and the 15th of September, 1810, was 372.

£ s. d.
The Expence for their Maintenance394  12  8¼
And the Value of their Earnings97  16  8¼
 Leaving a Nett Charge on the County226  16    0

Here is no bath, but an oven in the Keeper's house is provided to purify foul or infected clothes. The Prison is kept clean. No alarm-bell. No Rules and Orders; and neither Act nor Clauses are hung up.

A report in 1823 noted:

This prison has recently undergone considerable improvement. It provides classification to the extent of four separate departments for males, and one for females; besides which, there are three or four spare rooms, for vagrants or other prisoners. There are twenty-four night-cells, which appeared in good order, as did the interior of the prison generally. There were at this time fifteen prisoners in custody.

The keeper's room commands a good view into the mill-yard; and the day-rooms are capable of being inspected from the central passage. The yards are very airy, and each is well supplied with water.

A tread-wheel machine had been recently erected; it will employ nine men at one time upon it; the power is applied to pumping water: the velocity of the wheel is to be regulated by a small fly, and it is proposed to connect an index with the machinery, by which the amount of labour performed by the prisoners may be at any time known with accuracy; a contrivance which will render the machine very complete.

The front lodge contains a bath, an oven, a copper for the cleansing of prisoners and their clothing on their first reception, the whole of which is very well arranged. The prison is enclosed by an excellent boundary wall.

The dietary consists of one pound and a half of the best wheaten bread, one quart of oatmeal gruel for breakfast per day, with four pounds of potatoes per week, and on two days the addition of a quart of gruel.

In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This prison stands apart from other buildings, in an open airy situation. The enclosure formed by the boundary wall is an oblong. A portion of the interior area only is covered by the prison buildings; the remainder is garden ground, in the occupation of the Keeper. The buildings consist of a centre, two wings, and irregular projections; additions having been made at various times. The Keeper's dwelling contains:—A basement, with cellarage; ground-floor, parlour and kitchen; upper story, three chambers.

Dimensions of the Sleeping Cells:—Twelve feet 4 inches by 7 feet, and 9 feet high.

Cells for Punishment:—Eight feet by 7 feet 6 inches, 7 feet 6 inches high.

From the Keeper's house there is only inspection of three airing-yards out of seven, and the arrangement of the various parts is very inconvenient for the exercise of the necessary vigilance.

Diet.—Convicted prisoners, not at hard labour, 1 \ lb. of bread daily, and f lb. of cheese a week. To those at hard labour, 1 i lb. of bread daily; and $ lb. of cheese a week; after being confined six months they are allowed £lb. of meat on a Sunday.

The untried have 1¼lb. of bread, and are allowed to purchase moderate quantities of animal and vegetable food, and beer, not exceeding a quart daily.

At the last Midsummer Sessions the diet was ordered to be lowered; the reduction made was a quarter of a pound of bread in the daily allowance of the untried, and a quarter of a pound of bread daily, and two ounces of cheese a week, in that of the convicted prisoners.

Clothing.—Prison dress for felons.

Bedding.—Straw paillasse, two blankets and rug.

Cleanliness.—The prison and the persons of the prisoners clean.

Health.—The Surgeon states the most common disease to be the scurvy. The length of confinement and the prison diet conduce to it. The cases of scurvy have generally been from prisoners in one day-room (the felons'); it was a very close one, and not properly ventilated, but it has been since altered.

He seldom meets with the scurvy in the course of his practice; it is never a prevalent disease. He considers the diet generally sufficient for three months; but he has ordered an alteration at an earlier period, and prisoners have gone on longer without. The first symptoms of scurvy are not noted down in the Surgeon's Journal; he administers acids generally upon the premonitory symptoms exhibiting themselves, but if they become more serious he notes them. Their usual characteristics are petechiae, and spongy gums. Upon my going round the prison, and his examining the prisoners, two appeared to him to have the incipient symptoms and one to be decidedly affected with the scurvy; their commitments took place in September. The Surgeon states, he was not consulted on the reduction of the dietary, nor does he interfere unless a prisoner is ill. The alterations made by him in the dietary in individual cases, have generally been in consequence of scurvy or debility. He examines all the prisoners previous to their going into classes. He attends the infliction of corporal punishments.

His Journal is arranged under the following heads:—Date of visit; number in custody; sick prisoners; disease; diet; labour; general observations.

Moral and Religious Instruction.—The Chaplain performs two services on a Sunday, and attends the prisoners three times a week, or oftener if under any serious charges. The instruction of the prisoners is carried on by the turnkey, who acts as schoolmaster under the supervision of the Chaplain. Those only are taught who are willing. The ignorance of the prisoners is very great. He invariably finds no impression can be made on a prisoner without connecting religious with worldly advantages. The Chaplain, at his own expense, provides books. Testaments are supplied at the expense of the county. He thinks that some of the prisoners resort to the schoolmaster to relieve the monotony of confinement; but even then it does good, as it is a channel for conveying moral and religious principles, which it would be more difficult to inculcate without.

He considers that a very spare diet for prisoners is an obstacle to his labours; there being a degree of acerbity produced in opposition to that calmness which is necessary before any impression can be made upon the mind. The prisoners frequently complain of the want of food. He has no reason to complain of the general demeanour of the prisoners; they are always attentive at the Chapel.

He has never found any of the prisoners in a proper frame of mind to induce him to administer the Sacrament. He finds it impossible to get the humbler classes to attend out of the gaol. He inserts the days of his attendance at the prison in a book, which is the only journal he keeps. The Keeper reads prayers, a selection from the Liturgy, to the prisoners, evening and morning.

The schoolmaster states, his mode of instruction is to give a book to the pupil, and to put him under one of the prisoners in the same ward, who is able to instruct him. When he is perfect he hears him, and so on. The instruction does not interrupt the labour. The prisoners are generally alive to the advantages to be derived from knowledge, and are all very eager to be taught to write. Many of them who have been taught to read in early life, have forgotten it, but they reacquire it with great facility. The females are not taught.

Classification.—As prescribed by the Gaol Act.

Labour.—The tread-mill is most inconveniently placed, one of the yards being divided to make two compartments at the wheel for the felons and misdemeanants. They are separated only by a wooden partition, and communication takes place between them almost uninterruptedly. It is this division of yards, which deprives the felons' day-room of the necessary ventilation complained of by the Surgeon. The dimensions of this day-room are only 12 feet 8 inches by 7 feet, and 9 feet 4½ inches high.

The officers consider the tread-wheel an alleviation to the confinement. They observe the agricultural O labourer to care much less for it than the mechanic.

Months employ­ed Number of Working Hours per Day Number of Prisoners the Wheel will hold at one time. Height of each Step. The ordinary Velocity of the Wheels per Minute. The ordinary Proport­ion of Prisoners on Wheels to the total number employed. Number of Feet in Ascent per Day as per Hours of Employ­ment. Revolutions of the Wheel per Day. The Daily Amount of Labour to be performed by every Prisoner. How recorded with precision. Application of its Power.
6 months 10 8 Inches. About 360 steps per minute. Half the number of Male Prisoners for labour are put upon the Wheel at one time. About 12,240 feet. About 766. About 6,120 feet. Have no means at present to record the labour with precision. Raising water for the use of the Prison.

Punishments.—The usual offences are, attempts at escape, climbing the interior walls of the prison, robbery of food from each other. The punishment, confinement in the dark cells.

Scourge: common whip handle 19 & inches long, with nine lashes of common, whipcord, with one knot in each.

The punishment is inflicted by the turnkey.

Benefactions.—A dinner at Christmas at the expense of the county.

Accounts, Expenditure, Books.—The tradesmen's bills are paid quarterly after being approved by the Magistrates.

Maintenance Book.—Containing an account of the provisions consumed in the prison.

Punishment Book.—All punishments within the prison inserted.

General Discipline.—There is nothing in the restraints of this prison beyond the mere confinement, and the spare diet, which has the slightest tendency, either to deter or reform the male or female prisoners. Communication is described, by the Keeper and turnkey, as taking place between all classes, the construction of the prison being so ill arranged for inspection, particularly with reference to the inconvenient present position of the day-rooms, that it is impossible to prevent it.

The prisoners complain to the officers of the diet being insufficient, as they did at the time of inspection.

Keeper.—Age 58; appointed June 1790; married. Salary, 120l.

Chaplain.—Appointed 1814. Salary, 80l. Is curate of the parish of Barnley, about four miles, and Wringsfield about two from Beccles; one service in each on a Sunday. Resides near the prison.

Surgeon.—Appointed 30 years. Salary, 50l. for medicines and attendance.

Matron.—Wife of the Keeper; appointed 1821. Salary, 10l.

Turnkey and Schoolmaster.—Age 52: appointed 1821: formerly in service. Salary, 48l. 12s.

In 1861, the county magistrates decided that the prison should be closed and that anyone committed from the district should in future be sent to the county gaols at Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds. The buildings were subsequently converted for use as a police station.


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • Suffolk Archives, The Hold, 131 Fore Street, Ipswich, Suffolk IP4 1LR. Has Prison registers (1791-1848) and a variety of administrative documents.
  • The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU. Has a wide variety of crime and prison records going back to the 1770s, including calendars of prisoners, prison registers and criminal registers.
  • Find My Past has digitized many of the National Archives' prison records, including prisoner-of-war records, plus a variety of local records including Manchester, York and Plymouth. More information.
  • Prison-related records on Ancestry UK include Prison Commission Records, 1770-1951, and local records from London, Swansea, Gloucesterhire and West Yorkshire. More information.
  • The Genealogist also has a number of National Archives' prison records. More information.


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