Ancestry UK

Town Gaol, Bedford, Bedfordshire

Bedford's Town Gaol existed by 1589, when it was said to be at the back of the Guildhall, which was located at the north-east corner of St Paul's Square. In that year, the gaol was transferred to the former chapel of St Thomas on Bedford Bridge. The prison on the bridge was washed away in 1673 and rebuilt in 1675.

It was once believed that John Bunyan, the non-conformist preacher and author of the book The Pilgrim's Progress, was imprisoned in the Town Gaol from 1660 to 1672, and in 1675. However, his name instead appears on the rolls of the Bedfordshire County Gaol, then located on Silver Street, Bedford.

In about 1765, the building on the bridge was taken down and a temporary gaol was fitted up under the town hall. A new gaol was then erected in St Loye's, exact location unclear. A brief report by John Howard, published in 1792, noted that the gaol had two new rooms with fireplaces, but no water, no courtyard, and no apartment for the gaoler. On a visit in October 1779, he had found the prison empty, and in July 1782, the was just one inmate there. In 1795, however, to deal with a growth in the prison population, the Bedford Corporation decided to build a new Town Gaol. It was erected in Pesthouse Close, at the north side St Loye's Street, and just to the west of Harpur's Almshouses. This may have been on or close to the site of the previous establishment as the old building was first demolished and its materials used in the new construction. The new building, erected by John Wing at a cost of £360, included a lodge for the keeper and had a wall around it.

In 1812, James Neild reported on the Town Gaol:

Gaoler, James Castleman, the Mace-bearer, Salary, none. Fees, none.
Surgeon, from the town, if wanted.
Prisoners, 1st Sept. 1807, and 8th Feb. 1808, none.
Allowance, a half-quartern loaf of bread per day ; and from Michaelmas to Ladyday, a half-bushel of coals is allowed weekly to both the day-rooms.

This Prison is situate near the County-Gaol. Here is a house for the Keeper, and two court-yards adjoin to it; one for the use of Men, the other of Women, and each 38 feet by 14.

A day-room, with a fire-place, opens into each court; which has likewise two sleeping-cells, of 10 feet by 6 feet 4 inches, and 11 feet high, to the crown of the arch. Each wooden bedstead is made to hold three persons, and to each are allowed loose straw and a blanket. Over the door of the sleeping-cells is an iron-grated aperture, 18 inches by 10.

Here is no employment. Neither the Act nor Clauses hung up.

In 1824, it was decided to house the town's prisoners in the County Gaol. In October of that year, the existing prisoners in the Town Gaol were transferred to their new quarters and the old building was then demolished.


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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.