Ancestry UK

Bristol New Gaol, Bristol, Gloucestershire

Bristol's New Gaol was opened in 1820, at the north side of Cumberland Road. It replace the city's old Newgate Gaol and was intended to improve the prisoners' welfare by supplying them with hot and cold water, gas lighting, good bedding and an improved diet. The building, designed by Henry Hake Seward, cost £60,000 and it could house 197 men and women in single cells. Its design was an example of a detached radial layout. Its four wings radiated around, but were separate from, a central hub building. The entrance gatehouse, on Cumberland Road, resembled a small castle with a portcullis set into its outer wall.

Bristol New Gaol, Bristol, Gloucestershire.

Along with several other prisons in the area, the gaol was severely damaged in the 1831 Bristol Riots, which were triggered by the House of Lords' rejection of the second Reform Bill. A small boy managed to enter the prison and open the gate. The rioters then released the 170 or so inmates, and destroyed the gallows and treadmill. All but one of the mob's ringleaders were arrested and subsequently executed. The exception was Richard Vines, who was judged to be an 'idiot' and instead transported to Australia.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

Construction.—The walls around this building are not sufficiently high to prevent escape, nor to check communication. The Gaoler's lodge, which is separate, was entirely destroyed dining the riots, at which time all the prisoners were released The windows of it are circularly disposed, so as to command most of the yards; the inspection is moderately good; there and House of are loop-holes in the cells intended to promote it. The building appears Correction. dry; there are coal fires in the Day Rooms, the coals for which are provided by the prisoners themselves. The water-closets throughout the Prison are in good order; they act by a wire. There is also a pump, with a trough, in every yard. The dimensions of the cells are ample throughout; no cell contains more than three beds. The windows in some of the cells arc extremely high, and are not easy to open nor to shut; one half is composed of a blank shutter, the other half of a glass of bull's eye. The reason assigned for the height of the:windows is, that the inmates used formerly to converse with persons beyond the walls. But the windows require to be better arranged for the purpose of ventilation. In the Chapel there is no curtain before the Female prisoners; they can, consequently, see and be seen by the Male Master Debtors. The Day Rooms are not remarkable for good ventilation. In one respect this prison has taken the precedence of most others, in the introduction of heated air. In each of the four wings is an apparatus for heating air, which is thence conveyed, when the season requires it, into the several corridors. In each cell is an air trunk communicating with the corridor, and a certain quantity of the heated air-is also admissible through the perforation made in the wall of the cell for the purpose of inspection.

Management.—Silence is not enforced. Tobacco has been recently prohibited. All the prisoners are allowed to receive provisions from without, if they happen to have any friends; this custom is a continual source of irregularity. All the prisoners associate freely in their respective ten yards and day-rooms, when not engaged in labour; they dine at one o'clock, and take their evening meal at the close of labour. The food which they receive from without is left at the lodge for them; ticketted, and is examined before being delivered to the prisoner. The prisoners sleep in separate cells, or if otherwise, as when the Prison is crowded, three in one cell. In some few cases, in damp and cold weather, two females arc allowed to sleep in one bed, but these arc usually young girls. The Convicted prisoners may see their friends once a week in the presence of a Turnkey. All letters are previously inspected by the Governor. There are no Monitors employed; the Governor believes that such are not to be trusted, and only lull into a fancied security. The prisoners usually found here are different in character and appearance from the general inmates of provincial prisons; they approximate very closely to the criminals of London, and are very intractable. The Day Rooms, in which the prisoners cook their food, are not very clean: the gruel only is prepared for them. The prisoners are not cleanly (as a body) in their person nor in their dress.

No whipping is performed here.

Diet.—The allowance for Untried and Convicted prisoners is one pound and a half of bread daily; in addition to which the latter receives daily a quart of gruel, made from Scotch barley and rice. This scale of diet requires, in my opinion, to be revised, ,and it is unnecessary to use any arguments to prove that food from without, which, in some cases, may counterbalance the niggard dietary. But what becomes of the Untried prisoner, who happens to have no friends outside, and who accordingly is reduced to his pound and half of bread daily? About one-twentieth part of all prisoners admitted receive no help from without. The thieves are usually very well supplied by their out-door friends. The Gaoler himself occasionally, I believe, humanely contributes his aid to those who receive no supplies, and charitable donations come in from other quarters to correct the deficiency. The. admission of food from without is in itself; also, a continual injury to the economy of a prison. If a Debtor is destitute, he receives the same ration as the Felons; and the Debtors alone can obtain beer from without, and that only to the amount of two or three pints daily. The Convicted prisoners receive a dress: it consists of a jacket, waistcoat, shirts, trowsers, shoes and cap. The Debtors receive no food, clothes nor bedding, except when it is absolutely necessary to supply their wants. The general allowance of Betiding is a straw bed, palliasse, two blankets.

Labour.—The hard-labour here consists of the Tread-mill and in Breaking Stones. The crank is not at present in activity. The lighter employments are tailoring, shoemaking, carpentering (as far as the manufacture of wooden shoes is concerned), cooking, washing and cleaning the prison. There are no profits from the labour. The Untried are not employed. The hours of labour are from seven in the morning until six in the evening daring summer, and from nine o'clock until sunset during the remainder of the year.

Religious and other Instruction.—The Chaplain performs Divine Service, and delivers a sermon twice on Sundays. He reads prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays, and attends the Sick whenever it is requisite. Twice a week he instructs the prisoners in reading; his lady and two other benevolent ladies attend also for the purpose of instructing the Female prisoners.

Religious and other good books are provided for the use of the prisoners. The Chaplain is minister of a district parish church, and is lecturer at another church.

Care of the Sick, Disease and Mortality.—The Surgeon attends every day, and daily inspects the persons who are committed. There are fire-places in the Infirmaries, with a Bath and Water-closet adjoining. The principal diseases are venereal complaints, the itch and diarrhœa. The number of deaths during the last year amounted to five, being in the proportion of 1 among 150 prisoners admitted. The proportion of the cases of sickness was about 1 in 15.

The greatest number of prisoners sick at one time was nine, during the year from June 1834 to June 1835. The total number of deaths during that period was five.

The Governor believes that the prisoners usually leave the prison in a much. better state of health than that which they enjoyed on their entrance.

There is no insane prisoner in confinement here at present.


Keeper£500 — —
Matron  20 — —
Clerk  50 — —
Male Taskmaster, per week   1 — —
Watchman or Patrol, ditto — 18 —

The Number and Description of Prisoners in the Prison on November 1835.

Number of Debtors.Number of Misdemeanors.Number of Felons.Prisoners for Trial.Prisoners under Sentence.TOTAL

Number of Prisoners who have been Committed before.

Three times4
Four times or more1

The greatest number of Prisoners at one time in the course of the year was—


Number of Prisoners sentenced by Courts of Justice to Solitary Confinement:


Punishment for Offences within the Prison.

Refractory Cells15

Average Number of Prisoners — 150.

Prison Offences..—The usual prison offences are quarrelling, fighting, pilfering, disobedience, indecency. They are punished by locking-up in the prisoner's own cell, rarely in a dark one, and by prohibiting the reception of Articles from the prisoner's friends.

The prion's gatehouse had a flat roof which housed a set of gallows where public hangings took place. A trap-door was built into the roof to provide the drop. The last public hanging at the gaol took place in 1849, when 17-year-old servant Sarah Thomas was executed following her conviction for killing her employer in her own bed.

The prison closed in 1883 and was replaced by the new Horfield Prison. The Cumberland Road site sold to the Great Western Railway in 1895. Only the entrance gatehouse now survives.


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