Ancestry UK

County Gaol and Bridewell, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

In 1805, a new County Gaol was opened at Southgate Green on Sicklemere Road, Bury St Edmunds, a little way to the north of the existing County Bridewell.

The building was designed by George Byfield, although its construction appears to have been prompted by the appointment of John Orridge, who was to become the prison's first governor, and who was an admirer of the ideas of John Howard. At the centre of the prison was the hexagonal governor's house, which included a chapel on its upper floors. Four detached wings, each accommodating two classes of inmate, radiated from the house. The entrance block had a central gate flanked by a turnkey's room and governor's office. It also included rooms for the turnkey, a reception room in which to clean prisoners, and two cells to hold inmates arriving the prison at night. Flanking the gate were a wash-house and brewhouse, with dayrooms beyond. The gatehouse was three storeys high but its front façade gave the impression of a massive single-storeyed gate.

The County Gaol and Bridewell sites are shown on the 1834 map below.

County Gaol and Bridewell sites, Bury St Edmunds, c.1834.

In 1812, James Neild gave a glowing report on the prison:

Gaoler, John Orridge.

Salary, for both, 300l. He has also coals and candles; together with other perquisites specified in the Rules and Regulations, as approved by the Magistrates, and confirmed by the Judges of Assize.

Fees, as per Table. Garnish prohibited.

For conveyance of Transports, one shilling a mile each.

Chaplain, Rev. Simon Pryke. Duty, Prayers three times a week, and a

Sermon on Sundays, Christmas-Day, and Good-Friday.

Salary, for Gaol and Bridewell, 60l.

Surgeon, Mr. Hubbard. Salary 60l. for Debtors and Felons in both Prisons.

Number of Prisoners,

Debtors.Felons &c.House of Correction.
1801, Oct. 15th, 61318
1802, Aug. 25th, 91721
1805, Aug. 20th,102329
1810, Sept. 17th,101124

Allowance, one pound and a half of bread per day, and one pound of cheese per week, both to Debtors and Felons: But Prisoners and Convicts, employed in work by the County, have the addition of a quart of small beer per day, and three-quarters of a pound of meat for their Sunday's dinner.


This new Gaol is situate at the East-end of the South gate, near a mile from the centre of the town; and the prisoners were removed into it on the 8th of December, 1805. The buildings are enclosed by a boundary-wall, 20 feet high, built in an irregular octagon form, the diameter of which is 292 feet.

Four sides of this Gaol are 192 feet each, and the other four are 70 feet 6 inches each. The entrance to the Prison is the Turnkey's lodge, a handsome stone-building, which consists of the entrance-room, sitting-room, and bed-room for the Turnkey. On the right-hand is a room, with a fire-place, 12 feet by 7, and 9 feet 6 inches high, used as a reception-room; into which all prisoners are brought and confined, till they have been examined, properly cleaned, and found to be free from any infectious disorder, before they are admitted into the interior of the Gaol; and there is a water-closet adjoining, for the use of this room.

There are also two cells up one pair of stairs in the lodge, fitted up with iron bedsteads on stone bearers, into which all prisoners are put when brought in at night. The size of each cell, 9 feet 6 inches by 6 feet, with arched roofs, and 7 feet 6 inches high. The Turnkey's sleeping-room and a large store-room are also on this floor.

On the left of the entrance, within the lodge, there is a convenient wash-house, fitted up with an oven, copper, warm and cold bath, for the use of the Prison; and adjoining to it is the brewhouse.

The lead-flat over the Turnkey's lodge, which extends sixteen feet in length, is assigned for the awful execution of criminals.

After passing through the lodge, you proceed down an avenue, paved with flag stone, with posts and chains, enclosing on each side a beautiful shrubbery border, which leads to the Keeper's house: This is also an irregular octagon building, situate in the centre of the Prison, and from which the several court-yards are completely inspected.

The Prison consists of four wings, 69 feet long, and 32 feet wide, detached from the Keeper's house by an area of 15 feet, which, with the different court-yards, completely surround it. In all the wings there is a partition-wall, 14 inches thick, running along the centre; so that each wing contains two Prisons.

The wing, numbered 1 and 2, is the Prison for Male Debtors; in which there are two kitchens, fitted up with every convenience for frugal cookery: the size of each 18 feet by 14, with arched roofs, 10 feet high. There are also two passages 44 feet long, and 3 feet 6 inches wide, communicating with their different rooms, of which there are twenty. Of these, eighteen are 9 feet by 8 feet 6 inches, with arched roofs 10 feet high; fitted up with iron bedsteads on stone bearers; cash windows and a fire-place in each room.

Every Debtor has one of these rooms to himself. Eight are on the ground-floor; the rest on the upper-story, to which you ascend by a stone staircase at the end of the passage, or lobby. On this upper-story are two rooms assigned for the sick, each of them 18 feet by 8 feet 6 inches, with two bedsteads and a fire-place in each. There are also two courts attached to this wing (No. 1 and 2.) which are an irregular polygon; the one 64 feet by 42,the other 64 feet by 34.

Every court-yard has a pump, with shy-boards in the centre of it, to which all the prisoners have access in the day-time.

The second wing, numbered 3 and 4, contains also two Prisons; in each of which there is a day-room 20 feet by 14, with arched roofs 10 feet high. From these are passages or lobbies 42 feet long, 3 feet 6 inches wide, leading to the cells: and adjoining to each day-room there is a work-room 14 feet by 9, with a fire-place in each.

This wing contains 18 cells, six on the ground-floor, with glazed windows, and 12 on the upper-story, all of 9 feet by 6; with iron bedsteads, and iron-grated windows with shutters, which have a square pane of nobbed glass in the centre. Here are likewise two rooms for the sick, 13 feet by 9, with a fire-place and two beds in each. The two courts for the use of this second wing are 64 feet each by 34. The third wing, numbered 5 and 6, is exactly the same as the second.

The fourth wing, numbered 7, 8, and 9, is in three divisions, viz. No. 7 contains a day-room, 20 feet long by 14, with an arched roof, 10 feet high; an adjoining work-room, 14 feet by 9; three cells on the ground-floor, 9 feet by 6; and six cells on the upper-story, of the same size: also another room 14 feet by 9, with two iron bedsteads and a fire-place, used as a sick-room for the class confined in this wing. The court adjoining is 64 feet by 34.

No. 8, the Prison for Female Debtors, has a day-room, 14 feet by 13, with a fire-place; and one cell, 9 feet by 6, on the ground-floor; and on the upper-story, one cell of the same size. Also a room, 13 feet by 9, with two bedsteads and a fire place, for the use of the sick in this division. The court adjoining is 40 feet by 22.

No. 9, has a day-room likewise, of 14 feet by 13, and two cells on the ground floor, 9 feet by 6; two other cells of the same size, on the upper-story; and a room for the sick, of 13 feet by 9. The court adjoining to this wing is 40 feet by 36.

Every court-yard has a bench for seating the prisoners; and there are water closets at the end of each wing, which are so contrived, that the water runs all the time that the closet is opened.

These wings, being detached 15 feet from the Keeper's house, and the open fences that enclose the court-yards being at the same distance from the house, they form a court round it; by which means the whole Gaol, and all the prisoners, are conveniently attended to, or visited by friends, without going into any of the rooms or court-yards.

The ground-floor of the Keeper's house is raised six steps above the level of the other buildings; and the windows of the house are so placed, that all the prisoners in the different court-yards are under constant inspection, as well as all persons coming into the Gaol.

The Chapel is in the centre of the Keeper's house, up one pair of stairs. The prisoners go to it by means of stone galleries, which lead from each wing to the Chapel; and it is so partitioned off, that each class is separated in the same manner as in the Prison.

By the late regulations, this Gaol, and the nearly adjoining House of Correction, are, in a manner, consolidated. The latter is bounded by a separate wall, which incloses about an acre of ground; and the Prison stands in the centre, having a garden round it. It is a square building, the Keeper's house being in front. It consists of two divisions: One has a day-room, 16 feet by 9 feet 6 inches, and 16 feet high, with a fire-place and sink; and seven cells, 10 feet by 7, and 12 feet 6 inches high, all on the ground floor; together with a court-yard, 62 feet by 24.

The other division has also a day-room, of 18 feet by 10, and 16 feet high; with fourteen cells, 10 feet by 7, and 12 feet 6 inches high, all on the ground-floor; and a court-yard, 66 feet by 32. Each of the yards has a pump, to which the Prisoners have access during the day; and a sewer in the corner.

There are two infirmary rooms up one pair of stairs, each of about 17 feet by 12. On the top of the Keeper's house are five cells; two of which are 12 feet by 3, and the other three, 10 feet by 6.

The Chapel here is a room in the Keeper's house; in size, 13 feet by 9 feet 6.

All poor Debtors in Bury Gaol have the County Allowance; and, from the fifth of November to Lady-Day, the Debtors receive four bushels of coals per week, and forty Shillings at every Christmas, from a Feoffment, or Deed of Gift.

Here is also a most excellent charitable Fund, called "Pemberton's Charity," (being left by a gentleman of that name): Which Fund is directed by the Donor's Will, " To be applied by the Trustees towards the relief of such poor distressed " Insolvent Debtors, as shall be imprisoned within any of the Gaols of the County of Suffolk; either for delivering them out of Prison, or relieving their necessities whilst there, as the Trustees shall think fit; provided such Debtors be persons born in Suffolk, and no way indebted to any of the Trustees."

The Gentlemen, engaged in the trust under this very exemplary Charity, frequently allot three or four, and sometimes five Pounds to poor deserving Debtors, towards obtaining their discharge: They also allow to each Debtor two pounds of beef, a pint of porter, and a twopenny loaf every Sunday; under this condition, however, "that every Debtor, receiving the bounty, shall regularly attend Chapel, unless prevented by sickness." But no Crown-Debtors partake of this charity.

The Rules, Orders and REGULATIONS for the Government of both the above Prisons are truly excellent. They are printed for the use of the Gaol and its Guardians; and I here subjoin with pleasure a few of the most essential Articles:

I. As principally affecting Debtors.

Art. 16. "The Gaoler shall, at his own expence, provide proper bedding for the Debtors; which, for each room, shall consist of a feather-bed, mattress, pair of blankets, coverlet, and sheets; the latter to be changed once a month. The charge to be paid for the use of the room, including the above, with the expence of cleaning, shall be painted over each door."

To be paid by Debtors: being regulated as directed by the Act of the 32d Geo. II. and 31st Geo. III.
s.  d.
To the Gaoler, for Commitment Fee, and Discharge of every Debtor, on each Action,8  8
To the Sheriff, for Discharge on each Action2  0
To the Gaoler, for a Certificate, in order to sue for a Supersedeas3  6
To the Gaoler, for each Copy of Warrant2  0
The following Rates to be paid to the Gaoler for Room-rent, Lodging, &c.
Every Debtor occupying one of the Rooms No. 1, 2, 3, and 4, shall pay each week2  0
Every Debtor, occupying one of the Rooms, No. 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9, shall pay each week1  6
Every Debtor, occupying one of the other Rooms, appropriated for the use of Debtors, shall pay each week1  0
Every Debtor finding his own Bedding, shall pay for his room each week1  0

II. As respecting Criminals.

Art. 25. "There shall be provided proper bedding for the use of the Prisoners committed on charge, or convicted of Felonies and Misdemeanors, and all necessary utensils for keeping the Gaol in a state of health and cleanliness."

Art. 29. "Every prisoner, committed for trial, may hire bed and bedding, upon paying one shilling and Sixpence per week."

III. Comfort and Accommodation.

Art. 31. "A quantity of coals, not exceeding two bushels a week, from Michaelmas to Lady-Day; and not exceeding one bushel, from Lady-Day to Michaelmas, shall be allowed to each division. Should the number of Prisoners, in any division, be materially reduced, the Allowance of Coals shall be regulated at the discretion of the Gaoler."

Art. 34. "There shall be provided proper scales, weights, and measures, duly stamped, for the use of the Prisoners, to weigh and measure their allowances, whenever it shall be required by them: Notice of which, and likewise their different allowances, shall be painted on a Board, and hung up in the courts of each Division.

Art. 35. "Convenient places being made where the Prisoners are to wash themselves, clean towels shall be provided in each Division, twice a week; and the Men shaved every Saturday

The Employment of the respective Prisoners consists in the grinding of corn, &c. (for which there are two mills) and in spinning of wool. Each class to be kept separate, according to the following arrangement, Art. 21.

"No. 1. and 2. Male Debtors,
 3. King's Evidence; and, occasionally, other prisoners.
 4. Convicted of Misdemeanors.
 5. Transports, and convicted atrocious Felons.
 6. For Trial, for such Felonies.
 7. Do.—for small offences.
 8. Female Debtors.
 9. Female Felons for Trial.
 10. Females convicted of Misdemeanors.
 11. Do. convicted of Felonies."

A mill has been erected here, upon a very large scale, for the employment of Convict-Prisoners: It is worked by a wheel, 20 feet in diameter, and about 7 feet wide in the rim; so as to admit of five Men walking abreast in it: And there has always been sufficient employ here, in grinding barley for fattening pigs, at one shilling the coomb; so that it answers very well. I am informed that the mill itself cost 300l. and the building that contains it 300l. more.

Before an expence, therefore, of this magnitude is incurred, it would be well to consider, First, whether there is good employment for it: and, secondly, Whether the average number of Convict Prisoners be ten; which it will constantly require, so as to relieve each other, or to work it in succession. N.B. The Prisoners here are chiefly labourers in husbandry; and for men of their vocation it seems peculiarly calculated.

The earnings of the Prisoners employed by the County, are divided in the following manner:

Two fifths to the County.

One fifth to the Gaoler, or Governor of the House of Correction; and

Two fifths to the Prisoners, viz. one fifth of what becomes due to them, is to be paid them weekly; and the remaining fifth on their being discharged.

All Prisoners, before trial, have the whole of their earnings. What an idea does not this convey of British discernment, justice, and the truest philanthropy! Let Britons ever bear so short a lesson in their minds and hearts.

Every Prisoner here is required to put on clean linen once a week. If they have it not of their own, it is provided for them, and supplied by the County.

It is not a compliment, but a verdict, to say, That these Prisons do honour to the County of Suffolk, and are superior to most in this Kingdom, whether we consider their construction, for answering the three great purposes of security, health, and morals; or the singular liberality of the Magistrates, in providing every comfort, that can tend to alleviate the unspeakable sorrows of Imprisonment.

The Keeper, Mr. Orridge, is well qualified for the discharge of his important trust, being active, intelligent, and humane.

By 1819 half of one of the wings was subdivided to house female felons and female debtors. Wings were also added to the right and left on entrance, designed for the special accommodation and classification of juvenile offenders, and for infirmaries for male and female prisoners. The gaol and nearby County Bridewell were now treated as a single establishment.

In about 1823, tread-wheels are erected at the outer ends of the radiating yards, allowing s few as ten men to be kept to work. The wheels were used to grind corn, an abundance of which was brought in by local bakers and others, so much so that it was sometimes even necessary to decline supplies. The duration of employment at the mill in summer was ten hours, which was gradually decreased to seven hours in winter. The men worked the tread-wheels in the proportion of two-thirds on and one-third off as relays. During the intervals of rest the prisoners were occupied in reading or writing. Small desks were fixed up against the front walls of the tread-wheel shed, at which many of the relays were seated,—some learning to write; others reading the Scriptures, or other books,and a few instructing the most ignorant. When seated at these desks, the prisoners faced the centre of the prison and so were under the view of the officers, as well as of the governor from his windows. The governor reported that he had instances of men who, in this way, had been able to read their Bibles by the time they had completed their sentence of hard labour.

A report in 1824 noted:

This prison now contains accommodation for fourteen classes of offenders, seven for males and seven for females. To each class is appropriated a separate department, comprising a dayroom, work-room, and airing-yard. The principle of the construction of this gaol, which affords complete inspection over the several departments, has been fully described in the former Reports of the Society, since the publication of which there has been no material alteration in the buildings.

Four tread-wheels are in daily operation. Some of the prisoners work as shoemakers and tailors, for the service of the prison. The women wash, mend, and make up the linen, &c. The amount of earnings by labour, last year, was £189. 16s. 10d., four-fifths of which are placed to the county stock, the keeper receiving one-fifth. The prisoners do not receive a portion of their earnings; but, on their discharge, money is given them in order to keep them from want: the amount is regulated by their general good conduct whilst in prison.

The dietary is 1¾lb. of bread per day, 1lb. of cheese per week, and one quart of small beer daily; and, on Sundays, ¾lb. of meat to those employed at hard labour. The cost per head is 2s. 11½d. Prisoners, who are not employed, have only 1½lb. of bread daily. The allowance of clothing, for male prisoners, is a pair of shoes, stockings, a jacket, and trowsers; the cost of which is £1. 2s. The bedding, which consists of a bed, a pair of blankets, and a coverlid, costs 26s.

Irons are never used: the punishments inflicted during the last year, were the solitary confinement of twelve prisoners for refractory conduct.

The chaplain reads prayers every morning, and affords daily instruction to the prisoners in reading, &c.: he also performs service twice on Sundays. The prisoners are supplied with Bibles and religious books. They are also instructed in reading and writing.

The prison contains one hundred and forty separate sleeping-cells. The greatest number of prisoners at one time, last year, was 147; and it seldom happens that more than one prisoner is placed in a cell. The number of prisoners, at Michaelmas 1828, was 111; and at Michaelmas 1823, 112—viz. debtors, 9; misdemeanants, 70; felons, 33; of these, only 16 were females, and Sit were untried prisoners.

The number of commitments, during the year, was 618. The number of re-committals appears heavy, being 77 for the same period. Offenders against the game-laws are stated to form the greater portion of this description of prisoners.

A matron is appointed, and none but females attend the female prisoners. No women are allowed to work on the tread-wheel. The male officers are the keeper, two turnkeys, a porter, and two superintendents: the duty of the latter is to walk in front of the tread-wheels, during the time of labour, to keep silence and order, and to take care that the prisoners are regular in the performance of their work.

This prison is also used for the liberty and borough of Bury St. Edmund's. The liberty comprises seven hundreds within the county.

In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This prison is placed in a fine airy situation, at a short distance from the town of Bury St. Edmunds. It is a Common Gaol and House of Correction for the Liberty of Bury St. Edmunds, which comprises seven hundreds of the county of — - Suffolk. The Marquis of Bristol is Lord of the Liberty, and appoints the Keeper. Prisoners from the borough of Bury are sent here, in accordance with an agreement made between the respective magistracies, in the year 1770, for a period of 99 years. The municipal authorities of the borough maintain their own prisoners, and reserve to themselves the right of visiting them whenever they may think fit. The trustees of the feoffment, as they are termed, the managers of the amalgamated charities in Bury St. Edmunds, being bound to provide a House of Correction for the borough, pay a sum of 25l. a year to the magistrates of the Liberty in lieu thereof; and likewise defray the expenses attending upon the subsistence and clothing of the Borough prisoners under corrective discipline, and continue the application of all former bequests in kind, such as coals, &c.

Independently of the space within the prison walls, the county owns a considerable extent of land adjoining, which is in the possession of the Keeper: it consists of three paddocks and kitchen garden, with outhouses, stabling, &c.

The enclosure formed by the boundary wall is an oblong, the angles of which are cut off at their junction. The principal front and gateway towards the public road are of stone. On each side of the entrance are ranges of buildings, containing the infirmaries, Keeper’s office, brewhouse, bakehouse, receiving cells, and accommodation for a turnkey, &c. The interior buildings and yards form a regular octagon, and consist of a centre and four detached radiating wings, independently of two additional wards apart from them, erected at a later period, quite at variance with the simplicity of the original design.

The Keeper’s house, in the centre, contains four rooms on the ground-floor, the chapel, three rooms on the first floor, and three rooms in the attics : the chapel contains 124 sittings, and is not sufficiently large to admit the whole of the prisoners being assembled at one time: the whole number are accordingly divided, and a portion from each class daily attend the chapel in regular rotation. In the four radiating wings the sleeping cells are of the following dimensions:—

Debtors’ cells with a fire-place in each : ground floor, 8 ft. 4 in. by 9 ft.; 10 ft. high.

Upper floor, 8 ft. 4 in. by 9 ft.; 9 ft. high.

Criminals’ sleeping cells : ground-floor, 6 ft. by 9 ft.-; 10 ft. high.

Upper floor, 6 ft. by 9 ft.; 8 ft. 6 in. high.

New buildings, apart from the radiating wings: double cells, 13 ft. by 9 ft.; 10 ft. high.

Single cells, 6 ft. by 9 ft.; 8 ft. 6 in. high.

The partitions between the cells are 14 inches. The staircases stone; the floors of the cells, brick on edge.

No cells for refractory prisoners.

The prison is well ventilated, dry, the drainage effective, and water laid on to all the yards.

Diet.—One pint of gruel, 2¼lbs. of bread, one quart of small beer per day. 1lb. of cheese per week; 1½ lb. of bread, ¾lb. of meat, and vegetables, on Sundays, for those employed at hard labour.

To those convicted, but not employed, 1½lb. of bread, 1 pint of gruel per day, and ½lb. of cheese per week.

To those before trial, 1½lb. of bread per day, and ½lb. of cheese a week, and the liberty of purchasing, once a week, such articles of provision as they may require, but no beer.

The beer issued to the prisoners is brewed in the prison; it is of a very good quality, but I consider its issue quite superfluous; the bread is furnished by a baker, and is equally good; the cheese is 4d. a pound, strong, but wholesome. There is a bakehouse, oven, and every accommodation in the prison for baking and the manufacture of bread.

The prisoners take their meals in the cells.

Clothing.—The usual prison dress.

Bedding.—Straw' paillasse, two blankets and a rug.

Cleanliness.—The prison and prisoners clean.

Fuel.—One bushel of coals a week to each division.

Health.—The Surgeon attends the prison every other day, and oftener if required. Prisoners are attended in their own cells, if not so seriously indisposed as to require removing to the infirmaries.

The most prevalent diseases among the prisoners, are consumption, rheumatism, syphilis, gonorrhoea, itch : constipation of the bowels is very frequent. The cases of consumption and rheumatism which have occurred are not traceable to either the confinement or locality^. He has never seen a case of scurvy in the prison. There have been instances of the itch being communicated in the gaol. He does not invariably see every prisoner before he is classed.

He finds that the cases of syphilis and gonorrhoea are very much more frequent among the agricultural labourers than formerly, though they are generally of a mild character.

He thinks that a general system of solitary confinement, to the almost exclusively agricultural inmates of the prison, would be dangerous to their health, by depriving them of that exterior air which they have been so accustomed to live in. He does not attend corporal punishments.

He inserts in a book his visits.

Moral and Religions Instruction.—The Chaplain performs two full services, with sermons, on Sundays.

Prayers every morning, with lectures on moral and religious subjects. He visits, generally every day, all parts of the prison, for the purpose of exhorting and advising 'the prisoners. He also sees those in the cells who are sentenced to solitary confinement. This occupies him some hours. The religious books are submitted for his approval. The schoolmaster is under his direction. He sees him with the prisoners every day. His tuition commences immediately after the chapel service.

A system of mutual instruction is practised by the prisoners teaching each other. All the elementary books are of a moral and religious tendency.

He is of opinion that the majority seek instruction more for the purpose of relieving the tedium of confinement than from principle. Slates are provided for writing. The greater proportion of the prisoners cannot read or write, and are ignorant of the most common subjects, such as the reason for keeping Christmas day. He has not noticed any particular expression of gratitude for his attention on the part of the prisoners; there is some slight degree of confidence reposed in him as Chaplain, and they often request his mediation with the Keeper while under punishment.

The confidence thus reposed is more in consequence of his being the means of relieving them from punishment than of a higher and more moral cast.

He attends at the House of Correction, exclusively appropriated for females, and performs one full service, with sermon, on Sundays. The females are as ignorant as the males; his exhortations have a more immediate impression on them; he has frequently seen them in tears, but whether any permanent good arises he is unable to say.

There is no regular system of instruction pursued with respect to the females, but they are supplied with books. The Chaplain keeps a book, in which he inserts his attendances.

The instruction to the males is not compulsory. The schoolmaster’s method is to ask the prisoner if he would like to learn; and if so, he instructs him, at first, himself, and, after he has got a little forward, puts him under another, to assist him. He states, they do not at first always express a wish to be taught, but when they have been in a week or two they do. He says, "some learn, because it will be of use to them when they go out; others tell me because it employs their time and many will not at all."

Men sometimes declare they cannot read, when they can do so, which he discovers by their progress. The slates are used for drawing figures; they often put them away when he comes near them. They are not so eager for learning in the winter as they are in the summer. He attends those who are in solitary confinement.

Labour is not interrupted by tuition; he goes round to the wheels and instructs them during their periods of rest. The officers who inspect the prisoners at the wheels, where the instruction is carried on, state the slates to be made use of for drawing figures, and writing obscene words, and that they manifest great carelessness about learning.

Classification.—The classification as prescribed by Act of Parliament is followed, but subject to judicious modifications in the case of boys and others, who are kept separate, or otherwise, as their particular cases suggest.


There are watchmen constantly employed over the prisoners on the wheels, consequently the labour is effectively performed. Even under this close inspection they do whisper to each other, and detection is difficult, from the noise of the machinery; but still any thing like continual communication does not take place.

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.
Through­out the year. 10 hours in sum­mer, and at other times as long as the day­light admits. There are 4 wheels, which hold 48 persons, but 56 may be worked in winter. 7 Inches. 48 and 50 steps in a minute. Two-thirds. 16,725 feet if they work 10 hours. About 1,200 if they work 10 hours. 11,150 It is not re­corded with pre­ci­sion, as a dif­fer­ent degree of pres­sure is some­times re­quired in grind­ing. Rais­ing water for the use of the Prison.

The mill is let to a miller, who allows the county 2s. a sack for grinding, dressing, and delivering the flour.

The earnings of the mill, from October 1834 to October 1835, were County Gaol. 129l. l2s. 6d.

There is a forge and carpenter’s shop in the prison, and the prisoners, if mechanics, are employed in them, when required, or in tailoring and shoemaking. Prisoners are also occasionally, under the care of a turnkey, allowed to work in the Keeper’s garden.

Punishments.—The usual punishments for prison offences, are locking up in the most secluded parts of the prison, and depriving offenders of a portion of their meals.

Irons:—Irons used upon refractory prisoners, 7¼lbs.; for conveying convicts, 1½lbs.

Scourge:—Whip handle, 16¾ inches in length ; nine lashes of common whipcord, with two knots in each. The Keeper inflicts the punishment. There has been no case of public whipping; but it is frequently, and with considerable good effect, applied to boys.

Observations:—The erection of cells for the refractory, apart from the prison buildings, and for which there is ample space', seem much wanting; and would, I think, be of considerable advantage, as an adjunct, in enforcing the proper discipline. Should the day-rooms be discontinued, the punishment of locking up in a sleeping cell will be comparatively nothing. Solitary confinement is but imperfect at present, but it would be still more so then. Visits and Letters.—The untried to see one visitor on Wednesdays and Fridays, the market-days.

The convicted not until after the expiration of three months’ imprisonment, and then on the first Saturday of every month.

Letters are under similar restrictions.

Accounts, Expenditure, Books.—The tradespeople send in their bills quarterly to the Keeper, who, after checking them, lays them before the Magistrates, by whom they are examined in a committee of accounts. A schedule of the several amounts is then made out for their final approval at the Quarter Sessions, and then the Clerk of the Peace draws separate orders for their payment on the County Treasurer.

The subsistence of the borough prisoners is paid for by the municipal authorities, the Keeper certifying that the articles have been actually supplied.

Books.—Receiving book. The entries are made at the gate upon receiving a prisoner. Well arranged, and similar to the books kept at Cambridge and Huntingdon county gaols. Charge Book.—Containing the daily commitments and discharges of all prisoners at the prison.

General Register.—Compiled from the receiving and charge books, arranged under the heads of Name, last place of abode, age, trade or employment, by whom committed, for what offence, when tried or convicted, sentence, when and how discharged, remarks on character and general conduct, number.

Debtor’s Register.

Punishment Book.

Mill Book.

Several others connected with the interior economy of the prison.

Debtors.—The conduct of the debtors, whose average number seldom exceeds ten, is not so outrageous here as I have had occasion to remark in other prisons, although they are occasionally noisy, and there can be no doubt, from the number of visitors, and the communication which takes place from without, for supplying them with necessaries, that the discipline of the prison would be improved if they were removed. Among the articles observed by me in passing through their rooms was a pineapple. Each debtor is permitted to have half a gallon of beer daily, or a pint of wine. This allowance I consider inordinate for persons in such a situation.

The amount paid for the hire of bedding to the Keeper is regulated by the Magistrates, upon a scale of 2s., 1s. 6d., and 1s. a week, according to the description.

General Discipline.—The system of corrective discipline in this prison has lately been much increased in severity. Approaches have been made towards the enforcement of silence, and the class of misdemeanants, not sentenced to hard labour, and who were used to pass their days in idleness, are now compelled, during the hours of labour, to walk, in Indian file, round the airing-yards. This is found, and no doubt is, more irksome than the tread-wheel, where the allowance of food to those on it is so much greater, that this class of prisoners, whose offences are of a lighter cast, always prefer the labour which the law awards as a heavier punishment. In wet weather also this practice must cease.

The officers of the prison state, that occasional communication takes place between the yards; that money and tobacco have been detected passing between them, but since the imposition of further restraints, it has been greatly checked, and should the Silent System be fully enforced, the employment of inspectors in the passages leading to the cells during night will have a further and material effect towards cutting it off’ altogether.

The re-commitments to this prison, as will be seen by the accompanying return, are most numerous; the Keeper describes the establishment as a kind of house of refuge in the winter; their gates may be almost open in the summer, but at the conclusion of the harvest the prisoners pour in. On the 28th day of August, the total number of prisoners was 68; on the day of inspection, the 15th of December, there were 151; out of this number, 51 were for offences under the new law respecting game.

Keeper.—Age 62 ; appointed the 5th of April 1798, by the Lord of the Liberty, the Marquis of Bristol. He gives two bonds of 3,000l. each, for the security of the debtors. Salary, 500l. He receives one-fourth part of the earnings of the tread-wheels, which share, from October 1834 to October 1835, amounted to 32l 13s. 8½d. He is allowed 10l. 10s. for his personal expenses, in conveying convicts to the Hulks, which takes place about four times a year. He occupies the paddocks and garden belonging to the county, adjoining the prison ; he is also Keeper of the Shire Hall, at a salary of 20l.

Observations:—The allowance to the Keeper from the earnings of the mill, is stated by him to be for keeping the accounts, and taking in and carrying out the Hour. The allowance received by him for conveying convicts was formerly 1 s. a mile, but the Magistrates have reduced it to the actual expenses of the prisoners, and the 10l. 10s. to himself.

The whole cost to the county of sending nine convicts to Portsmouth in the present year, was 36l. 10s. 6d.

The salary received by him as Keeper of the Shire Hall he bestows upon the person acting as his deputy.

Chaplain.—Appointed May 4th 1829. Salary, 200l. He also receives from the Trustees of the Feoffment the yearly sum of 6l., arising from bequest; and, as he supposes, for teaching and catechizing the Borough prisoners; has no other preferment. Resides a quarter of a mile from the prison.

Surgeon.—Appointed October 1821. Salary, 100l., for medicines and attendance.

Turnkey.—Aged 60; appointed 14 June 1819; served 18 years in the 5th Regt. of Infantry; pension 9d. a day. Resides out of the prison, takes his meals in. Salary, 36l. 8s.

Second Turnkey.—Age 45; appointed by the Keeper, March 1819; married man; gardener by trade. Salary, 42. a year: 5l. 12s. paid by the Keeper. I have again to notice the appointment and payment of officers by the Keeper of the Prison as interfering with the single responsibility which it seems necessary to me should exist in such establishments.

Schoolmaster.—Age 66; appointed August 1826. Salary, 36l. 8s.

Two Watchmen over the Mill.—One at 10s. per week; the other at 12s.

Miller.—Salary, 54l 12s.

Matron.—Wife of the Keeper. Salary, 30 Z.

Female Turnkey.—Age 67. Salary, 42l.: 5l. 12s. paid by the Keeper. This person, with her husband, resides in the prison for females.

House of Correction for Females.—This establishment stands in an extensive garden, at the distance of a few hundred yards from the exterior walls of the County Gaol; it was formerly the House of Correction for the county prisoners; hut upon the building of the New Prison was set apart exclusively for females. It consists of a dwelling for the Keeper, containing a parlour, kitchen, offices, and small chapel without divisions on the ground-floor; two infirmaries, three chambers, and store-rooms on the first floor; and five cells for prisoners in the attics, never used on account of the want of air and ventilation. The plan of this prison is a regular square, three sides of which are formed by the sleeping cells and day rooms, and the fourth by the Keeper’s house. The interior area is divided into three County Gaol airing-yards. The cells are all on the ground-floor, are each 10 feet by 7, and 11 feet 6 inches high. They are roomy and well ventilated.

The convicted female prisoners are employed in washing, or mending and making the linen for the prisoners. The labour, from the number of males, and the few females, is described as severe. The men have been tried at washing, but being agricultural labourers, and unused to such work, it was obliged to be given up.

The laundry is in the lodge of the County Prison, and the female prisoners go to and from their own establishment through the garden, for the purpose of drying the linen. They are attended by the female turnkey, but the practice I consider objectionable.

The Matron describes the females as being, almost without exception, very ignorant; when they can read, she endeavours to improve them by setting them tasks. Servants in husbandry and women of the town are kept apart from the rest. After conviction, all superfluous ornament as to the hair is put aside, and they assume the prison dress. Nothing is so great a punishment to them as separation; they cry and entreat, when in solitary confinement, to be let down to the others. The female vagrants are described as being the most incorrigible. The women sent up from the Borough for disorderly conduct are always the best behaved; they work more cheerfully than any others. All the females manifest much interest in the Chaplain’s duties, and they are often affected to tears by his admonition. The discipline is carried on upon the same system as the County Prison.

Following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878, the prison was closed.

Most of the prison was subsequently demolished. The surviving parts include the entrance block, and the governor's house, now known as The Fort and used as office accommodation.


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, 77 Raingate Street, Bury St Edmunds IP33 2AR. Holdings include: Visitation books (1828-78, has names of prisoners and their offences, occupation, prison employment and earnings); Registers of prisoners / Gaol receiving books (1844-78).
  • 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.