Ancestry UK

County Gaol and Bridewell, Canterbury, Kent

A County Gaol and Bridewell, or House of Correction, serving the Eastern Division of Kent, stood on the north side of St Dunstan's Street, Canterbury.

In 1784, John Howard wrote of the establishment:

Men and women separate. The latter have the back court in which is their ward. The men have a hall or kitchen to the street, and three wards or night-rooms 15 feet by 13, which open into a passage near 4 feet wide. No court. Out of the keeper's garden or yard might be taken a court for the men. There is no water within reach of the men;. yet I found the prison clean, and regularly white-washed. An alarm-bell is lately put up. County allowance, two pennyworth of bread a day (weight Dec. 5, 1782, 18oz.). No employment. In 1776, the justices abolished the fees 135. 4d. and raised the salary from £25 to £40. Licence for beer, Surgeon, Mr. Le'grand. This prison is unhealthy from the offensiveness of the sewers and the prisoners lying in their clothes, as they have no bedding but mats.

1774, April 13,Prisoners 8.1779, April 16,Prisoners 4.
1776, Feb. 17,131782, Dec. 5,11.
1776, May 25,6.  

By 1805, the prison was recognised as being inadequate and the East Kent Justices decided to erect new premises on a more convenient site. The location chosen was the former site of St Augustine's Monastery on Longport Road, Canterbury. Leading prison architect of the time, George Byfield, was commissioned to design a gaol and house of correction for 50 inmates and a new court house. The prison capacity was subsequently reduced to 41 (30 in the gaol and 11 in the house of correction), but with space for future expansion. The construction work took placed between 1805 and 1808. The central, three-storey octagonal building contained the governor's house with the chapel occupying part of the first floor. Radiating out from it were three detached wings. The east and west wings had two storeys and the north wing had three floors. The wings were divided in half by a central longitudinal wall to allow them to hold two categories of inmate.

In 1812, James Neild described the new establishment:

Gaoler, Samuel Aris. Salary, 200l. with coals, candles, and soap.

Fees, none. Garnish prohibited.

Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Chafey. Salary, 50l.

Duty, Prayers and Sermon every Sunday; and Prayers on Wednesday and Friday.

Surgeon, Mr. Chandler. Salary, 20l.

Number of Prisoners,1809, July 10th, Felons and Petty Offenders28.
1810, July 9th, Ditto,28.

Allowance, one pound of bread per day, and a pint of gruel, with salt. To those who work in the outer ground, half a pound of meat, with vegetables, for Dinner; and the next day broth, from the meat that has been boiled: also a pint of 20s. table beer at dinner, and half a pint of strong beer in the afternoon.

This New Gaol, for the Eastern division of Kent, (substituted instead of the Old Prison, called St. Dunstan's,) is erected on the site of St. Augustin's Monastery, a little way out of Town; and the Prisoners were removed hither on the 14th of December 1808.

The boundary-wall is an octagon, enclosing about two acres of land: the entrance to it is through the Turnkey's lodge; and on the ground-floor are his sitting-room, a wash-house with a boiler, warm and cold baths, and an oven to purify foul or infected clothes.

Here is a reception-room also, of 12 feet 7 inches by 6 feet 4; in which Prisoners are examined, properly cleaned, and must be found clear from any infectious disorder, previous to their admission into the interior of the Gaol. For the use of this room a court-yard, 14½-feet square, and a water-closet, are provided.

Above stairs are the Turnkey's sleeping-room, and another apartment, for the New Prisoners' clothes to be ticketed and hung up, till he is discharged, in case the County clothing was put on at his admission. Also two sleeping-cells, of 9 feet each by 6, with arched roofs, and iron-grated windows; which have inside shutters, with a pane of knob-glass in them, to put up at night.

After passing through the lodge, an avenue, 40 feet long, and enclosed with posts and chains, leads into the Prison; which is a handsome stone-fronted building, with the Gaoler's house in the centre. This, likewise, is of an octagon construction; and from it the several court-yards are very judiciously and completely inspected. On the ground floor is also the Magistrates' Committee-Room, of 14 feet, and in the same form.

The Prison consists of three wings: That for Felons is 53 feet long, and 32 feet wide; the other two are 46 feet by 32, detached from the Keeper's house by an area 12 feet square, 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 compartment, in a manner, contains two Prisons.

The North-wing is for Male Felons, before and after conviction; and of these two descriptions each has a separate court, 40 feet by 35, with a day-room 14 feet square. It is most humanely fitted up, with a fire-place; and a fixed grate, shovel, tongs, poker, and coal-box, are provided; for to each day-room a peck of coals is daily allowed, and even more, in case the weather should be particularly severe. Cooking vessels also are assigned, together with trenchers and spoons: tin pots, or basons, with handles, to breakfast out of: a roller and towel are supplied to every room, and mops, brooms, pails, and soap, for personal and prison cleanliness. The iron-grated windows are glazed, the floors are of brick; and adjoining to each day-room is a working-room, of 14 feet square, with a fire-place.

The lobbies, or passages, leading to the cells, are 3 feet 6 inches wide, with bricked floors. This wing contains seventeen sleeping-cells; five, on the ground-floor, have grated and glazed windows, and the other twelve above are secured with iron gratings, and have each an inside shutter, with a: pane of knobbed glass in them, to be put up at night.

The attick compartment of this wing, which is one story higher than the other two, contains four infirmary rooms; two of them are 21 feet by 14, and the rest 16 feet by 10, and 10 feet high: with iron bedsteads on casters, having; a screw so constructed, as to raise the head of the sick Prisoner; and furnished with flock beds, a pair of sheets, two blankets, and a rug. To these comforts also are added a stone sink, lined with lead, the water for which is laid on with a cock; and in each room are two or three chairs, with fire-places, grates, and large sash-windows. Even over the door of each room is a sash window, about a yard square, which turns on a pivot for ventilation. Such attentions surely demand notice.

Between the Infirmary rooms are a lobby, with a water-closet, and a neat surgery apartment, of 14 feet by 7, fitted up for medicines, &c.

The flat leaden roof, defended by a parapet-wall, is very conveniently appropriated to convalescents, for taking the air; and upon it is placed a large reservoir, replenished, as needful, by a forcing pump, which supplies the whole Prison with excellent water.

The East and West wings have court-yards, day-rooms, and working-rooms, similar to those already described; and twenty-four sleeping-cells, making, in the whole, forty-one: each of them 9 feet by 6, and 9 feet high.

The apartments below have glass-casement windows; those above are furnished with inside shutters; and in every door there is a wicket, with iron-gratings, each 6 inches square; a cast-iron bedstead on stone-bearers, supplied with a straw mattress, straw-in-ticking bed, two blankets, and a rug.

The court-yards, (seven in number) have each a bench for the Prisoners to sit on; and water-closets are judiciously placed in them.

The three wings are detached twelve feet distant from the Keeper's house; and the open fences, which enclose the court-yards, being at the same distance from the house, form an ample area round it: by which means the whole Gaol is conveniently attended to, and the Prisoners are visited by their friends, without the necessity of going into any of the rooms, or court-yards.

The ground-floor of the Keeper's house is raised three feet above the level of the other buildings; and the windows are so placed, that all the Prisoners, in the several court-yards, are under constant inspection, as well as every other person coming into the Gaol.

The Chapel is placed in the centre of the Keeper's house, up one pair of stairs. The Prisoners go into it by means of stone galleries, leading from each wing to the Chapel; which is so partitioned off, that each class is kept separate, in the same manner as in the Gaol. The Keeper has an alarm-bell at the top.

From the boundary-wall a space of 24 feet encircles the whole Prison, and its court-yards: and thus affords the Keeper an excellent garden for the growth of vegetables. The Sessions-house adjoins the boundary-wall, and Prisoners are brought into court for trial by a subterraneous passage.

The Visiting-Magistrates, Chaplain, and Surgeon, make their Remarks every time they inspect or visit the Gaol; which are entered into the proper books by a Clerk, in the same manner of peculiar neatness, as are all the accounts of this Prison.

The following voluntary donations, which for several years were sent to the Prisoners in St. Dunstan's Gaol, are now transferred to that of St. Augustin; viz. Ten shillings a year, by the County at large, for Religious Books. They were sent to the Old Gaol when I was there in September l804. Two guineas by the Dean and Chapter, and two guineas by the Dean for the time being; which afford the Prisoners a dinner on the three great festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide. And also other occasional aid.

These Donations have been usually made in the month of December.

Prisoners committed hither by the Magistrates, or sentenced at Sessions to hard labour, are employed in ground belonging to the Gaol, but without the walls; and a Man is paid eighteen pence a day by the County for guarding them.

By 1826, the prison had a tread-wheel in installed as the following report indicates:

The discipline of the prison continues to be well maintained. The tread-wheel is in constant operation for the purpose of grinding corn, crushing malt, and drawing water, for the service of the prison; and when not required for either of these purposes, it is so contrived as to be kept at work, in order that the prisoners may be fully employed. The amount of earnings for the last year was £42. 18s. 8d. The prisoners are allowed ½d. per day,which is reserved till their discharge. Prisoners sentenced to hard labour are employed three-fourths on the wheel, and one-fourth off as relays. Those sentenced to confinement but not to hard labour, are employed two-thirds on the wheel and one-third off. Constant occupation on the tread-wheel, under proper regulations, is found to be beneficial to the prisoners' health. There is no doubt that this description of labour has also had the desired effect of deterring many persons from the commission of crime. A short time since, the visitor passed the prison door, just as a young man was discharged from confinement: he declared that he would take good care never again to subject himself to the discipline of the tread-wheel.

By 1830, an addition had been made to the dietary of prisoners working at the tread-mill, as the wheels had been altered so as to make a small increase of the labour. The weekly dietary for each of these prisoners was then 9lbs. of bread, 7 lbs. of potatoes, 3 lb. of mutton, after it was boiled, three quarts of ox-head soup, and fourteen quarts of oatmeal gruel. Prisoners, before trial, receive 8¾ lbs. of bread, 7 lbs. of potatoes, and fourteen quarts of oatmeal gruel, each, weekly.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons made a lengthy report after visiting the prison:

1. Site, Construction, &c.

This prison, situated in St. Augustine's, a suburb of the city of Canterbury, was erected in the year 1808, and is on the radiating plan, with the keeper's house and chapel in the centre. It adjoins the Court-house, in which are held the Quarter Sessions for East Kent; and its locality renders it a convenient receptacle for prisoners from the eastern division of the county. It is in good repair, and a great; part of it, though not the whole, is fire-proof.

It is surrounded by a boundary-wall of the height of 20 feet. The only escape that has been made from it of late years was by means of a ladder accidentally placed against the wall. The prison may be overlooked from a churchyard and field, which are on rising ground above it, but not near enough to admit of communication otherwise than by signals. Shutters have been placed against the windows of the cells opposite to this churchyard by way of precaution against communication.

The means of inspection are deficient, as they extend only to the yards, and not to the day-rooms or sleeping-cells. Some of the day-rooms may indeed be inspected through the ventilators in the passages above them; but this only partially, and not so as to see the whole room.

The prison is divided into eight male wards, and one female ward, with a day-room and airing-yard to each of the male wards, and an airing-terrace on the leads adjoining the laundry in the female department. The eight male wards are appropriated as undermentioned, and contain the following number of sleeping-cells. The dimensions of the single cells are 9 feet 4 inches long, by 6 feet 3 inches wide, and 9 feet 2 inches high. The partition walls between the cells are 14 inches thick.

Ward No, 1. Summary Convictions. Nine single cells and one treble cell. Twelve prisoners sleeping in this ward at time of inspection. Tread-wheel in this yard.

No. 2. Convicted felons. Nine single cells and one treble cell. Twelve prisoners sleeping in this ward. Tread-wheel in this yard.

No. 3. Convicted felons. Seven single cells and one treble cell. Ten prisoners sleeping in this ward.

No. 4. Vagrants. No sleeping-cells.

No. 5. Convicted felons. Five single cells and one treble cell. Eight prisoners sleeping in this ward.

No. 6. Prisoners for trial. Six single cells. Six prisoners sleeping in this ward.

No. 7. Summary convictions and misdemeanors. Eight single cells. Eight prisoners sleeping in this ward.

No. 8. Misdemeanants for trial, or want of sureties. No sleeping-cells.

Female apartments. Two ordinary sleeping-rooms, and an infirmary-room used occasionally for the same purpose. Laundry above. Occupied by five female prisoners at the time of inspection.

The prison thus will accommodate only 48 male prisoners and 3 females (together 51), with separate sleeping-rooms; consequently the four larger male cells were occupied by three prisoners each at the time of inspection. Now the greatest number of prisoners at one time during the last three years has been:—

Year ending Michaelmas, 183496
"  1835 105
"  183673

and the numbers in custody at the following periods were:—

25th October, 183456359
"  183548452
"  183657360
9th February, 183752961

There is, therefore, a deficiency of separate sleeping-cells, which might in some measure be remedied, by converting each of the nine day-rooms into separate sleeping-cells for male prisoners, and by turning the upper part of the mill-house into sleeping-cells.

The female prison not only requires enlargement, but it is inconveniently situated; the access to it being through the male wards Nos. 1 and 2. If the mill-house were taken for the female prison, the present female apartments might be altered into cells for males.

The readiest means of introducing some degree of individual separation, by day as well as by night, would be by materially enlarging the present small sleeping-cells, by converting the day-rooms into separate cells, and by extending the present buildings to the boundary wall, in order to make up the requisite number of cells. But the space between the present buildings and the boundary-wall is only about 25 feet, and we nave great doubts whether, by resorting to the means referred to, it would be practicable to convert the present structure into even a tolerably good prison on the separate system.

The soil is gravel and chalk. The drainage is good, and the prison was dry and clean at the time of inspection. The locality is considered very healthy.

2. Discipline.

The system is association by day, and separation by night, as far as the number of sleeping-cells will admit of it. The rules of the prison are understood to be the same as those of Maidstone; but there are no rules fixed for general view in any part of this prison. The classification is according to the Gaol Act, with the exception of the females, who are sometimes employed together in washing, &c., without reference to the technical classes. It also occasionally happens, when particular wards are full, that prisoners sleep in the same wards with others of different classes; but this cannot always be avoided. As an instance of the fallacy of classification, we found J. T., a notoriously bad character, convicted of uttering base coin, (a misdemeanor,) who had been connected with a London gang, and been in prison before, associating in the same ward with prisoners summarily convicted for petty trespasses, and sleeping in the same cell with two countrymen summarily convicted for cutting wood.

The most numerous class of prisoners are those under summary conviction. These, as well as the convicts sentenced to imprisonment at the assizes and sessions, associate in their respective classes, during labour, washing, meals, and at all times, except at night or whilst under punishment. The untried, of whom there are but few, also associate freely. The precautions against communication at night consist in the watchman, who goes his rounds outside, and the wardsman sleeping within; and it does not probably prevail to any great extent. The convicted as well as the untried take their meals together in the day-rooms.

There is no written rule on the subject of silence; but attempts are made to enforce it in some degree, and a certain quiet prevails, as at Maidstone, although it falls very tar short of what is understood by the silent system. The intercourse in the day-rooms and yards is only stopped by the wardsman when it becomes noisy; consequently there is room for communication of any kind, however improper, provided it is carried on in a quiet way. According to the statement of prisoners, there is occasionally, though not often, bad language and swearing, and the prisoners frequently talk of what they intend to do when they get out. Silence on the tread-wheel is however enforced more rigidly than elsewhere, and there appears no indisposition on the part of the keeper to punish for breach of it, since he states that he punished 73 prisoners for breach of silence (viz. talking on the wheel and in the cells and loud talking in day-rooms,) in the course of the last year, principally by confining them in dark and solitary cells. The number amounts to more than half of the whole number of punishments in the year ending at Michaelmas last, which is returned at 131. The prisoners, however, as we are informed, whisper to each other on the wheel as they may have occasion.

We have no reason to believe that communication prevails between the male and female prisoners; but a male prisoner informed us that he had several times been employed to scrub in the laundry and female prison, and had then seen, though not conversed with, several of the females. This is obviously improper, and we have before remarked that the access to the female apartments might not, as at present, to be through the male wards.

The description of hard-labour consists of the four tread-wheels, which together will hold 42 prisoners, and a crank-mill for grinding bark. This latter instrument is well adapted for labour in solitude. Contrasting the labour performed on the tread-wheel at different periods of the year, it appears that in December and January the number of working-hours is 7, and the feet of ascent 11,088; whilst in the summer months, from April to August, the prisoners work 9½ hours, with 14,478 feet of ascent, being about one-fourth more than in the winter. We cannot but regret here also the number of hours which the prisoners pass in bed in the winter season, when they are locked up at sunset for the night. Female convicts are sometimes placed on the wheel, but are more usually employed in washing and needle-work. The prisoners on the wheel require the watchful attention of the surgeon; it generally reduces them in bulk, and if the labour is too long protracted it is injurious to their constitutions.

Prisoners are constantly employed here as wardsmen, and in menial services, Of 52 male prisoners in custody on the 9th February last seven were occupied as wardsmen, one as cook, and one in cleaning the lodge, bakehouse, &c. The cook and six of the wardsmen were receiving the same diet as if they were working at the tread-wheel. The whole of the cook's time is occupied in the prison-kitchen; but the wardsmen in the convicted classes are employed about half the day in winter, and three hours in summer, in cleaning their wards, and the remainder of the day they work on the tread-wheels as the other prisoners. The other wardsman was a prisoner for trial, employed in his class, and receiving three-quarters of a pound of meat, and three quarts of soup extra per week. The prisoner employed in the lodge, &c. was a smuggler, receiving the tread-wheel allowance, and repaying the county for the same, being allowed 4½d. per diem from the Customs' revenue.

The practice of removing females from Maidstone Gaol to this prison has been already noticed. On the 9th February last, there were nine women in custody here who had been so removed; the Courts at Maidstone having, at the request of the visiting justices of this prison, sentenced them to imprisonment here, instead of at Maidstone, where they would have been confined in the ordinary course. These nine women formed the female population of this prison, there being none sentenced here in the regular way, and were employed in washing and repairing the bedding and clothing, for which purpose they had been sent for. In the employment of female prisoners, the repression of crime is an object too generally lost sight of; and it seems to be considered by the magistrates sufficient if they can occupy them so as to effect a saving of labour to the county. There is nothing penal in the employment of a number of women together in a wash-house. If they had remained at Maidstone these women might have been placed on the tread-wheel; but the very motive of bringing them here shows they are not likely to undergo anything like correction, in the proper sense of that term.

There are visiting-rooms in the lodge for the reception of the prisoners' friends. There is a window opening into the lodge, through which the keeper or turnkey overhears the conversation, and a space is barred off between the prisoner and his visitor. The untried are allowed to receive visits daily from 12 to 2 o'clock. The convicted can only be visited by a magistrate's order, which it is not the practice to grant until four months after conviction, and subsequently only once a month. The ascertainment of relationship is left to the discretion of the keeper. Letters are usually inspected by the keeper; but convicted prisoners ought not to be allowed to receive letters at all, until after a definite term of imprisonment.

Convicted prisoners are not allowed to have money. What is taken from them is accounted for on their discharge. The prisoners here are mostly poor, and bring very little money with them.

Tobacco has been occasionally, but rarely, introduced into the prison.

We could not ascertain that newspapers were admitted.

3. Religious and other Instruction.

The Rev. John Metcalfe has been fifteen years chaplain of this prison. He resides in the precincts of the cathedral, being a minor canon. Prayers from the Liturgy are read on Wednesdays and Fridays, and the church service, with a sermon, on Sundays. The Holy Communion is never administered. The chaplain keeps a journal of his attendance, but not a character-book. He visits and converses with the prisoners separately in cases where he thinks he can do any good, including those in the solitary cells; but he docs not appear to consider that his labours are generally attended with much benefit. He thinks that solitary confinement as a punishment has a great effect, and that solitude and association alternately form the best discipline. If he has occasion to be absent, he provides another clergyman to do his duty. He states the conduct of the prisoners during chapel to be in general good, Those under punishment do not attend. The keeper, taskmaster, two turnkeys, and matron. attend chapel on Sundays, and the keeper and two turnkeys on week-days. The classes are separated during chapel, and males from females.

None of the prisoners were receiving instruction at the time of our inspection. A schoolmaster is occasionally selected from the prisoners to teach the boys, and keep them out of mischief. Of the prisoners lately so employed one was in custody for embezzlement, the other for want of sureties to keep the peace. The schoolmaster is on the same footing as a wardsman in regard to diet, &c. The number in this prison constantly exceeding 50, the schoolmaster, according to the 16th resolution of the Lords Committee of 1835, ought not to be a prisoner. It should, however, be borne in mind, that, as the majority of offenders are under summary conviction, and the periods of imprisonment seldom exceed three months, little good can be expected from the labours of a schoolmaster, whether a prisoner or not.

The books used by the prisoners are entirely selected by the chaplain from the publications of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. They consist of—

Bibles, Testaments, and Prayer-Books.
Whole Duty of Man.
Great Importance of a Religious Life.
Kettlewell's Penitent.
Bishop Wilson's Principles of Christianity.
  "  Maxims.
Pious Country Parishioner.  A volume of Miscellaneous Tracts, religious and entertaining, judiciously selected by the chaplain, and a favourite book with the prisoners.  Prisoners' Manual.  Watts's Hymns.  Manual of Prayers.  Nelson's Fasts and Festivals.  Mrs. Trimmer's Spelling Books, Catechisms, &c.

4. Health. 

The surgeon or his assistant attends daily. The assistant is also a regular surgeon. On the admission of a prisoner he is first washed in a day-room, and then placed by himself in the reception-room until examined by the surgeon. Prisoners in solitary confinement are not visited, unless reported sick. The infirmary patients, both male and female, are attended by the matron, but are kept in separate rooms. There are seldom more than one or two infirmary patients at a time, and there is no particular regulation in regard to silence. The room used as a male infirmary is situated too near the females' apartments, being in fact in the female prison. At the time of inspection divine service was performed in it, on account of many of the prisoners not having been perfectly recovered from the prevailing influenza. The women attended separately after the men had withdrawn.

Ten men and one woman were on the sick-list at the lime of our visit. The proportion of cases of slight indisposition to the whole number of prisoners in the year ending Michaelmas, 1836, appears to have been about 20 per cent., that of infirmary cases only 1.13 percent.; and there was no death within that year. The average number of days which each invalid remained on the sick list was about 15. The most prevalent diseases have been itch, ague, and venereal. The prisoners had recently been affected by the prevailing epidemic, in common with the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. There is no particular complaint connected with the locality of the prison; but the men on the wheel for long periods require to be relieved to prevent injury to their health, and the surgeon sometimes finds it necessary to order exercise for prisoners in solitary confinement. There are seldom more prisoners than one in the infirmary at a time, and they are generally attended by the matron, who has the assistance of a male turnkey when she thinks it necessary.

The cost of the prison diet per head per annum for the year ending Michaelmas 1836, was 3l. 18s. l¾d., or 1s. 6d. per week; but an allowance should be made for prisoners who maintained themselves in the course of that year. The diet, however, appears to be superior to that of Maidstone Gaol, male prisoners at hard labour receiving here weekly 216 oz. of solid food (including 64 oz. of potatoes), 21 pints of gruel, and 6 pints of ox-head soup; and prisoners before trial receiving weekly 252 oz. of solid food (including 112oz. of potatoes), and 21 pints of gruel. The dietary table is not affixed in any of the wards, but scales and weights are provided in case of application.

Untried prisoners, and the convicted not sentenced to hard labour, are allowed to maintain themselves under the same regulations as at Maidstone. Thirty prisoners maintained themselves in the course of last year. Either the provisions are brought by the prisoners' friends, or purchased for them by a turnkey in the town. No good reason can be given why a turnkey should be employed in such a service; and, in regard to convicts, the practice is obviously improper under any circumstances.

The cost of the prison-clothing is returned at 13s. 5d. per head per annum. The woollen winter dress is the same as that used at Maidstone; but a lighter dress is used here in summer. Prisoners rarely destroy their clothing; when they do, they are punished by being locked up in the dark cells.

The bedding is aired in summer in the yards, but not in the winter. The straw mattresses are very apt to be affected by damp air.

The whole of the linen is washed in the prison by the female prisoners. Soap, towels, and combs are supplied, but the combs were generally broken.

The prison was clean at the time of inspection, and the whole is lime-washed every spring. The day-rooms are washed daily, when the weather permits it and the cells every other day.

5. Prison Punishments.

The proportion of punishments for offences within the prison to the whole number of prisoners in the year ending Michaelmas 1836, was about 30 per cent., of which we have seen that above one-half are stated to have been for breach of silence; the rest were for refusing to work and other disorderly conduct. The most usual punishment is confinement in the dark cells. These are two in number, situated in the lodge. Their dimensions are,—one 6 feet 10 inches square, the other 6 feet 10 inches, by 6 feet 6 inches. The height of both is 8 feet 4 inches to the crown of the arch. The instrument of whipping is a cat-of-nine-tails. The number of lashes is not defined, but seldom exceeds three dozen. The keeper, surgeon, turnkeys, and convicted prisoners, are present at floggings.

The keeper, Mr. Joseph Bone, has filled that office 14 years. The keeper, matron, taskmaster, and turnkeys, reside in the prison, and a watchman is employed at night. The keeper and turnkeys are not in the habit of visiting the cells constantly at night.

6. Officers..

The keeper, Mr. Joseph Bone, has filled that office 14 years. The keeper, matron, taskmaster, and turnkeys, reside in the prison, and a watchman is employed at night. The keeper and turnkeys are not in the habit of visiting the cells constantly at night.

The following is a list of the Account Books kept in the prison:—

Account Books.
The Visiting Justicesí Minute and Report Book.
Keeperís, Chaplainís, and Surgeonís Journals.
Commitment Book.
Re-committal and Discharge Books.
Keeperís Receipts and Disbursements Book.
Bill Book.
Labour Book.
Clothing and Bedding Book.
Bread, Meat, and Oatmeal Books.
Extra Diet and Diet Check Books.
Milk, Salt, and Pepper Books.
Wheat Account Book.
Grist and Cash Books.
Prisonersí Receipt, Signature, and Weight Books.

7. Miscellaneous.

The proportion of prisoners who have been previously committed, to the total number of prisoners in custody during the year was,—

Year ending Michaelmas 1835,21 per cent.
Year ending Michaelmas 1836,23 per cent.

There were very few juvenile offenders at the time of inspection. There have been in Juvenile Offenders, the last year 30 prisoners under the age of 17, being about S per cent, upon the whole number in custody in the year.

The proportion of these has also been about 8 per cent, in the last year. The usual Military Prisoners, allowance of 6d. per diem is paid by the War-Office.

The allowance for these is 4½d. per diem if in the gaol, and 1s. if in the house of correction.

The total number in custody was—

On the 25th October 183459
"   183552
"   183660
24th January 183761
9th February 183761

The number committed in the course of each of the following years, ending at Michaelmas respectively, was—


The population has been of late years somewhat stationary.

Major construction work took place in 1852, to provide a long three-storey block ('A') running eastwards from the east side of the governor's house. In 1876, a new four-storey block ('B') was added running northwards from from 'A' block, a little way from its outer end. At the same time, a new three-storey women's block ('C') was erected linked to the north side of the governor's house and running parallel to 'B'.

Following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878, the site became Her Majesty's Prison Canterbury.

In 1894, new warders' quarters were erected at the east of the site, facing St Martin's Church.

Canterbury Sessions House and Prison, early 1900s.
© Peter Higginbotham.

During the First World War, the prison was used as a Home Office archive repository. After a time as a Naval Detention Centre during the Second World War, the prison reopened in 1946 as a local prison to serve the courts of Kent. In 2002 it became a category C training prison and in 2006 a prison for foreign nationals. The following year, the premises was converted to hold only foreign national prisoners in the UK.

The prison was closed in 2013 and the site was subsequently purchased by Canterbury Christ Church University, with plans to use it for student 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.



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