Ancestry UK

County Bridewell, Chelmsford, Essex

In 1776, a new County Bridewell, or House of Correction, was erected on the High Street, Chelmsford.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

On the ground-floor a large work-room, a kitchen, and a lodging-room for men: over them rooms of the same size for women: rooms for the sick. Prisoners always kept within doors; and the rooms very offensive by the sewers. Neither here nor at the gaol, are there proper drains or sewers. Mr. Ford (the keeper) told me at one of my visits that many had been ill of the gaol-fever, brought from the county gaol. His salary, £30: under-keeper's, £16: no fees. Prisoners allowance, three pence a day; for which they have a pound and half of bread, and a quart of small beer; and three halfpence a day farther allowance to each sick prisoner. Coals, straw, brooms &c. £4: 2: 6 a quarter. The employment of the prisoners is spinning wool, at a penny a skain: the county has the profit. At my last visit, there were several sick and dirty objects on the floor, with little or no covering. No bath. Garnish 2s.

1774, Dec. 6,Prisoners 18.1779, April 7,Prisoners 27.
1775, Oct. 19,15.1782, July 12,28.
1776, Nov. 20, 1783,21.1783, Oct. 27,31.

In 1804, James Neild wrote a critical report of the prison:

Keeper, Thomas Ford; salary 80l. with an additional allowance of ten pounds for coals; no fees; garnish, one shilling; the number of prisoners vary, and sometimes are very great; there were only 26 when I visited it in the 12th October, 1801. The men and boys were a employed in picking oakum for the gaol in a long work room, 16 feet, by 12; on the ground floor, adjoining to which are a common day room,,and a sleeping room; above these are three rooms of the same dimensions, and for the same purposes for the women. Two rooms on the ground floor, each 16 feet by 12, are appointed for the sick. The keeper is not only very humanely, but also very religiously attentive to his prisoners, particularly so as to the last on the Sabbath day, when he constantly reads the church-service to the prisoners. I cannot but remark that this House of Correction has many and great inconveniences, and is by no means calculated for the purposes to which it is applied. The prisoners are always kept within doors, and the room very offensive by the necessaries. Neither here nor at the country gaol are there proper drains or sewers. On my visit the 3lst July, 1803, I found the good old keeper dead; the whole prison filthy and out of repair; in the two upper rooms five women and two children sick on the floor; the straw worn to dust; and in one of the rooms a cart load os rubbish heaped up in a corner. In one of the sick rooms below were four women; in the other room six women and two children: one of the women quite naked, another without a shift, the other four had neither shoe nor stocking; a man and a boy with sore legs. The whole prisoners were vociferous, and almost desperate for the want of water. This was supplied during my stay. The prisoners complained of the want of medical attendance, and, if I may judge from the filthiness of the sores and bandages, not without reason. The surgeon's apprentice came while I was there, and, at my request, ordered warm milk and water to bathe and cleanse their legs. Among the prisoners were four idiots. Neither the act for preservation of health, nor the clause against spirituous liquors, were hung up. What rendered this wretched prison still more unbearable, was the offensiveness of the hog-stye of an adjoining public-house. Number of prisoners. men and boys 12; women 17; children 5; allowance, one pound and a half of bread, and a quart of small-beer daily. I must in justice add, that the magistrate: of the county, who have paid a laudable attention to public utility, have lately purchased a site of land, immediately adjoining to the South end of the County Gaol, and on which a new House of Correction is to be built, and on a scale adequate to all the purposes os such a building.

The new premises referred to by Neild, adjacent to the County Gaol on Moulsham Street, came into operation in September 1806. His report on the new establishment appeared in 1812:

Gaoler, Richard Brooke, now William Couthorn. Salary, 100l. and for coals and other contingencies, 60l. or more, if necessary. Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Morgan. Salary, 20l. Duty, Prayers and Sermon every Sunday morning. Medical Attendants; the same Gentlemen as at the County Gaol; with a Salary, for both, of 50l. per annum.

Number of Prisoners,Men.Women.
1808, Nov. 12th,3410
1809, Aug. 4th,306
1810, Sept. 26th,5414

Allowance, the same to each Prisoner here as in the County Gaol.

This new House of Correction, first inhabited at Michaelmas 1806, adjoins to the County Gaol; and being fronted with Portland-stone, has a very handsome appearance. The house appointed for the Keeper immediately occupies the front and in it is a room entirely appropriated to the Magistrates, with every convenience of books, &c. necessary for the duties of their office.

Behind this building, and in the centre of the large area, is the Bridewell; on the right and left of which are two large court-yards, with a day-room attached to each.

The Men's court is 144 feet by 32, and has on each side separate cells, amounting in all, to thirty-eight.

Over the cells, on the right hand, is a workshop, 152 feet by 14; and at the end next the street are two rooms for Overseers, and two others, set apart for a deposit of various articles necessary to the situation. At the farther end is an Infirmary, 38 feet six inches by 14 feet, which, on the Men's side, has seven crib bedsteads, with each a straw bed, blanket and rug; also a cast iron grate, and pegs for clothes. Annexed to it is a foul or infectious ward, containing four crib beds, and furnished in all respects as the Infirmary.

The Women's court-yard has twenty-six cells, a work-room of 72 feet by 14, and at the lower part of the court-yard, an Infirmary for Women, of 12 feet by 9 feet seven, fitted up in the same manner as the men's. Here are likewise a room for temporary confinement, 48 feet ten inches by 14 feet, and a sleeping-room above it, of the same dimensions.

The Chapel, 65 feet by 21 feet six, is built partly over the cells; and has a wall running through the centre of it, to the length of 42 feet six inches, so as effectually to prevent all communication between the men and women, who have each their separate doors of entrance. At the end of the Chapel is a spacious room, assigned for stores of every kind that may be wanted for the employment of the Prisoners.

The men have two rooms, one for a working and day room; and the other, for lodging, has seven beds in it. Over which the women also have two rooms, of the same size and description; to which hitter the ascent is by a stair-case from their court-yard.

The size of each cell here is ten feet by six feet 6, and eight feet high, all arch-roofed, and fitted up with a bed, mattress, blanket, and coverlet. Over each door is an aperture for light and ventilation, with a shutter on the inside.

The employment of the Prisoners is picking of oakum. They have no portion of the earnings; but, if they have behaved well, receive money at their discharge, according to their distance from home.

The bread here distributed is made, and the beer brewed, in the house. The commitments to it, from 1st January, 1807, to 1st January, 1808, were one hundred and fifty-eight. Persons confined for Bastardy, or for petty offences, as servants, are not permitted to have any intercourse with the other Prisoners, but have a separate court-yard, rooms, &c.

Firing is humanely allowed here, the same as at the County Gaol; and all the court-yards are well supplied with excellent water.

The Rules and Regulations of this House of Correction are properly and very conspicuously hung up in the different wards.

In 1823, the prison was formally merged with the adjacent County Gaol. Following the opening in 1825 of of the new Springfield Gaol, the Moulsham Street site was used to house debtors and female prisoners and continued in operation until 1848. The buildings were demolished in 1859. Retail premises now occupy the site.


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  • Essex Record Office, Wharf Road Chelmsford CM2 6YT. Holdings include: Return to Government of number of criminal lunatics in Gaol and five Houses of Correction, with original returns from Gaol etc. (1808); Copy of lists of lunatics in the Gaol and Houses of Correction within the previous 10 years, giving names, ages, crimes, and observations (1819).
  • 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.