Ancestry UK


County Gaol and Bridewell, Dorchester, Dorset

Dorchester had a County Gaol in or soon after 1284, the year in which Edward I granted the town permission to establish one, 'that the offenders in the same county apprehended, in that prison may have justice according to the law and custom of our realm.'

In 1624, a new county gaol was built at the bottom of High East Street, Dorchester. It was one of the first to be erected by an English Quarter Sessions, at a time when the sheriff, rather than the county magistrates, was legally responsible for prison building. Unusually, a chapel was added in 1674

In 1782, prison reformer, John Howard, visited the establishment and reported on its poor state:

This gaol is quite out of repair. The court is in front, in which is the chapel. There is only one day-room for felons of both sexes, near which is the condemned room; also on the ground-floor is the men's lodging-room, and adjoining a small room for women (8 feet by 6) with a window into the passage. On the first floor there are ten rooms for debtors in a passage 5 feet wide. In September 1774, two debtors told me they had lived five or six weeks on nothing but the county-bread, and water. In December 1775, the small-pox in the gaol: no infirmary: no bath. A garden and a stream at the back of the gaol. Clauses against spirituous liquors, and the act for preserving the health of prisoners, are not hung up. — Mr. John Derby left twenty shillings a year for bread to be distributed among the debtors on the four quarter days: no memorial of this hung up.

By the exertions of Mr. Pitt, and the gentlemen of this county, a new gaol is going to be built on the same ground, and near the fine stream.

Edward Morton Plydell, Esq. sends each prisoner at Christmas six-pence in money, and two pounds of beef. This kind donation has been continued many years by his father and himself. Lord Digby sends at Christmas two guineas to this gaol, and one to the county bridewell.

Mr. Chaffey has been gaoler from the year 1728. I copied a paper of rules and orders signed by him: the last article requires garnish of a new comer.

The following table in the gaol was hardly legible at my first visit.

Dorset. A Table of Fees to be taken by the Gaoler or Keeper of the Sheriff's Ward at Dorchester, settled, at Shaston,15th July, 34th of GEORGE II, 1760 pursuant to an Act intituled an Act for Relief of Debtors &c.
£.  S.  D.
Imprimis for the commitment fee of every prisoner for debt damage contempt or otherwise in civil suits though it be on several actions0  13   4
For the chamber rent of every prisoner so committed who shall have a bed to himself and although there are more beds in the same room and who finds himself bed bedding and sheets weekly and every week0   2   0
If there be two prisoners and no more in one bed finding their own bed bedding and sheets then each of them to pay weekly and every week for chamber rent0   1   0

Every prisoner who at his own desire has a bed to himself and although there are more beds than one in each room and the keeper judge bedding and sheeting shall pay for such chamber rent and for the use of each bed and bedding weekly and every week

0   2   0
Prisoners in one bed and no more in one bed and the keeper finding bed bedding and sheets then every of them to pay weekly and every week for the use of such bed bedding and chamber rent

0   1   0
For the use of the common room the prisoner finding his bed and bedding0   0   0
But if the keeper finds bedding then0   0   6
For the liberate and discharge of every prisoner out of the said prison for debt or otherwise in civil suits or actions0   2   0
For the turnkey fees of every prisoner discharged0   1   0
Ric Brodrepp, R Riggs, J Hanham
Jno Jennings, E Okeden John Freke.

The "Mr Pitt" mentioned by Howard was William Morton Pitt, one of the county's MPs, a Justice of the Peace and, like Howard, an advocate of prison reform. In 1784, the county justices decided to spend £4,00 on enlarging the prison, on its existing site and William Tyler of Vine Street, St James's was commissioned to undertake the work. Howard visited the new building in 1787 and was not impressed by what he found:

A new gaol on a bad plan, and slightly built. A much better plan was proposed by Mr. Pitt, but it was over-ruled. The rooms for debtors very dirty; no free ward: not white-washed, though the act for preserving the health of prisoners is hung up. Allowance to both debtors and felons 1½lb. of bread a day. It was weight; but of bad quality, and not well baked, though the county pays for the best. Acquitted prisoners are kept in gaol in irons till the judge leaves the town, unless certain fees be paid to the clerk of the crown, cryer &c. but if the fees be paid, they are immediately discharged; for such as have money have no fear of detention for other indictments. Gaoler's salary £60 and £40 for turnkeys.

1787, Nov. 16, Debtors 23. Felons &c. 8.

In fact, plans were already being discussed for a completely new prison that was subsequently erected at a site on Castle hill, Dorchester. It was designed by William Blackburn, the leading prison architect of the day and who had previously worked closely with Howard. The building work was carried out by John Fentiman of Newington Butts at a contract price of £12,000. It was completed in 1795.

The new prison comprised six blocks surrounded by a strong wall. The entrance block included the keeper's office, committee room, brewhouse and bath-house, all attached to the outer wall. There were three court yards for the keeper, for the female felons to the left and the female penitentiaries to the right. In the centre block were the keeper's quarters, prisoners' visiting rooms, debtors' day rooms and a number of single working cells. Above them on the first floor were the chapel, the cells for condemned and refractory prisoners, the debtors' sleeping rooms and single sleeping cells. At each corner of the centre block, connected to it by cast-iron bridges, were four smaller blocks with single cells for working and sleeping. There were seven other court yards, allowing each class of prisoner to be kept separate. In the corner of one yard was a manufactory. Store rooms and water closets located on each stairway. There was also an infirmary.

Dorset County Gaol layout, c.1788.

Dorset County Gaol frontage and rear cutaway view, c.1788.

In 1793, the Bridewell at Sherborne was closed and its operation transferred to the County Gaol.

In 1812, James Neild gave a lengthy description of the gaol:

In the building now under consideration, are united the County Gaol, Penitentiary House, and House of Correction. The situation of this Gaol is most judiciously chosen, on the North side of the Town of Dorchester, on a piece of ground still called "The Castle;" where formerly was the site of a structure of that description, and at the foot of which flows the River Frome. It is bounded by a wall 20 feet high, which, from the Turnkey's Lodge, situate at the North side of it, completely encircles the whole of the buildings. Around the outside wall is a spacious esplanade, laid down in grass; and on the North side, in front of the Lodge, a handsome slope inclines to the River, with trees planted on its banks.

The ground on which the Prison is erected, was, in the handsomest manner, given by Francis John Browne, esq. late one of the Members for the County.

The entrance building consists of a room for the Turnkey and Task-Master to sleep in; a room containing a mill for grinding corn, with every other requisite for dressing the flour, and where all the corn used to supply the Prison with bread is ground; a Committee-Room, for the Magistrates to transact business; an office for the Gaoler; a bake-house and brew-house, with oven, iron boilers, and other conveniences in cooking for the Prisoners. Also a warm and cold bath.

Above-stairs, in the Lodge, are six Reception Cells, about 9 feet by 4, and 8 feet 6 inches high. In these Prisoners are placed immediately on their entrance, till they can be examined by the Surgeon, and thoroughly cleansed by means of the baths above-mentioned. If in a foul or infectious state, they remain here, until the Surgeon pronounces them fit for removal into the interior of the Gaol; and then they are sent to join their proper classes.

Felons are apparelled in the Gaol uniform; their own clothes, if worthy of being preserved, are fumigated in a kiln; and then, either laid by in the wardrobe, till their liberation, or delivered to the care of their friends.

There are likewise three work-rooms in this building; and, on the top of the Lodge is a flat roof, covered with copper, on which Executions take place, in view of all criminal Prisoners, who are brought out of their cells for that purpose, into the different galleries; the Church bell tolling solemnly during the awful transaction!

From the Turnkey's lodge is a passage through the Gaoler's court to the central buildings. On the ground-floor are the Gaoler's parlour, kitchen, and scullery; and another passage, which leads to two spacious day-rooms for Men Debtors, 6 yards long by 13 feet 6 inches, and 12 feet high. The Men Debtors have also two airy court-yards, 70 feet each by 30; and over the South front of the South West wing are their ten sleeping-cells, five on either side of the upper stories; and each cell 8 feet 6 inches by 6 feet 6, and y feet high, to the crown of the arch.

When the friend of a Debtor comes to see him, he is introduced into a narrow space, or slip, the inner door of which is kept constantly locked, the outer one left open. There are two windows opening from it, one into each Debtor's day-room. These windows are iron grated, but a table goes through each of them, one half being in the Debtor's room, the other half in the narrow slip, where the visiting friend is. Thus, though Debtors are not excluded from the society of their friends and relations, the visitors are not in general allowed to come into their rooms; by which means irregularities are prevented. In particular cases, the Gaoler, where he finds it proper, unlocks the inner door, and suffers the Debtor to take his friend with him into his cell, or court. The friends of Debtors are permitted to stay with them, if they please, from ten o'clock in the morning till four in the afternoon; after which hour no stranger whatever is allowed to remain within the walls.

In the centre building are also two store-rooms, and a large pair of scales. There are nine airy court-yards, of the average size from 70 to 80 feet long, and 30 to 40 feet wide: five of them communicate with the centre building; viz. one for Male Debtors, and four for Criminal Prisoners, into which open eight single working-cells.

The first floor contains the Chapel, to which Prisoners have access by different doors, to their respective divisions. They are seated in classes; and all are required to attend Divine Service, unless prevented by sickness.

At each corner of the Chapel is a cell for Prisoners under sentence of Death, which are light and airy; and over these are four cells for refractory Prisoners, perfectly dark, but well ventilated.

On this floor are two spacious sleeping-rooms for Men Debtors, each containing four beds, to be used in case the number should be greater than can be well accommodated in what is called "The Debtor's Wing."

Any Debtor, male or female, who is content to sleep in the County-beds, has them free of expence: otherwise, they must provide their own beds and bedding, which they are allowed to do; or else pay the Gaoler 1s. 6d. a week for those articles, with one sheet, or 3s. 6d. for bedding, with a pair of sheets.

Over the last-mentioned rooms are two others; one for Female Debtors, the other for Female Fines: these have no communication with the floors above or below; they are furnished with beds, &c. the same as the men; and above them are the two Infirmaries, each 18 feet by 13, and 8 feet 6 inches high, light and airy, with washing-troughs and water-closets; and also a communication to a separate flat, on the different sides of the roof, one for each sex of convalescents, for the benefit of the air. Between the Infirmaries, here is a Dispensary for the convenience of the Surgeon; and a pew, from each opening into the Chapel, for the use of such sick Prisoners as may be able to attend Divine Service.

Those who are imprisoned until they pay a certain fine, and those for Felony, have each, as the Debtors, but in a different mode of treatment, a small slip or space for their friends to converse with them, in the presence of the Gaoler. The three gates of the slips or small avenues being all locked, the Gaoler, on application, lets the friend into the space between the first and second gates, and stands himself between the second and third, the Prisoner remaining in the court-yard. The Keeper can thus effectually prevent the introduction of weapons, liquor, or other articles, (the use of which is forbidden in this Gaol,) as well as be a check upon any improper conversation. In the case, however, of some known relation of the party, or other person having real private business with the Prisoner, the Gaoler, after previously searching the friend, admits him or her into the space between the second and third gates, and then himself retires. The friends of Felons, and of those imprisoned for Fines, are allowed to remain but a short time only with them, except in cases of real business, when the Keeper is authorized to indulge them at his discretion.

The other part of this excellent Prison consists of Four Wings, detached from, but communicating with, the centre building on each story, by means of cast-iron bridges leading to it from the several galleries; each Wing containing eighteen sleeping-cells. The exemplary distribution of persons here established is such, that not only the Male Prisoners are separated from the Female, and the Felons from the Debtors, Fines, &c. but those of each description are subdivided into classes. For each class also, by means of distinct staircases, separate subdivisions of the building are very accurately appropriated, with court-yards, working-rooms, and other suitable accommodations.

The two classes of Female Debtors, and Females detained for Fines, have each a commodious day-room, with every possible convenience, over the Male Debtors' sleeping-rooms, and under the two Infirmaries, separate and detached from every other part of the building, except the Keeper's house and court-yard, to which they have access through the Chapel.

The subdivisions of the Prison, for the accommodation of the respective classes, are distributed as follows:

Male Debtors.

Male Felons.

Male Convicts, classes I, II, and III.

Male Prisoners for Fines.

Male Bridewell Prisoners.

Female Debtors.

Female Felons, and Bridewell Prisoners for Trial.

Female Felons, and Bridewell Prisoners Convict.

Female Felons.

Reception Cells.

Condemned Cells; or for King's Evidence, when not used for the Condemned.

Refractory Cells.

Infirmary for Males.

Infirmary for Females.

In the several departments of this comprehensive building, there are eighty-eight single sleeping-cells, each of 8 feet 6 inches, by 6 feet 6, and 9 feet high, to the crown of the arch; to which the County allows a cast-iron bedstead, a paillasse, (or ticking filled with straw,) a pair of blankets, and a coverlet.

To every ward there are arcades, 16 feet 6 by 10 feet 6, as day-rooms for the several classes, and water-closets on every stair-case. Net towells, on rollers, are provided for the Prisoners: and, besides the water-cocks and troughs in the different court-yards, here is an engine that throws up water to the several cisterns on the top of each building; from whence every part is plentifully supplied with that essential element; including also the several water-closets, allotted for the use of each subdivision of cells.

There are no sleeping-cells on the ground-floor; by which arrangement the custody of the Prisoners is rendered more secure, and their health not liable to injury from the rising of damps. By means of air-holes, so constructed at the back of each cell, (except in the upper stories, where they are placed in the arches of the cells,) and so managed as to preclude conversation, whilst they transmit air, a thorough circulation is preserved.

The County provides an iron bedstead, a paillasse, two blankets, and a coverlet or rug for each Prisoner.

Here is no allowance of coals to Debtors, male or female, except in very severe Winter weather, or unless an especial order is made for that purpose by the visiting Magistrates. The coals so ordered are not paid for from the County Stock, but out of the Gaol Charity Fund.

In the different day-rooms is stuck up the following notice. "If any Prisoner does any wilful damage to his or her Paillasse, Blankets, or Rugs, he or she shall be immediately punished by close confinement in one of the refractory cells; and there fed on bread and water only, for a space of time, in proportion to the damage done."

There are several work-rooms in each division of the Gaol; some, for single persons to labour in solitude; others appropriated to two, three, or more Prisoners, for the purpose of employing them in such particular kinds of work as they may best be capable of executing: and these are accompanied with store rooms, and every other convenience to render the apartments complete.

Prisoners of all descriptions, Debtors as well as Felons, work together in the manufactory: and, although Dorsetshire is not a manufacturing County, yet, through the laudable exertions of its Magistrates, who alternately superintend the concerns of the Prison, employment is found for all.

A considerable edifice for the manufacture of Hats was built here, at the expence of William Morton Pitt, esq. one of the Members for the County, as a testimony of his gratitude for the confidence reposed in him, and for the repeated favours conferred upon him by his Constituents. This manufacture was tried for several years, with great success. In 1803, I saw numbers engaged in it; but was sorry to find it discontinued at my last visit, in 1805 — owing, I was informed, to a combination amongst the Hatters to undersell, and make it unproductive. Many Prisoners are now employed in shoe-making, tayloring, carding, spinning, &c. and these branches go on very successfully.

Prisoners who work in privacy, or solitude, are employed in the first stages of their respective branch; and such parts of the works as require the joint labour of several, are performed by those, who, consistent with the Prison Rules, are subject to a less degree of restriction. The produce of the work done is divided into shares: of which each Prisoner has one half; the Keeper a sixth part, to excite his attention to the object; and the remaining third part is accounted for to the County, and

Gaoler, George Andrews. Salary, 218l. for himself and two Turnkeys. Fees, Debtors, 13s. 4d. which are paid to the Treasurer of the County Stock. The Under Sheriff demands also 2s. for his Liberate! Felons pay no Fees, Conveyance of Transports, 1s. per mile each. Garnish abolished.

Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Bryer. Duty, Twice every Sunday, and once on Wednesday. Salary, 50l.

Surgeon, Mr. Arden. Salary, 40l. for both Debtors and Felons.

A Task-Master, 60l. per annum.

Number of Prisoners.Debtors.Felons, &c.
1800, Mar. 31st,765
1801, Dec. 29th,380
1803. Oct. 21st,955

Allowance, to Debtors, none, except they work for the County; in which cas6 they receive half of their earnings, and a pound and half of wheaten bread, made with the whole of the bran in it, and a quart of broth per day. Master's-Side Debtors, who do not work, maintain themselves. All Prisoners committed for trial have the same allowance as the working Debtors, and on the same conditions. After conviction, every Prisoner, whose earnings amount to 5s. per week, has, in addition to the above allowance, three pounds of meat per week, with a proportionate quantity of potatoes, and one sixth of his earnings. If they do not amount to 5s. a week, he has the same allowance, and only one sixth of the profit. The County finds employment for all who chuse to work, and all must work, or maintain themselves. The last Prisoner committed, (of whatever description,) takes the broom, and sweeps the Court; or else gives seven-pence halfpenny to another Prisoner to do it for him. Criminal Prisoners, during the six Winter months, are allowed a peck of coals per day for their common-room, and half a peck daily during the six Summer months.

In 1837, the newly formed Inspectors of Prisons reported on their visit to the site. By that date, the prison had moved to the separate system for the regime imposed on convicts. Like most other county gaols at that time, it had also acquired a number of tread wheels. Here is the Inspectors' report, slightly abridged:

Construction.—This Prison stands in an open and airy situation; it has been solidly and carefully built, but on a plan not entirely in harmony with the opinions which prevail at present on the arrangement of such edifices. Although the Governor's house occupies a central position, the whole building is very deficient in point of a good inspection. Attempts have been made to improve the inspection, as by means of small apertures covered with sliders; but on the whole, in spite of these and similar aids, this is the evil which is at present most strongly felt, and most generally acknowledged. Prisoners in going to, and in returning from, their cells, enjoy an extensive view over the neighbouring country: this is a disadvantage, on which it is unnecessary to enlarge. At the four corners of the chapel are four dark cells, the inmates of which can attend Divine service without quitting their confinement, the outer door being opened, while the inner gate is still kept closed. Many of the yards are paved, a circumstance which adds much to the cleanliness and dryness which it is so essential to preserve. The water-closets throughout the whole establishment are in admirable order, both as regards cleanliness and operation; they act by a wire. There are no stools in the cells. A difficulty arises here, as elsewhere, in the consideration of separate confinement, as to the mode of warming the cells; they are too cold for winter use, unless heated, and, as yet, no mode has been resorted to for introducing warmth. The Prison is not a very secure one. The ventilation is good.

Management.—A Keeper, Matron, five Turnkeys, and a Miller, reside in the house. There are also a Chaplain, Surgeon and Clerk. The accounts of a county gaol, and indeed, of any large prison, can only be well kept by a person exclusively devoted to the task. At Dorchester I had ample opportunity of observing the benefit arising from a diligent and intelligent clerk.

Silence is enforced here. The Convicted are separated at night, as far as the accommodation extends; at present every convicted prisoner sleeps in a separate cell. By day the Convicted are also kept entirely apart, as far as conversation is concerned; they eat their meals in front of the wheel, when sentenced to hard labour; the other prisoners eat in their day-rooms. The Untried associate without any limitation. A Turnkey is placed in each court, which the Convicted occupy during the day.

The Prison is divided into Eleven Male Yards, and Six Female ones.; The Convicted Prisoners are only allowed to write, or to be visited, once in six months, except in cases of urgent and rare necessity. The Keeper, Turnkeys, or Matron are always present during the visit. Tobacco is forbidden.

The offences committed in the prison are rare, and slight: such as disobedience, and talking; they are punished by being placed in refractory cells, or in their own cells, with a diminished allowance of food, as one pound of bread, and water, for a short time, unless the Surgeon declares such a diet to be improper. Whipping is only practised by order of Magistrates; one or two dozen lashes is the usual number; it is always executed in the presence of the Surgeon and Gaoler.

Cleanliness and neatness distinguish the whole of this building.; and no pains are spared to preserve order. The Debtors' rooms furnish an exception to this character, but this is not the fault of the officers.

Diet.—The general daily allowance of food is 1½ lb. of bread, 2 pints of oatmeal gruel, 1½ lb. of potatoes. Six ounces of meat (by weight after boiling, and without bone,) are given three times a week to the Debtors, but only once a week to the others. On Sundays only one pound of potatoes is allowed.

The Convicted Felons receive a jacket, waistcoat, and trowsers, two shirts, a cap, and slippers. The other prisoners receive only two shirts. The Females are provided with a bedgown and slippers only, unless they happen to be in a state of destitution.

The general allowance of Bedding for all parties is a rug, two blankets (and a third one in severe weather,) a straw bed, a rush mattrass, and a rush mat to stand upon.

All Cookery is performed in the general kitchen, from which the gruel is brought up hot in covered vessels; the prisoners then mix it with their bread.

Labour.—There are three Tread-wheels, which are divided into four. A Watchman (who is not a prisoner,) is constantly kept at the wheels, in order to preserve discipline. This hard-labour is always regarded as a heavy punishment, but not so the lighter labours, for which the prisoners receive a certain proportion of pay. Washing, whitewashing, carpentering, bricklaying, painting, tayloring, shoemaking, nursery-gardening, baking, cooking, are the employments carried on here in various degrees. The profits of the labour, deducted from the yearly expenses, amounted last year to 99l. 5s. 9½d. A certain proportion of this goes to the county, a small proportion to the Governor and Matron, and a small proportion to the prisoners. Out of 111 prisoners in custody on the 1st of November 1835, only 20 were unemployed. A crank is soon to be put up, in order to furnish work for those individuals to whom the tread-mill may be unsuited. All clothes and shoes are made at home, and this is found to be good economy.

Religious and other Instruction.—The Chaplain performs Divine Service twice on Sundays, as well as on Christmas-day, Good Friday and Ascension-day, with a Sermon; Prayers are read daily. The Chaplain has a separate room for the purpose of instructing his charge; he usually attends twice a week for this purpose, and still more frequently, if sent for. There is a good supply of religious books. The Chaplain keeps a Journal; he has no other avocation, except the office of Chaplain to the Pauper Lunatic Asylum near Dorchester. When boys are in custody, a competent prisoner is chosen to instruct them: there is no salaried schoolmaster.

Care of the Sick, Disease and Mortality.—There are four Infirmary-rooms for sick males, and four others appointed to the sick women. The Surgeon visits the sick every day; he also actually observes every prisoner twice a week, an excellent system, and one worthy of general adoption, not a little likely to conduce to the prevention of disease, as well as to detecting it in its earlier stage. Two of the most common complaints are the itch and the venereal disease. The total number of prisoners admitted into the Infirmaries during the year between June 1834 and June 1835 was 60, out of an aggregate of 558 prisoners. The mortality of this prison appears to be remarkably small. Although the average number of prisoners ranges from 130 to 170, no death occurred in the above-named year; and during the last four years only two adults have died, one of whom was a man of 70 years of age. No epidemic disorder has prevailed here during the last two years. There is no case of insanity amongst the present prisoners.

£.  s.  d.
Keeper260  0  0
Chaplain200  0  0
Surgeon50  0  0
Matron40  0  0
Clerk52  0  0
Five Male Turnkeys (Head Turnkey receives 17s. a week, the others 14s. a week) 189 16  0
Miller52  0  0


The cost of Diet of the Prisoners for one year from 24th June 1834 to 24th June 1835, was 642l. 2s.

The cost per head per week was:

s.  d.
Bread1   2
Potatoes0   4
Gruel0   2
Meat0   3
  1  11

The Druggists' bill for medicines for last year was:39. 19s. 9d.

The total expenditure for the last year, after deducting additions, alterations, &c.; and not including the profits, was 2,448l. 8s. 3¾d.



4 Refractory Cells8 ft. 6in. long, by 6 ft. 4 in. wide.
4 Condemned Cells8 ft.6 in. long, by 6 ft. 4 in. wide.
8 Corner Cells8 ft. 6 in. long, by 3 ft. 10 in. wide.
Single Cells8 ft.7 in. long, by 6 ft. 8 in. wide.
Large Cells14 ft. 2 in. long, by 8 ft. 5 in. wide.
2 Large Rooms, used for an Infirmary18 ft. 11 in. long, by 13 ft. 5in. wide.
2 Small Rooms18 ft. 11 in. long, by 9 ft. 5 in.

The height of these Cells is various, from 7 to 9 feet in round numbers. The number of Sleeping Cells is 83.


The Working Hours per day are 10 hours during the summer months, and as long during the winter months as the daylight will admit of.

The height of each step of the tread-wheel is 8 inches.

The ordinary velocity of the wheel per minute is two revolutions.

As to the number of prisoners the wheel will hold at one time: Two of the wheels will hold 1S at a time on each; the other wheel is divided into two parts, and will hold 16.


The Books are various, minute, and neat, comprehending accounts by double entry: Civil Register, Criminal Register, Gaoler's Register, Magistrates' Register, Chaplain's Register, Surgeon's Register, Bread book, Miller's hook, (which records the labour of each prisoner, and the proceeds,) the Wages' book.

The manner in which the prison books are kept is highly creditable to the clerk; his hours of attendance are from nine in the morning till eight P. M.


The total number of prisoners, at the time of my; visit in November last, was 120.

The total number received in the last year, from June 1534 to June 1835, was 558.

The average number of prisoners was 1398, from September 30, 1834, to, March 25, 1835.

The greatest number of prisoners at one time, during the year 1834, was 180.


The actual number of Sleeping Cells is only 83; but, in order to accommodate. with separate sleeping cells the greatest number of prisoners at one time in the prison during the year 1834 it should be 180; supposing that the large rooms were divided, and thus formed into additional sleeping cells, 76 more might be obtained; and then 21 new ones would be wanting to make up the number of cells required.


The daily average number of Debtors here (from September 30, 1834, to March 25, 1835), was, of those who dieted themselves, 34; 7 of those who were dieted at the expense of the county, 84.

Following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878, the establishment became HMP Dorchester.

HMP Dorchester from the south, c.1920s.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The prison closed in 2013. In 2022, the building was hosting tours and other events.


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.

  • Dorset History Centre, Bridport Road, Dorchester DT1 1RP. Holdings include: Register of officers (1881-1928); Prison registers (1812-79); Register of debtors (1793-1842); Register of executions (1816, 1913, 1941); Photographs of prisoners (1887-1901); Architectural plans (1824).
  • 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.