Ancestry UK

Gloucester County Gaol & / HMP Gloucester, Gloucestershire

By 1228, and perhaps as early as 1185, part of Gloucester Castle had become home to Gloucestershire's County Gaol. Thomas Baskerville, who visited the castle in 1683, wrote that the gaol was 'esteemed... the best in England, so that if I were forced to go to prison and make my choice I would come hither.' In 1714, another writer noted the prisoners' opportunities for fresh air and exercise. The castle precincts included a flower garden kept by the gaoler's wife and a bowling green, used by inhabitants of the city as well as by the gaoler and his prisoners. The area's attractions were further enhanced in the 1740s when the constable, Benjamin Hyett, laid out an ornamental garden in the castle grounds to the east and south of the gaol.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

GAOLER,William Williams, now Robert Giles.
  Fees,Debtors,£1 : 0 : 10.
 Felons, at Assize  0 :12 :10.
 Felons, at Quarter Sessions  0 :12 :10.
  Transports,£6 each.
  Allowance,Debtors, none.
 Felons, each a six-penny loaf in two days (good household bread, weight Sep. 1783, 3lb. 11oz.).
  Garnish,£0 : 1 : 6.
  Number,Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors,Felons &c.
  1773,Nov. 24,15,17.1779,June 1,16,24.
  1774,Aug. 8,20,48.1782,Apr. 27,2424.
  1775,Dec. 5,13,24.1782,Dec. 23,3838.
  1776,Sep. 6, 8,35.1783,Sep. 30,3046.
  1776,Dec. 15,10,41. 
CHAPLAIN,   Rev. Mr. Evans.
SURGEONS,Messrs. Powell and Mills.
  Salary,Salary, none: they make a bill.

The castle is also one of the county bridewells: yet only one court for all prisoners; and one day-room (11 feet 9 inches by 10 feet 7), for men and women-felons. The free ward for debtors is 19 feet by 11, which having no window, part of the plaster wall is broke down for light and air. The night-room (the Main) for men-felons, though up many stone steps, is close and dark; and the floor is so ruinous, that it cannot be washed. Adjoining to the Main, there are other night rooms for fines, &c. These have also their separate day-room. The whole prison was much out of repair, and had not been white-washed for many years. The upper rooms were the bridewell; but at my last visit they were used for an infirmary. Many prisoners died here in 1773, and I generally saw some sick in this gaol; eight died about Christmas 1778 of the small-pox; and in 1783, several died of that disorder and the gaol-fever. Only one fewer. No bath. Neither clauses against spirituous Castle. liquors, nor the act for preserving the health of prisoners, are hung up.

There is no separation of the women, or of the bridewell prisoners. The licentious intercourse of the sexes is shocking to decency and humanity. Many children have been born in this gaol. There is a small chapel, but all the endeavours of the chaplain to promote reformation among the prisoners must necessarily be defeated, by the inattention of the magistrates, and their neglect of framing and enforcing good regulations. Perhaps this is the reason the chaplain seldom attends.

Of the felons &c. in September and December 1776, thirteen were transports: most of them convicted at Lent assize 1775. About twenty were fines; who, not having the county allowance, nor any employment, were in September very pitiable objects indeed; half naked, and almost famished. But in December their appearance was much altered. Mr. Raikes and other gentlemen took pity on them, and generously contributed toward the feeding and clothing them. Mr. Raikes continues his unremitting attention to the prisoners. Eleven of the twenty-four in 1779, sixteen in 1782, and fourteen in 1783, were fines without any employment or allowance. The gaoler has £ 10 a year as bridewell keeper.

At my visit in Dec. 1782, I found some improvements made in the castle: the floors laid with stone; boxes or bedsteads for the felons and fines; and the whole prison white-washed.—When prisons are repaired, particular care should be taken for the admission of air. The windows should not be close glazed.—I observed numbers of the townsmen drinking in the tap-room here, as in too many other gaols.

I was happy to hear in October 1783, that this county has determined to build a new gaol, and to reform the bridewells; which is principally owing to the spirited exertions of the chairman of the grand jury Sir George Onesiphorus Paul.

In 1791, the gaol moved to new, purpose-built accommodation at Barrack Square, designed by William Blackburn. The prison included a Penitentiary, housing more serious criminals.

In 1812, James Neild published an extensive account of his visits to the new premises:

Gaoler, Thomas Cunningham.

   Salary, 300l. for Gaol and Penitentiary House. Also allowed a Clerk, whose Salary is 50l. paid by the County.

    Fees, for Debtors, as per Table. The Under-Sheriff demands 6s. 8d. for his liberate; which is paid by the Committee of Prison Charity in all cases of distress. Salary is 50l. paid by the County.

    Fees for Felons, Fines, and Criminals, none. The expence of conveying Transports is paid by the County. Salary is 50l. paid by the County.

    Garnish, abolished.

Chaplain, Rev. Edward Jones.

    Duty, Prayers Wednesday and Friday morning; and a Sermon every Sunday, Christmas day, and Good Friday. Salary 50l.

Surgeon, Mr. Wilton. Salary, 47l. for all descriptions.
Number of Prisoners,Debtors.Felons, and Criminals,
  1802, Nov. 29th,2950
  1806, Sept. 3d,2847
And Two French Captives.
Allowance, to Debtors, Fines, and Felons, one pound and a half of good household bread, and one penny in money per day. The allowance of diet to Prisoners in the Penitentiary House is as follows:

    Every morning a loaf of bread, of one pound and a half, to each; with an ounce and half of oatmeal, and a quarter of an ounce of salt, made into gruel.

    Dinner, Sunday and Thursday, three quarters of a pound of beef, without bone, and one pound of potatoes.

    Monday and Friday, three quarters of a pint of pease, made into soup with the liquor of the preceding days.

    Tuesday, two pounds of potatoes, or one quarter of a pound of cheese.

    Wednesday, one ounce and a half of rice, and one ounce and a half of oatmeal.

    Saturday, a quarter of a pound of cheese.

The situation of this Prison is judiciously chosen, a little way out of the Town. The boundary wall encloses nearly three acres of ground; and the buildings consist of the Gaol, and the Penitentiary House, calculated for separate and distinct purposes.

In the front is the Turnkey's lodge; on the ground-floor of which is a fumigating room, a guard-room, porter's-room, and pantry; a bake-house, and warm and cold baths. Up-stairs, two rooms for flour and wheat, and four Lazaretto cells, each 7 feet 6 inches by 6 feet. Two rooms for Prisoners' clothes; one for irons, locks, bolts, &c. and a porter's sleeping-room.

On the flat roof above is the place of execution; and between the two chimnies is placed an alarm-bell, which is tolled during the awful ceremony. In the outward gate are two boxes, to receive the donations of benefactors: One inscribed,

"To encourage Penitence and Orderly Behaviour in Criminal Prisoners."

The other,

"For the Relief of Poor Debtors."

A small court-yard leads to the Gaoler's house, in which, on the ground-floor, is the Magistrates' Committee Room, the kitchen, pantries, and brewhouse, with cellars underneath.

Above stairs is a sitting-room, and two bed-rooms on the second story; a Dispensary, two Infirmaries, and a general Hospital-room, with a fire-place at each end. On the upper story is the Foul-Ward, containing three cells for Prisoners who have any infectious disorder; the leaden roof, serving for convalescents to take the air, is one story higher than the rest of the buildings.

The Prisons are surrounded by eleven separate courts, of an irregular polygon shape; and betwixt each is a small plat of garden-ground, to prevent conversation between the different classes. They have open wood palisades, by which a thorough air is admitted; and the ground, being an inclined plane, is constantly dry. The distance of about 15 feet from the boundary wall affords a convenient garden for the growth of vegetables.

The Debtors have a spacious airy court, of 70 yards in length, and 19 yards wide, with a colonnade at each end, 16 yards by 10 feet 6; and two smaller courts. A day-room, 15 yards by 12, with two fire-places, is fitted up with every accommodation for frugal cookery; and two large commodious work-rooms, wherein to carry on any trade for the sole benefit of those Prisoners who can procure employment from without: If not, they are supplied with work, on application to the Manufacturer, and receive two thirds of the estimated value of their daily earnings. The risk of sale for the articles so wrought up remains with the County.

Prisoners for Debt are here distributed into two divisions, or classes. The first is under the Magistrates' protection: to which all have admission on their commitment; but in which no one is suffered to remain, except on conforming to rules calculated for the preservation of health and morals, and to promote that decency and good order, which are so essential to the common benefit of all.

The second division is called "The Sheriff's Ward;" with Prisoners in which class the Magistrates no otherwise interfere, than to protect them against every possible means of extortion. The Debtors in this division are liable to all such claims and consequences as the Gaoler may, by Law or Usage, have authority to impose.

Each Debtor, desirous to live under the Magistrates' Protection, (or First Class,) has a separate bed-room, fire-proof, fitted up with an iron bedstead, hair mattress, blankets, sheets, and quilt, at the County cost: those confined in the Sheriff's Ward have the like accommodation, on paying the regulated room-rent.

Such Prisoners as are far removed from their friends, or totally destitute of any, and without the power to procure their sixpences; or who are not able to work; or, being able, cannot procure employment sufficient to provide themselves necessary sustenance; Such, and such only, are relieved from the publick stock, "on producing a certificate from the Minister, and some other respectable inhabitants of the Debtor's place of residence, that he is not only destitute of friends, but a deserving object also of the publick bounty."

An unrestrained and unlimited construction of that Clause in the Lords' Act, which allows Debtors, at their will and pleasure, "to send for, or to have brought unto them, any ale, beer, &c." is what I have been ever taught to consider as the source of riot and disorder amongst Prisoners; and as, probably, a principal cause of their distress. Now, by the Gloucester Bye-Laws, the power to send for victuals and small beer, is not only unrestricted, but a messenger is paid by the publick to procure it for them at all hours in the day-time. With respect to strong liquor, however, no Prisoner is allowed to have, or receive, for his own use, more than a pint of wine, or a quart of strong beer, in any one day.

Here are thirty-four single sleeping-cells, 8 feet by 6, with arched roofs, furnished with iron bedsteads, hair mattress, blankets, sheets, and quilt, like the fire-proof bed-rooms before described, at the expence of the County; together with two large five bedded rooms, in case the number of Prisoners should exceed what the cells can accommodate.

Women Debtors have a large room on the first story, with five beds; and Sheriff's Ward Debtors have two of the same size on the second story.

The sleeping-cells, of 8 feet by 6, with arched roofs, are well ventilated.

Here is a court where coals are deposited; in which is a large wheel for forcing water into 4 reservoirs; and from them every part of the Prison is well supplied with water.

The goods manufactured here are stockings, girth-web, bottle-stands, boots, shoes, slippers, articles for weaving, &c.

The Chapel is a neat building. Each class of Prisoners enters by a separate door to the place assigned them; which is out of view of the others. Their names are called over before Divine Service begins; and none are permitted to absent themselves, except on some special occasion, or sickness. I was much pleased with the suitable discourse of the worthy Chaplain, which he very forcibly addressed to the several classes of his audience. Beside the service heretofore noted in its place, I learned that Prayers are read on the other four week-days by the Gaoler; who then distributes the daily allowance of bread and money to every Prisoner that appears clean, and has behaved decently in Chapel.

The several court-yards for Felons, &c. in the interior of the Prison, are spacious and airy; with arcades, and day-rooms to each class, fitted up with every convenience for simple cookery. There is a wash-house and common cooking-room in the Penitentiary House. The washing of linen is done by the Female Convicts, who have a drying-ground, and three rooms also, to answer the purpose of drying in bad weather.

Here is a Task-Master, or Manufacturer, who has a Salary, and a share of the Prisoners' earnings, and acts likewise as assistant to Mr. Cunningham, the Gaoler. A sale-shop is provided for the finished goods; a large room where the bedding is manufactured; another for weaving, and a third for picking the hair made use of in mattresses: a taylor's shop; and a store-room for pease, clothing, pots, paint, &c.

The penitentiary Prisoners have three courts, into which open sixteen work-cells. There are two passages, or lobbies, 5 feet wide, and communicating with these courts, each containing five work-cells; in all twenty-six. These are heated by brick flues, and have a Thermometer to regulate the warmth.

The ground floor, and the first and second-story, have each of them a day-room for State Prisoners, about sixteen feet square, with fire-places and glazed windows. This Prison contains 178 sleeping-cells, and two others for the refractory; dark indeed, but, like the rest, well-ventilated.

Criminals sleep single. They have iron bedsteads, a straw mattress, a hair ditto, with 16 lbs. of hair each; two blankets, a pair of sheets, a night-cap, and a coverlet lined with flannel. Sheets and night-caps clean every month.

In 1826, the prison was enlarged, with John Collingwood as the architect. The outer wall was extended eastwards to Barbican Road, bringing the original gatehouse inside the perimeter. This necessitated construction of a new gatehouse in the north-east wall. A self-contained three-storey debtors prison was erected at the east of the original buildings.

In 1837, the recently established Inspectors of Prisons reported on the prison:

Construction.—The County Gaol and Penitentiary are both comprehended within one building, although separate in arrangements and in position. This edifice reflects honour on the memory of Sir George Paul, who appears to have had the entire direction of the plan, and who anticipated, in his own time, certain improvements, which were not much noticed then, and have been since regarded as the discovery of later individuals. His presiding genius watched over the most minute details; thus, for instance, he has made all the doors of passages very low, in order that a prisoner, if running at an officer to attack him, might be suddenly arrested in his course. Owing to the successive alterations which have taken place, various modes of heating the building have been resorted to, which owe some imperfections to the scanty knowledge which formerly existed on the subject of warming buildings. Sir O. Paul seems to have availed himself of all the information of his time; and he has the particular merit of having foreseen the necessity of making a provision for this purpose. But the cells, which are warmed, receive an unequal distribution in some cases; for instance, six female cells are heated from one stove : the stove is in one cell, which is too warm, and a pipe passes froni it to the other five, the last of which is but scantily supplied.

The ventilation is good ; the windows and privies in complete order. The Prison is a secure one. Although the situation is not very dry, the Prison is usually dry internally.

There are 13 Wards in the Gaol, with six Day Rooms, and six Airing Yards. There are 88 Light Cells for sleeping-rooms. There are only two Dark Cells, and both of these are above ground. There are no other Refractory Cells specially appropriated for punishment.

In the Penitentiary there are 79 Day Cells, and 69 Sleeping Cells. The entire number of the cells, in the whole Penitentiary, is 148. The following are the dimensions of the Felons' Cells:
8 feet long, 6 feet 5 inches wide, 9 feet 8 inches high.
Penitentiary Day Cells average 8 feet 7 inches long, a feet 10 inches wide, 11 feet 2 inches high.
Sleeping Cells in Penitentiary average 8 feet 3 inches long, a feet 6 inches wide, 10 feet high.
Dark Cells, 8 feet long, 6 feet s inches wide, 10 feet high.

In the Female section of the Penitentiary there are six Day Cells, and 12 Sleeping Cells. A day cell is in no instance converted into a sleeping cell. When the Male Penitentiary is crowded, the prisoners sleep in felons' separate cells.

Management.—The complement of officers will be found in detail under the head of Salaries.

The Untried Male Prisoners associate in three separate classes, according to their offence and their age; the females who are untried are placed together in another ward ; silence is not enjoined in these wards, but the inmates are not permitted to indulge in loud conversation.

The Gaol is appropriated to Untried Prisoners (excepting fines in execution, also admitted.) The Penitentiary is for the Convicted.

The Convicted Prisoners are confined in separate cells, both by day and by night, whenever there is sufficient room for the practice of such a system. They are always separated at meals and at night. Solitude appears to be that part of the discipline which is most severely felt. Amongst these classes the observance of silence is strictly enforced. When the Prison is crowded, 10 or 20 are placed in a large day-room together.

Letters are received by the Convicted Prisoners only at the discretion of the Governor, and visits can only be made to them through an order from the Magistrate who committed them. The Governor rarely allows the admission of letters to the Convicted, which he deems a fruitffil source of mischief.

Offences committed in the Prison itself are rare; they are usually comprised in the circle of talking, fighting, disobedience, and robbing their fellows. They are punished by confinement in the day cells, and by a reduction of their diet.

The office of Wardsmen is filled here from the ranks of the Untried Prisoners, (who have no other occupation). The Debtors also are occasionally selected to fill this post, and, as a recompense, receive the additional diet which is assigned to the Convicted Prisoners.

Cleanliness, neatness and steady discipline are visible throughout, and the Prison has been fortunate in long possession of a zealous and judicious Governor. Silence appears to have been introduced here on the opening of the Gaol in 1792 ; but it was not then so methodically pursued as at present. This appears to have been the fountain-head of information on thesubjects of silence and solitude. Labour in separate day cells was only given up in 1822, when the tread-wheel was introduced.

Although the same Governor presides over both Gaol and Penitentiary, yet there are distinct subaltern officers belonging to each; some of whom, however, are occasionally employed in both.

Diet.—The Debtors, if destitute, receive one loaf, of 1½lb., daily, and a penny from the county daily.

For the Untried, the loaf and penny daily are the only allowance, except for those who happen to have friends outside capable of supplying them with additional food. This scale of diet appears to me the greatest blemish in this generally excellent establishment; money is a mischievous ingredient, and even -with this money it is, in my opinion, insufficient. The following is the allowance for the Convicted Prisoners who are at hard labour:
On Sundays, for dinner, 12 oz. beef, 1 lb. potatoes and a ¼oz. of salt, for those Prisoners who have been in the Penitentiary two months, and for those of less time 1½lb. potatoes and a ¼oz. of salt only.
On Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, 2 lb. potatoes and r oz. of salt.
On Tuesday and Friday, 4 oz. of rice boiled and ¼oz. salt.

Each Penitentiary prisoner has daily for breakfast and supper, half a pint of milk mixed with half a pint of boiling water, and 1½lb. loaf of bread daily.

The Untried may not receive beer nor spirits from their friends, and all their food is previously examined by an officer, after delivery from without; subsequently they are allowed to cook it themselves.

In respect to Clothing for the Untried Prisoners, a suit of blue cloth, cap, shirt, stockings and wooden shoes are provided. The Debtors also receive this dress, if they happen to be destitute. A similar suit, differing only in its particolour of blue and yellow, is distributed to the Convicted prisoners.

The Bedding comprehends a mattrass of hair, a pair of sheets, two blankets and a coverlid. The body-linen is changed once a week, and the sheets every month.

Labour.—There are two Tread-whtels here, containing 40 divisions or compartments. Each side has 10 of these divisions ; and the total number of prisoners which the wheels can employ at the same time is 40. The height of each step is eight inches, and the ordinary velocity of the wheels is twice in the minute. The other lighter employments consist in cooking, washing, cleansing, but no trade. Certain trades are performed by the Debtors, when the prison does not happen to be crowded, and they receive all their earnings.

The hours allotted to hard labour are about five in the winter, and about nine in the summer.

The entire profits accruing from the labour of the prisoners is applied to the county treasury; no part is diverted to any other channel. The total amount thus received last year was 129l. 9s. 3d.

The Untried are only employed as Wardsmen. A partition board separates each labourer on the tread-wheel from his neighbours, which cuts off all communication and sight, whilst the officers are present to superintend. These partition boards are so thin that they do not diminish the number of prisoners which the wheel is capable of supporting at one time.

Religious and other Instruction.—In the Chapel there are eight divisions for the purpose of separating the prisoners from mutual observation.

Divine Service is performed twice every Sunday, and Prayers are read on every Wednesday and. Friday. The Chaplain also visits the prisoners at such seasons as he deems fit, and always when his attendance is requested. There is a good supply of religious works.

No provision is made for instructing prisoners in reading. Under the inspection of the Chaplain some of the prisoners instruct the others in reading.

Care of the Sick, Disease and Mortality.—There are three Hospital rooms, a Foul ward, and a Convalescent ward. This last is an important addition to any prison, and might be imitated with advantage in many establishments of this kind. The Surgeon visits almost daily, and he comes at other times whenever he is sent for. Silence is observed in the infirmaries as far as is in the nature of the place, and visits are permitted to be made to the sick at the discretion of the Surgeon. The most ordinary complaints here are the itch, venereal disorders, and bowel affections. Two deaths only occurred during the last year out of 545 prisoners admitted. One of these two died of diseased lungs. Both of the individuals-who died were untried prisoners.

The substitution of rice for pease-soup is believed to have benefited the prisoners. While the pease-soup was in use, diarrhœa is affirmed to have been more frequent.

No epidemic cholera was experienced here.

There is only one insane person confined here at present; he is a debtor; his name is John Whitman; he appears about 35 years of age; he has been only five days in custody, and the Governor knows nothing of the previous circumstances of his case.

Two Physicians occasionally give their professional assistance here gratuitously, in addition to the ordinary salaried medical officer.

In 1844-50, a new convict prison, employing the 'separate' regime, was built at the east of the site. It incorporated the original gatehouse, to which large , three-storey cell-blocks were added on the north and south sides. On the west side, linking it to the old prison, was a block containing a chapel. A tread-mill was also erected at the south of the old prison. Further additions in the mid-19th century included a governor's house built in the south perimeter wall facing Commercial Road.

Prison kitchen at HMP Gloucester, c.1905.

Executions took place on the roof of the new gatehouse from 1826 until 1868, after which they were carried out inside the prison. A total of 123 individuals were executed by hanging at the prison, the last being in 1936.

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

In the mid-1980s, some of the old buildings were demolished to make way for a new reception and administrative block.

In more recent times, HMP Gloucester was designated as a Category B adult male local prison and Young Offenders Institution. It was mainly used to hold those on remand or newly sentenced and awaiting transfer to other establishments. The prison closed in 2013. In 2022, it was operating as a heritage attraction and event venue.


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.

  • Gloucestershire Archives, Clarence Row, Alvin Street, Gloucester GL1 3DW. Holdings include: Registers of prisoners awaiting trial (1815-79); Prisoners' register (1879-1951); Album of prisoners' photographs (1882-1935, with gaps); Registers of summary convictions (1853-79); Record of previous convictions (1880-1936); Debtors' Register (1838-79); Penitentiary registers (1817-44);
  • 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.