Ancestry UK

County Gaol and Bridewell, Hereford, Herefordshire

From at least 1729, a County Gaol was in operation on the east side of St Peter's Square, Hereford, where the Shirehall now stands.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

GAOLER, Thomas Ireland,
Salary, none.
Fees, Debtors, £0 : 14 : 4.
   Felons, £0 : 14 : 4.
Transports,   £5 : 10 : 0 each.
Licence, Beer.

Allowance, Debtors, none.
Felons, a three-penny loaf each, every other day.
Garnish, £0 : 2 : 6.

 Debtors,Felons &c. Debtors.Felons &c.
1774, Feb. 23,14,29.1776, Sep. 9,8,3.
1774, Aug. 9,11131779, May 17,19,9.
Impressed 6.
1775, Dec, 2,17,4.1782, Apr. 26,23,6.

CHAPLAIN, Rev. Mr. Baylis, now Rev. Mr. Underwood.
Duty, Sunday, Wednesday, Friday. Salary, £40. Twenty of it is a legacy of William Bridges, Esq. of Tiberton in this county.

SURGEON, Mr. William Cam, now Mr. Thomas Cam.
Salary, £15, now £20.

Apartments, and court for master's-side debtors, spacious: but no free ward. A day-room for felons: the men's night-wards, the two camps, were too close, 19 feet by 15, but are lately made more commodious: their court behind the gaol is large, but the felons are not kept separate from the debtors. No infirmary: no bath: no straw or bedding. The chapel was very damp, but it is now floored and dry. Clauses against spirituous liquors, and act for preserving the health of prisoners, not hung up. Here, as in other goals, several persons were drinking as in a common alehouse. Mr. Ireland, who has been there above forty years, said at one of my former visits, he never had a debtor who obtained the groats.

William Bridges, Esq. bequeathed £8 a year to poor prisoners: and on St. Thomas's day one shilling is given to each debtor, and six-pence to each felon, by legacy of Sir Thomas White. No table of bequests. The table of fees not hung up.

Following a further visit in 1888, Howard wrote:

Here are twelve new rooms for men, and four for women: they are too low, and the staircases are inconvenient. By the advice of Mr. Cam, the surgeon, a convenient court is now made for the men; and I doubt not but he will procure the enlargement of the women's court; it being only five feet wide. Allowance three pennyworth of bread a day; to convicts a twopenny loaf and two pence in money. Acquitted prisoners are not released till the judge leaves the city. Neither the act for preserving the health of prisoners, nor clauses against spirituous liquors are hung up; nor rules, which now become more necessary, to restrain the free admission of liquors. Women convicts continue in this, and other gaols, longer than the men-some even four or five years. I found that most of the women felons were in heavy irons, but they were taken off the next day. No employment: no allowance for coals. Gaoler's salary £60 in lieu of the tap.

1788, Feb. 4, Debtors 6. Felons &c. 16. Convicts 9.

In 1790, work began on a scheme to transfer the gaol to new premises, which would also provide a new home for the old County Bridewell which was then located at Castle Green. In July 1792, plans for the new building were accepted from London architect John Nash, later architect of London's Marble Arch and the Brighton Pavilion. The chosen location was outside the Bye Street Gate, originally the site of St Guthlac's Priory, on what is now Commercial Street. Construction began in 1794 and was completed in 1796.

The reception block, on Byte Street, was a solid single-storey building. There was a flat roof above the entrance where, up until 1864, public executions took place. After that date they were carried out inside the prison. An area at the rear of the site was used for the burial of inmates who had died or been executed.

At the rear of the entrance block, a courtyard led to the main building, which had four wings, in the shape of a cross. The north-west wing, nearest to the reception block, was shorter than the others and contained a magistrates' committee room on its ground floor and the keeper's quarters above. The other three wings, all two storeys high, were cell blocks with internal galleries. The north-east wing contained the bridewell, the south-east wing was used for felons, and the south-west wing housed debtors. At the centre of the cross was the three storey octagonal Great Hall.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, James Gray; now John Preece. Salary, 182l. out of which he provides a Turnkey.
Fees, Debtors, 18s. 10d.; besides which the Under-Sheriff demands 4s. 8d. for his Liberate! Felons, l3s.4d. as per Table; and for the Conveyance of Transports, the expence. Garnish abolished.

Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Underwood.
Duty, Prayers and Sermon every Sunday, on Christmas Day, and Good Friday: and Prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Salary, 5l. of which twenty pounds are a Legacy, from William Bridges, Esq. of Tiberton, in this County.

Surgeon, Mr. Cam. Salary, 42l. for Debtors, Felons, &c.

Number of Prisoners,

 Debtors.Felons, and other Criminals.
1800, March 30th,1027.
1802, Nov. 10th, 823.
1803, Aug. 28th, 624.
1806, Nov. 28th, 834.

Allowance, to Debtors, one pound of bread each per day. To Felons, &c. and Bridewell Prisoners, the same, and some allotment from the Charity Box. Transports have the King's allowance of 2s. 6d. per week.

This Prison, which is also the House of Correction, or Bridewell, is built upon the site of the Old Priory. The Turnkey's lodge in front has, on each side, two reception-cells for the confinement of Prisoners, till examined by the Surgeon, previous to their being admitted into the interior of the Gaol; and two small courtyards for the Prisoners. Here are also a warm and cold bath; with an oven to fumigate and purify either infected or offensive clothing; and the flat roof above is the place for executions.

The principal court-yard is flagged, and in it are the engine-house, and a well, by which the whole Prison is supplied with excellent water. Adjoining is a house for the Manufacturer, or Task-Master, and a very neat shop for the articles manufactured in the Prison; consisting of shoes, slippers, gaiters, stockings, gloves, garters, flaxen-yarn, and nets of all sorts; the sale of which is promoted by advertisement, at the County expence. The Rules and Orders of the Gaol, which are painted on a board, and hung up in every lobby, recite, amongst other things, that "Any person wishing to work, may have raw materials from the Keeper; who will dispose of the work on the best terms he can; and, after deducting the prime coat of the raw materials, pay the remainder to the Prisoner who has performed the work; except one fourth thereof, which is to be reserved for the County. Any person, to whom work is refused, or whose money is kept back, or has suffered any imposition from the Keeper, or his servants, is particularly enjoined to make complaint thereof to the Magistrate, at his next visitation."

At the upper end of the principal court is the Gaoler's house: on the ground-floor of which is the Magistrates' Committee-room; and a passage leading to the great Hall, or Inspection-room, which is nearly circular, and about 54 feet in diameter; with windows opening into every court-yard, so as to have a complete command of the whole Prison.

Men and Women Debtors have each a separate and spacious court-yard, and a day-room. The Men have twenty sleeping-rooms, ten below, and ten above stairs, 12 feet each by 9, and furnished with beds and bedding by the Gaoler; for which they pay. The Women Debtors have eight rooms of equal size, four below, and as many above; and these are all free-wards. If a Debtor is too poor to provide his own bed, the County humanely furnishes him an iron bedstead, with sacking bottom, a straw bed, two blankets, and a coverlet gratis. There is a fire-place in every room, but no fuel allowed.

Of the six ample court-yards in this Prison, those for Men Debtors, and Men Bridewell Prisoners, are 114 feet by 78; those for Women Debtors, and Women Bridewell Prisoners, 108 feet by 102; and those for Male and Female Felons are 15 feet square. Each court has a sewer in it, and is well supplied with water.

In several of the court yards vegetables are raised for the use of the Prisoners, in addition to the Gaol allowance above stated.

Here are four excellent Infirmary-rooms, and the sick appear to be as well attended as in an hospital. The humane Surgeon having a discretionary power to order all things necessary, every page of the Prison books bears ample witness to his great attention.

The Chapel is a very neat building, in which the Prisoners are seated according to their different classes. All are required to attend Divine Service, which is most devoutly and impressively performed by the excellent and exemplary Chaplain: By whose serious discourses I was much edified at my several visits, and with pleasure remarked the number of Communicants when the Sacrament was administered.

Every ward of this well-constructed Prison has a lobby, or passage, four feet wide; with an iron gate, that opens into the great Hall, or Inspection-room.

Men and Women Felons have each their day-room, with a fire-place, and twelve sleeping-cells, six below, and the rest above; all 8 feet by 7; and fitted up with wooden bedsteads, raised about two feet from the floor, straw bed, two blankets, and a coverlet. They have also the County clothing on admission, and their own apparel is returned to them when discharged.

The Male and Female Bridewell Prisoners have nine work-rooms below, and as many sleeping-rooms above; all of 9 feet 3 inches by 9 feet; and fitted up with beds and bedding, the same as the Felons. The Men Bridewell Prisoners have likewise a day-room, with a fire-place; but the Women of that class are obliged to be with the Female Felons in cold weather, having no day-room or fire-place allotted them. When the building was first constructed, stoves were placed to warm the several wards, but they did not answer.


To be taken by the Gaoler; as settled at the General Quarter Sessions for the County of Hereford, by the Justices, 15th January, 1790, pursuant to the Statute.

"It is ordered, that the several sum and sums hereinafter mentioned, and no more, shall from henceforth be taken: that is to say,

 s.  d.
"For the entering of every Action or Process, whereon a Prisoner shall or may be charged3  6 
To the Turnkey, or Under Turnkey, on each Action1  0 
For the entering of a Discharge, and for the Discharge of ever}y Prisoner 13  4 
To the Turnkey, on the Discharge of every Prisoner1  0 
For the receiving and entering every Declaration, delivered against the Prisoner in Custody2  0 
To the Turnkey, upon every Declaration0  6 
For a Certificate, for want of a Declaration, in order to take out a Writ of Supersedeas3  6 
For Copy of Warrant or Commitment against each Prisoner2  6 
Every Prisoner, who lies in the Keeper's lodgings, in the Sheriff's Ward, on a single bed, per week2  6 
For two, in a single pair of sheets, per week, each1  6 
Signed, Ja. Phillips. H.Morgan. W. Parry.
March 21st, 1799. Approved by us, Justices of Assize and Gaol-Delivery for the said County, G. Rook. S. Lawrence."

William Bridges, Esq. bequeathed eight pounds a year to poor Prisoners: and, on St. Thomas's day, one shilling is given to each poor Debtor, and one shilling to each Felon, by a Legacy of Sir Thomas White. But no Table of Bequests is kept in the Prison.

The Act of Parliament, for preserving the Health of Prisoners, with the Clauses against their use of Spirituous Liquors, are conspicuously hung up: And in the lobby of every ward, the Rules and Orders for the government of the Gaol are painted on boards, and properly displayed to general view.

The buildings were considerably and extended over the years, with each of the cell blocks being extended towards the boundary walls and a new block constructed along the north-east edge of the site. A house for the prison governor was created at the outer end of the debtors' wing.

In 1836, the recently established Inspectors of Prisons gave a positive report on the establishment:

Construction.—The Day Rooms are now no longer employed, and may be hereafter rendered available for other purposes: every prisoner has now a separate cell. The closets in which some of the Turnkeys sleep require to be better ventilated.

 Ft. In.Ft. In.
The Dimensions of the Sleeping Cells, are  28 11 10by 9  —
36 9   3 by 9  —
The Dimensions of the Day Cells, are 24 7 10 by 7  —
20 10 — by 6  —
The Dimensions of the Refractory Cells, are 8 — by 8  —

The number of Yards is 11. The number of Separate Light Cells, exclusive of those for Debtors, is 80.

There are two Dark Cells, but none under ground.

Some of the Cells are employed as solitary work rooms during the day; but no prisoner at present sleeps in the same room in which he works. At the time of my visit, only three individuals were placed in these solitary working clay cells. There is a good supply of water in every yard, and good privies in each yard. There is a neat garden in the Male and Female Debtors' Yards. The Chapel is badly disposed; there is no curtain before the Female pew; and the Females can see, and be seen, by the Male Debtors, and by some of the other Male prisoners. The Gaol is secure, but rather defective in having no other boundary wall except what is joined to the prison. It is clean in a high degree; not remarkably dry, and moderately well ventilated. In the Infirmary there is no privy.

At present the Prison is only heated by coal-fires. A consideration occurs here, as elsewhere, in what manner are the cells to be heated during winter? This question is an important preliminary to the adoption of separate confinement, and has not escaped the attention of the Visiting Magistrates. There has been no alarm of fire during 17 years.

Management.—Great pains have been taken here to establish separation and silence, and successfully. Silence has been only enforced indeed for a few weeks, since the receipt of the Home Secretary's letter; but for 17 years the Governor has endeavoured to preserve quiet. The Debtors still appear quite at their case as to noise.

All the prisoners (except the Debtors) take their meals in their separate cells; no Day Rooms exist now except for the Debtors. Every Untried and Convicted Prisoner has a separate cell. He is only in company at the hours of labour, and then is silent; an officer (not a prisoner) is constantly present at the labour.

The prisoners, both the Untried and the Convicted sleep in separate cells. But if in any instance they perform solitary work in a cell in the day-time, they are then removed to another cell at night. The prisoners who do no work are removed from their cells to take exercise for one hour daily, (and on Sundays for two hours.) The prisoners who labour are removed from their cells for that purpose during eight, nine or ten hours in the day, according to circumstances. The only difference in the treatment of the Untried, and that of the Convicted who are not at hard labour, is, that the Untried have a double portion of exercise allowed them; this is the only distinction made in their favour. The poor Debtors sleep in a common room containing 10 beds at most. The Convicted are not allowed to receive letters for the first three months; afterwards, once in three months.

Diet.—The Convicted who are not subject to hard labour, and the poor Debtors, have the same allowance, viz. 1 lb. 5 oz. of bread daily, with one quart of gruel made from 1½ oz. of oatmeal or 2 oz. of flour. The Convicts who work (after one month's imprisonment from the day of conviction,) have one quart of soup or 2 lbs. of potatoes daily, (on five days they have soup and on two days in the week they have potatoes.) The bread and the gruel of the above class belong to this also. The Convicts of no class can receive food from without. The Untried may receive solid food, but not liquors of any kind, from their friends without.

The poor Debtors find their own clothing, except when in great destitution. The Untried may wear their own clothes, but, if I understand my informant aright, not one in 50 of them applies for this privilege. The allowance of Clothing to the Convicted is a cap, jacket, waistcoat, trowsers, shirt, stockings, shoes. The Bedding furnished for all parties (except for Master Debtors,) is a straw mattrass, a rug, two or three blankets, and one or two sheets.

Labour.—Consists in the Crank, in breaking stones for the use of the prison yards, and also for the use of the public. Tayloring, shoemaking, whitewashing and cooking also furnish occupation to a certain number. The profits will be seen under the head of Expenditure; they go entirely to the county. The Untried Prisoners are here also employed in heading pins; the shanks and heads of the pins are sent hither from Birmingham; the heads are put on here, and the finished pin is then sent back to Birmingham. After paying the carriage, the profit on the whole of this particular labour is l½d. per pound of pins.

Scale of Crank Labour.

Number of Working Hours per Day. The ordinary Velocity of the Cranks per Minute. The Daily Amount of Labour Performed by each Prisoner. Application of its Power.
In November, December and January, eight hours.
In October and February,nine hours.
In all other months, 10 hours.
20 in a minute. 1 bushel is ground in an hour by 12, on an average. To grind corn, beans, &c.

Religious and other Instruction.—The Chaplain reads Prayers every Wednesday and Friday, and Divine Service is performed twice on Sundays. He delivers a Sermon every Sunday morning. He also makes a daily visit to the prison of a hour and a half in duration, and preserves a journal, in which, in addition to the usual matter, he records his observations on the characters of the prisoners who come under his notice. His lady benevolently volunteers to instruct the female prisoners. The Schoolmaster of the male prisoners is selected from the prisoners. This Schoolmaster instructs in reading on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from twelve to one o'clock. Classes are established, and religious instruction, accompanied with Scripture reading, is every day afforded. The prisoners are regularly supplied with Bibles, Testaments and Prayer-books.

In all cases of solitary confinement the Chaplain makes a daily visit to the prisoner in his cell. The Chaplain is Minor Canon of Hereford, and Vicar Of St. John's parish in the same city. In addition to the 150l. per annum from the county, he receives 20l. per annum from a private charity called Brydges's Augmentation.

Care of the Sick, Disease and Mortality.—The Surgeon visits generally daily, and still oftener, if sent for.

The Infirmary consists of two rooms for the Male sick, and two rooms for the Female sick; they are spacious, but not particularly well ventilated.

These rooms are under the care of a Wardsman, and frequently also are visited by the Governor and officers of the Prison.

The most common disorders are, colds, venereal complaints and. itch. There has been only one death from Michaelmas 1834 to Michaelmas 1835, out of 297 prisoners admitted. During the last 30 years the Surgeon does not recollect any epidemic occurring in the Prison. No epidemic cholera was seen here, nor indeed, I believe, in the city itself.

A report hits been made, front Michaelmas 1834 to 1835, of 156 cases in which medicine was given, in a total number of 297 prisoners admitted; but many of these were merely instances in which a common opening medicine was prescribed to individuals who still continued at their work. Only six cases of severe illness, necessary to be removed into the Infirmary, occurred during that period. The highest number of prisoners receiving medicine at one time was six.

The dampness of the locality produces frequent colds, and is unfriendly to scrofulous constitutions. Phthisis pulmonalis has sometimes followed the colds.

There is one bath here.

There is one insane prisoner, Elizabeth Pugh, aged 66, a woman tried for arson in 1834 (August); has been above one year in custody. She was found by the jury of unsound mind, and directed to be imprisoned until His Majesty's pleasure.


1.—The Number and Description of Prisoners in the Prison on the Date of this Return.—November 1835.

Number of Debtors. Number of Misdemeanors. Number of Felons. Prisoners for Trial. Prisoners under Sentence. TOTAL.

2.—Age of Prisoners admitted in the last Year.

  Above 17 years of age, 30 males, and 6 females.
  Under 17 years of age, 6 males.

3.—Labour and Punishment.

Total Number of Prisoners employed.Punishments for Offences within the Prison.
Hard Labour. Employment, not being Hard Labour. Not Employed. Whipping. Irons. Refractory Cells. Other Punishments.

4.—Paid for Prisoners.

As per contract £58. 13. 3.


The total number admitted here during 17 years has been 833.


Number committed from 30th September 1834 to 31st September 1835, 297.

Of whom could read and write 142
Ditto read only48
Ditto not read107


The Chaplain observes, that, in several cases, individuals have come to him five or six months after they have left gaol, and, of their own accord, have assured him, that they are now living morally and religiously; at the same time declaring that they look back upon the confinement which they have experienced there as a blessing.

8.—Diminished Population.

This fact has been observed at Hereford County Gaol; and the reason assigned by some; is the increased rigour of discipline. At all events the result is most satisfactory.

Following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878, the Hereford's City Gaol and House of Correction was closed and its role absorbed by the County Gaol, which became Her Majesty's Prison Hereford.

The prison closed in 1915 and its inmates transferred to HMP Gloucester. The Hereford site then became a military prison for soldiers and deserters during the First World War.

The prison was finally closed in 1929 and the site purchased by Hereford County Council. For a short period, members of the public were invited to pay 6d ro visit the building before it was demolished. A cinema and bus station were subsequently erected on the site. The only surviving structure is the former governor's house on Union Walk, now used as retail premises.


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