Ancestry UK

County Gaol and Bridewell, Hertford, Hertfordshire

Hertfordshire's County Gaol was originally located at Hertford castle. By the seventeenth century, however, it occupied a site in the town on Fore Street.

The gaol was rebuilt in 1702 at a different site, on north side of Fore Street, where the Corn Exchange now stands.

In 1777, John Howard gave a description of the prison:

GAOLER, Cornelius Willson.
Salary, none. £39 : 6 : 10 to supply the Felons with Bread, as below.
Fees, Debtors, £0 : 15 : 4.
   Transports, £1 : 1 : 0 each to London.
Licence, for Beer and Wine.

PRISONERS, Allowance, Debtors, none.
    Felons, a pound of bread a day farmed by the Gaoler.
Garnish, £0: 4: 6.

Number ofDebtors.Felons &c.
1773, Dec. 9,319
1774, Dec. 14,214
1776, Feb. 14,1616
1776, Nov. 22,6 12

CHAPLAIN, Rev. Mr. Scott. Now Rev. Mr. Moore.
Duty—Sunday; and one other day not fixed.
Salary, £40.

SURGEON, Mr. Cutler.
Salary, £10.

This Gaol is in the middle of the town. In front are two small day-rooms, for Felons, in which they are always locked up: no fire-place. Their dungeons or night-rooms are, one down eighteen steps, the other nineteen. Over their day-rooms, is a large lumber room; and adjoining to it a lodging-room for Women-felons. Backward is a small Court-yard for Debtors, and Women felons. On each side of it are two rooms on the ground floor, and two chambers for Debtors. No Chapel. No Infirmary.

In the interval of two of my visits the Gaol-Fever prevailed, and carried off seven or eight Prisoners, and two Turnkeys. The Felons were on that occasion removed to the Bridewell. At my last visit I was well informed, that a prisoner brought out as dead, from one of the dungeons, on being washed under the pump, shewed signs of life, and soon after recovered. Since this, I have known other instances of the same kind.

This Gaol could not have been made healthy and convenient. There is a new one building just out of the town. It has no dungeon; and is more spacious and convenient than the old one.

The new gaol referred to by Howard was on the south side of Ware Road, where Baker Street now runs. It was designed by Robert Furze Brettingham, based on a layout devised by William Blackburn, featuring enclosed inner courtyards.

In 1784, John Howard reported on the new establishment, which was:

...situated just out of the town, with separate wards (16 feet 8 inches by 11 feet 7) and courts for debtors, men-felons and women-felons: the whole is properly surrounded by a wall 15 feet high: which being at a considerable distance from the building, the keeper has within it a convenient garden. The felons looked healthy and well, which I am persuaded was owing to the gaoler's not crowding them into a few rooms.

An obvious defect or two in this new gaol I will just mention, that architects employed in such buildings may not imitate them. The rooms are not vaulted. The corridor is too narrow, but 4 feet wide; and the pillars (not being of stone, or circular) make the rooms dark and close. The door-ways are only 1 foot 10 inches wide, so that no crib-bedsteads can be introduced. — The two rooms appropriated for the sick, are too small. No bath. The chapel close, has no cupola.

After a further visit in 1787, John Howard voiced further concerns:

The windows are neither sufficiently large nor lofty, and the felons' day-rooms are too small: not white-washed. On their side garnish is abolished; but the debtors have the assurance to write it up, and no restraint of liquors is fixed by the magistrates. Some years ago, complaint being made to Judge Forster that the two shillings and sixpence a week was not paid to the assize convicts, he reprimanded the under sheriff; since which it has been regularly paid, and charged in his bill of cravings. No bath, though the surgeon observed the propriety of it in gaol-fevers. Gaoler's salary now £180. No licence.

1787, Oct. 29, Debtors 8. Felons &c.3.

In 1790, an extension was added to the eastern side of the building to accommodate the old county bridewell and borough gaol, previously located at Back Street, Hertford.

The prison site is shown on the 1880 map below.

County Gaol and Bridewell and Town Gaol site, Hertford, c.1880.

In 1812, James Neild wrote an account of his visits to the enlarged establishment:

Gaoler, Charlotte Wilson, widow of the late Keeper.
Salary, 18l. and for the Bridewell, 52l. 1s.
Fees, Felons and Debtors, 15s. 4d. Besides which, the Under-Sheriff demands 6s. 8d. of each Debtor for his Liberate! For the conveyance of Transports, 1s. per mile.
Garnish, prohibited. On a painted board is affixed up "No Garnish to be taken."

Chaplain, Rev. James Moore. Duty, Prayers and Sermon every Sunday, Salary, 4l.

Surgeon, Mr. Bradley. Salary, 2l.

Number of Prisoners. Debtors. Felons, and Bridewell.
1801, Aug. 14th,726
1802, Jan. 31st,222
1803, June 26th,1119
1804, Sept. 9th,126
1806, July l0th,826
1807, July 31st,1129
1808, Sept. 20th,917
1810, April 9th,715

Allowance, to Debtors, none whatever. To Felons, and other Criminal Prisoners, one pound and half of bread daily, cut from the Gaolers loaf. Convicts under Sentence of Transportation have the King's allowance for their support, 2a. 6d. per week.

This Gaol, which is also the County Bridewell, is situated just out of the Town and surrounded by a boundary wall, 15 feet high; which, being at a considerable distance from the building, admits a free circulation of air; and the Gaoler has within it a convenient garden.

For Men and Women Debtors here is only one court-yard, 60 feet by 36. Their Infirmary room is on the ground floor, spacious and lofty, but destitute of furniture; and they have no day-room.

For Common-Side Debtors there are ten sleeping-rooms, of 16 feet 8 inches by 11 feet 7, which are Free Wards: but the County allows neither bedding nor straw; so that if a Debtor cannot provide himself with a bed, he must sleep on the bare boards.

The lobby which leads to these rooms is only four feet wide; and the pillars, being square, and of brick, make them both dark and close. The door-ways are but twenty-two inches wide! so that no crib bedsteads can be introduced into them. There are two other rooms, of 12 feet by 10, which are furnished for such as can pay seven shillings each per week, and two sleep together. No firing is allowed them.

The Men Felons have two court-yards, each of them about the same size as that for the Debtors. One of them, called "The Further Yard," has six cells, and a day-room about 15 feet square, on the ground-floor. The other, called " The Middle Yard," has eight sleeping-cells, built over those in the Further Yard; and on the ground-floor is a large day-room, and an Infirmary. The Felons' cells are about 16 feet 8 inches each by 1 1 feet 7, with straw on the floors, scantily supplied by the Gaoler out of her Salary.

In the Debtors' and Felons' courts are boards fixed up; on which, as I before remarked, is painted "No Garnish to be taken in this Gaol." But, at my visit in 1808, the word "No" was obliterated in the Felons' court-yard; and a gallon of beer is now exacted, as Garnish, from every new comer.

The court for Women Felons is 45 feet by 16, with a sewer in it, and two sleeping-eel is, each 16 feet 6 inches by 12 feet; both of which have fire-places, and grated windows towards the court. Two sleep in a cell, upon the floor, which has a partition about 4 inches high, to keep the straw together; and that is the only bedding allowed them.

The Bridewell Men's court is 33 yards by 24, and has twelve sleeping-cells on the ground-floor, with as many above them, all opening to the court-yard. The aperture over each door has sloping boards before it, to prevent their view of the court; and at the farther end of each cell is a casement. Twelve of these cells have a fire-place.

The Bridewell Women's court is also 33 yards by 24, with a gravel-walk surrounding a grass-plat. They have eight sleeping-cells, four at each end of the court, on the ground-floor, with a fire-place in each cell.

There is a pump in these, and in every other court-yard of this Gaol. The rooms for the Bridewell Prisoners have vaulted roofs, and are 12 feet each by 9.

The Men's Bridewell has a spacious and lofty room on the ground floor, paved, like the others, with flag-stones, and intended as an Infirmary, with a small room for the Surgeon; but it has never been used as such. It has no furniture, and is occupied by Vagrants, w he sleep upon loose straw laid on the floor. The warm and cold baths adjoin to it; of which the former has never been used, and the latter only twice I Between the two baths is an oven, to purify infected clothes.

Here is also a small court-yard, and a convenient sewer, intended for the sick. The Chapel of this Gaol has no cupola, and is very close. The Debtors appeared to me not only negligent in their attendance on Divine Service, but even frequently interrupted it by misbehaviour. At my visit in 1803, only three of them out of eleven were present; and in 1804, eight only attended Chapel, out of the twelve.

Of the twelve House-of-Correction Prisoners, at one of my visits (in 1804) four were sentenced to twelve months imprisonment, without any employment whatever, although they much wished for it; and bitterly did they complain, "at not being allowed more than one hour of enlargement out of the twenty-four, to get a little fresh air; at no firing being supplied to them in cold weather; and at being denied the indulgence of either soap or towels, for personal or prison cleanliness." At my visit also in 1808, I found four other Prisoners of the above description committed for a twelvemonth; and the whole number, as before, destitute of the blessings of that employment, which they earnestly desired to obtain. Their cells, however, are not now offensive, as heretofore; because they are permitted the use of a courtyard, and the loathsome pails, or buckets, seldom required. This indulgence, the Keeper's son informed me, was in consequence of my Remarks at former Visits.

It has been exceedingly painful for me to observe, though Truth and the Duty of Humanity call me to it. That those Prisoners committed to the Felons' Gaol, (and some of them even for comparatively trivial offences, and before a trial) are here immediately put in irons; and at night are fastened (two together) down to the flooring of their cells, by a chain passed through the main link of each man's fetter, and padlocked to a strong iron staple in the floor; and with this additional aggravation of their daily misery, are left to pass the hours destined by Nature to ease and refreshment, upon loose straw only, scattered on the floor. A man may thus suffer six months imprisonment under the bare suspicion of a crime, from which, at the end of that dreary term, his Country may, perhaps, honourably acquit him. Under circumstances of this kind I saw four Prisoners here, on the 20th of Sept. 1 808.

I saw no County furniture here, either in the Infirmaries, or in any part of the Prison, except one rug in the Felons' Gaol, one in the Men's Bridewell, and one in the Women's Bridewell: Neither is any County clothing allowed to the Prisoners.

Mr. Wilson, the widowed Keeper's son, who occasionally assists his mother in her arduous task, is a farmer in the neighbourhood of the Gaol: And he told me, that if a chaff-cutting machine were provided, and a shed erected over it, he could keep the Prisoners constantly employed.

But, no Employment is now regularly furnished. The County did heretofore attempt to establish a manufactory; but the expence having been found to exceed the Prisoners' earnings, it was soon discontinued. That Employment, however, (under due Regulations and a patient superintendence) may be rendered productive, has been already, and amply evinced at Dorchester, Gloucester, &c.

It has always struck me, that wherever the Bread Allowance to Prisoners is not judiciously distributed in distinct loaves, but cut off from the Gaoler's or Keeper's loaf, (as is the case both here, and in other Prisons of this County of Hertford,) there ought to be scales and weights provided, and kept apart, not for that purpose only, but for whatever relates to Provisions; in order that the Prisoners may always see that their respective doles are fairly and fully dealt out to them. The complaints which have occurred upon this subject may thus be effectually prevented in future.

I found the Gaol, of late, much cleaner than at my former visits; and straw being cheaper, a more liberal supply has been issued, which is now changed once in six weeks.

There is still, however, a want of regularity and cleanliness in the management of the present Gaol. The Keeper's house commands but a very small part of it. Uncovered pails, buckets, &c. are most loathsomely made to serve the purpose of sewers. Here are no Rules and Orders. The Clauses against Spirituous Liquors are hung up; but the Act for Preserving the Health of Prisoners is omitted.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons reported at length on their visit to the establishment:

1. Site, Construction, &c.

This prison is the common gaol and house of correction for the county of Hertford, and is under the jurisdiction of the sheriff and visiting justices. It stands on the high road, a little out of the town of Hertford, and is an oblong building, of an irregular construction. It consists of four principal divisions, viz. the gaol, a very old building; the house of correction, erected in 1790; a ward called the Borough Gaol; and another appropriated to a female prison. The keeper's house is at the entrance of the gaol, and there are altogether 12 wards, in 4 of which there are tread-wheels, 12 airing-yards, 8 day-rooms, and the following number of sleeping-cells, viz.:—

Gaol10 Cells, 16 ft. long, by 12 ft. wide.
5 Ditto, 11 ditto, by 1 ft. 6 in. ditto.
1 Ditto, 15 ft. 9 in. ditto, by 13 ft. 6in. ditto.
1 Ditto, 11 ft. ditto,by 13ft. 6in. ditto.
1 Ditto, 20 ft. 6 in. ditto, by 13 ft. 6 in. ditto.
Debtors' Yard8 Ditto, 16 ft. 6 in. ditto, by 12 ft. ditto.
2 Ditto, 10 ft. ditto, by 12 ft. ditto.
Bridewell or House of Correction26 Ditto, 8 ft. ditto, by 6 ft. ditto
22 Ditto, 8 ft. ditto, by 5 ft. ditto.
2 Ditto, 6 ft. ditto, by 5 ft. ditto.
Infirmary Yard3 Ditto, 12 ft. ditto, by 6 ditto.
Borough Gaol4 Ditto, 12 ft. ditto, by 8 ft. ditto.
Women's Yards.4 Ditto, 12 ft. ditto, by 8ft ditto.
Total. 89 Cells or Rooms.

This accommodation is insufficient for the separation by night of even the average number in custody, and wholly inadequate to the case of any extraordinary influx of prisoners, such as that at the time of our visit, when the number in confinement was 171. The cells in the old gaol are very close, having no proper ventilation, and those in the house of correction, although they have pipes, are also close. The latter cells are damp, and the prisoners complained of the cells being cold in both divisions of the prison. The house of correction cells are in double rows, opening into each other, and divided only by a nine-inch wall and a two-inch door, so that the prisoners can talk through with ease. The other partition walls are of the thickness of 14 inches. The building is somewhat out of repair, and the expenses of repairs for the last live years have been considerable, having averaged 329l. per annum. The floors of the dayrooms and the brick pavement in the yards are out of order. The prison is not very secure, and the walls of the house of correction are so thin that on one occasion the prisoners broke through them; there has not however been any escape for the last twelve years. There is a small space of garden ground between the buildings and the boundary wall, but not sufficient for any considerable extension of the wards. The height of the boundary wall is 16 feet 6 inches. The prison is not fire-proof, and not insured. The only means of inspection are, that the back windows of the keeper's house overlook the gaol-yards, and the upper part of the mill-house overlooks the house of correction. The prison is not commanded by any other buildings, and there is a considerable space of open rising ground behind it. The soil is damp, and the drainage is so bad that it does not carry off the water, and the yards have been at times quite flooded in consequence. From the bad state of the drainage the privies are out of order, and cast a most offensive smell, particularly in the old gaol, where they adjoin some of the sleeping-cells, which are otherwise too close. The prison is situated about half a mile from the County Hall, in which the Assizes and Sessions are held, and its locality is in that respect convenient, and is considered healthy.

2. Discipline, &c.

By the Rules, Silence is required to be enforced upon prisoners after trial. Tobacco is prohibited. Convicted prisoners are not permitted to receive visits or letters for the first six months, except under pressing circumstances, and by a magistrate's order. Day-rooms are to be discontinued. The chaplain is to reside within the borough of Hertford, and to devote his whole time to the prison. The punishment of whipping is to be defined. A turnkey is to be allotted to each division in which prisoners work; and a schoolmaster is to be appointed.

The system of management may be described to be,—for the untried, association by day in the yards and day-rooms, with separation by night when there are cells sufficient; for the convicted, association in silence during the hours of labour, with separation at night and during meals, when the number of cells is sufficient; otherwise, association at those times. Prisoners sentenced to solitary confinement are kept in a state of modified separation in their cells, with exercise in the yards, and intercourse with the chaplain and officers.

The classification directed by the Gaol Act we found violated in almost every ward. In the gaol yard No. 1, a prisoner committed for trial for a misdemeanor was in the same yard wi4th 20 others committed on charge of felony. In gaol yard No. 3, several prisoners committed under the Vagrant Act were in the same yard with others summarily convicted of misdemeanors. This ward, although part of the gaol, was appropriated to convicted prisoners, for want of room in the house of correction. In Gaol yard No. 4, we found an assemblage of prisoners of almost every description. Two for trial on charge of felony (one of them sick), three tried and sentenced for misdemeanors, two untried for want of sureties, one summary conviction for misdemeanor, one as king's evidence, and one remanded for further examination. In each of the four yards of the house of correction we found some prisoners convicted of felony, others summarily convicted of misdemeanors, and also vagrants, kept in the same yard and working together. In the female prison, women before and after trial were placed together, although there are two distinct wards.

By reference to the list of prisoners, Appendix B, the particular persons and offences classed together will be at once seen. The keeper's excuse for the disregard of classification, was the crowded state of the prison; which might be a sufficient reason for appropriating a part of the gaol to convicted prisoners, but not for mixing them together in so many wards in the way described. We notice the neglect of classification, however, rather as a violation of the existing law, than on account of any importance attached to it in itself.

The prisoners confined together for trial were committed for the most opposite kinds of offences, and there appeared to be as much difference among them in point of character. The following, for instance, were in the Gaol-yard No. 1:—

R. B., burglary.
T. L., (aged 15), stealing two sheep.
W. C., stealing a rabbit-trap.
E. P., night poaching and assaulting keeper.

In Gaol-yard, No. 2:—

G. G., an unnatural crime.
J. G. (aged 14), stealing two sovereigns and silver.
T. B., night poaching and maliciously shooting.

In the Female Prison, No. 1.

A. R., obtaining goods by false pretences.
S. W., stealing billet-wood.

There are, of course, in such a system of association, abundant opportunities of contamination, especially as regards the boys. A schoolmaster instructs such of the untried as are willing to be taught for a part of the day; but they have still much idle time on their hands, and consequently play at tossing halfpence, chucking buttons, and such amusements. It has been under consideration to provide the untried with the means of profitable employment, such as mat or mop-making, but no decided step towards this has yet been taken by the magistrates.

It is endeavoured to enforce silence by three turnkeys, whose duty it is to watch the prisoners in four wards; wardsmen or staffmen are not employed for this purpose. When the prisoners are off the wheel, they are required to keep at the distance of two yards from each other. They are not punished for mere breach of silence, but reprimanded, and if the offence is frequently' repeated, are treated as refractory, and locked up. Of 56 punishments stated to have been inflicted in the year 1836, 26 only may be construed to be applicable to breach of silence, viz. those for being disorderly, noisy, and refractory, a small number compared to that of the whole of the convicted prisoners in the course of the year, which probably exceeded 500. The meals are taken in the sleeping-cells. The presence of the turnkeys prevents the prisoners holding any lengthened conversation; but the turnkeys have sometimes occasion to leave the yards, and even when they are in the yards the prisoners find opportunities of asking each other questions, and talking in a casual way. The evidence of officers and prisoners confirms the fact of talking being carried on in the yards and on the wheel, and they can also communicate whilst washing, and on the way to chapel. We heard talking in two instances, in one of which a prisoner was showing another a pair of ear-drops which he had in his possession. But even if silence could be strictly enforced by day, the effect of it would be destroyed by the facility of talking from one sleeping-cell to another, the cells being divided, as was before stated, by only a nine-inch wall and a two-inch door. In these cells, a prisoner has been overheard reading to the man in the next cell. Moreover, at the time of our visit, about one-third of the convicted prisoners were sleeping together several in a room, from the deficiency of cells in the house of correction.

The whole of the untried, and about one-third of the convicted, were sleeping several together in a cell at the time of our visit, and for the most part three in a bed. Some slept on the floor, for want of bedsteads.

An open balcony surrounds the cells in the first floor of the gaol, into which they open. A watchman parades the yards and balcony the whole night, and usually enters the several rooms and cells with the turnkey at 10 o'clock. This, however, can be but an inefficient check against talking when several prisoners are placed in the same room.

The corrective labour consists of four tread-wheels, which contain 8 prisoners each at a time. The working hours vary from 6½ to 9½, according to the season, and the number of feet of ascent varies of course in proportion. The following is the scale of tread-wheel labour:—

SCALE of TREAD-WHEEL LABOUR, as delivered by the Gaoler.
Months Employed Number of Working Hours per Day Number of Prisoners the Wheel will hold at one time. Height of each Step. The ordinary Velocity of the Wheels per Minute. The ordinary Proport­ion of Prisoners off the Wheel to the Total. Number of Feet in Ascent per Day as per Hours of Employ­ment. Revol­utions of the Wheel per Day. Daily Amount of Labour to be Per­formed by every Prisoner. How recorded with precision. Applic­ation of its Power.
January327½ inches.1½ Revolutions.One-third of the whole Number in the House of Correction.10,800720No set quantity. The whole of the Prisoners are worked in their respective turns.Not recorded.Grinding corn for the use of the Establish­ment and and grists for the public.

The treadmill grinds the flour for the use of the prison, and also for hire. The profits of the latter in the year ending Michaelmas 1836 were 103l. 9s. 5d., which were applied to the credit of the county. The labour is rendered more severe by the prisoners being obliged to wear shoes with thick wooden soles. There is no crank-wheel in use. When the tread-wheels are not filled by convicted prisoners the untried are allowed to work at them, and to receive the increased diet of the house of correction; and they are in general willing to be so employed, for the sake of the diet; so that the situation of the convicted prisoner is considered preferable to that of one before trial.

At the time of our visit, 9 male and 7 female prisoners were employed in various menial services about the prison. None of the prisoners are employed as wardsmen or monitors, or are otherwise placed in authority over the others, except as nurses to the sick.

There were 11 female prisoners in custody at the time of inspection. Ten of them occupied the two wards in the female prison; and one having a peculiar disease, was placed by the surgeon's order in a separate ward, used as a kind of lazaretto, near the entrance of the gaol. The convicted women were employed in washing and mending the prison bedding. The classification of the Gaol Act had not been regarded, for the alleged reason of want of room. One woman convicted of felony we found had been for some weeks in the ward of the untried for this reason. The matron stated, that when she had occasionally to deal with the more depraved class of women, they were very difficult to manage; and that one such, was sufficient to corrupt all the others.

It does not appear that there is any systematic communication between males and females; but male prisoners bring coals into and remove dust from the female wards, which might afford an opportunity for intercourse; and instances have been known of meat having been thrown over into the female prison by the male cook in the adjoining yard, in which the prison cooking-house is situated.

Prisoners before trial and debtors are allowed to receive visitors daily; but the convicted are prohibited by the rule before mentioned from receiving them for the first six months, except by a magistrate's order under pressing circumstances. Prisoners before trial see their visitors from the grated window of the governor's kitchen, and the convicted at the door of the house of correction, both being in the presence of the turnkey. Any baskets or parcels brought by visitors are searched. The keeper exercises discretion in refusing the admission of visitors under suspicious circumstances. All letters to or from prisoners are inspected by him.

The money of the convicted is taken from them on their admission, and accounted for on their discharge; but the untried are allowed to retain a small sum in order to purchase provisions. There is not however any limited amount in this respect.

Tobacco is prohibited by the late Rules, but the debtors are still allowed to use it. The officers state that they have frequently detected prisoners with it, and that they are much inclined to secrete it about their persons on admission. It does not appear, however, that any punishment for the use of tobacco has been inflicted within the last year.

The debtors take in newspapers, and as their parcels are seldom searched, have the opportunity of reading miscellaneous books; but it does not appear that the prisoners on the criminal side obtain newspapers; or books, except those authorized by the chaplain. An instance occurred in the course of the last year in which two convicted prisoners were detected in gambling, and punished; but as most of the prisoners are very poor, it is not a frequent occurrence. The untried are however apt to play at idle games, such as chucking buttons and the like, to fill up their time.

The cells of the debtors' ward, and the open balcony round them, look into the gaol yard No. 4, so as to give an opportunity of communication with the prisoners there. The brick paving of the debtors' yard is very damp, and the drainage bad. There were six debtors in custody at the time of our visit for debts of small amount, with one exception, in which the debt was 2870l There being 10 cells in the ward, each of the debtors might have slept separately; but in two instances we found that two debtors were sleeping in one cell, without a third person. In one of these instances, however, the two debtors were brothers. The debtors are not restricted in regard to money, tobacco, newspapers and books, and those Dot receiving gaol allowance may provide themselves with eatables, and a pint of wine or a quart of beer per diem; but not with spirits, except by order of the surgeon. Visitors are permitted daily, with the restriction that none but relatives can remain more than an hour, or be admitted twice in the same day. Bundles and parcels for debtors are liable to be searched, but the search is not generally made.

Religious and other Instruction.

The chaplain (Rev. C. U. Bury) resides within the borough of Hertford, as required by the Rules, and has no other preferment. He reads prayers selected from the Liturgy and expounds the Scriptures every morning at 10 o'clock, and performs Divine service twice on Sundays, with one sermon. He does not administer the Holy Communion. In case of his unavoidable absence, he finds another clergyman as a substitute. After daily prayers, the chaplain remains for several hours in the prison attending the prisoners in private, including those under punishment. He keeps a journal, but not a character-book. An account of the chaplain's duties is subjoined , and our impression of the manner in which he performs them is very favourable; but however faithful may be a chaplain's labours, they must always be more or less in vain whilst association and communication by day and night prevail to so great an extent as in this prison. The chapel is an oblong room, divided into seven pews on the ground floor, and without a gallery. Four of the pews were intended for the gaol, two for the house of correction, and one for the female prisoners; but from want of room it is impossible to classify the prisoners properly in the pews. The reading pulpit and officer's pews are placed in a side gallery opposite to the prisoners, but from the construction of the pews the prisoners cannot all be seen. The chapel is not properly ventilated; and, when full, the air is so offensive as to be scarcely endurable for the period of Divine service. No written list is kept of absent prisoners. They are occasionally detected in talking in chapel, but not often. Three prisoners were punished for misbehaviour in chapel in the last year. The debtors attend occasionally, but are not required to do so. The keeper seldom attends chapel on the week-days, and on Sundays he is in the habit of going round the prison during a part of the time of Divine service. The matron never attends chapel, and the principal reason she assigned was, that there being no distinct seat for her, she should be obliged to sit in the same pew with the female prisoners. Three turnkeys are usually in attendance.

The prisoners are supplied with Bibles, prayer-books, and tracts of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, under the direction of the chaplain.

A schoolmaster, as one of the officers, is engaged at a salary of 16s. per week, for the purpose of instructing the untried prisoners. He is engaged in the gaol for six hours daily. The instruction is not compulsory, but most of the untried are found willing to learn. The chaplain superintends, and is in the habit of giving small sums of money, as rewards, to encourage diligence in learning.

The convicted are not instructed, not even the boys. The chaplain has been desirous that some provision for their instruction should be made; but the magistrates have considered that it would interfere too much with the corrective discipline. In the case of prisoners sentenced for short terms, intimidation should be the main object of imprisonment, and much moral good can be rarely effected by instruction in reading; but exceptions should be made in the cases of prisoners sentenced for terms of sufficient length to afford a reasonable hope of their moral improvement. It appears proper in all cases to instruct juvenile offenders.

The state of elementary instruction among the prisoners may be judged of by the keeper's Return, that of 613 committed in the year ending Michaelmas last, 380 could neither read nor write, and only 12 could read and write well.

The female prisoners do not receive any kind of instruction. The chaplain does not visit them, from the want of a private room, and the necessity for the matron's presence.

4. Health.

The surgeon resides in the town of Hertford. He attends and sees every prisoner on Mondays and Thursdays, and comes at other times When sent for. He does not examine prisoners before passed into their wards, but inspects them on his next visit after their admission, and also sees prisoners under punishment when on his general visits. In so large a prison as this, the surgeon's attendance ought to be at least daily, and the duty of examining prisoners on admission ought to be strictly enforced.

There are no especial rules for the infirmaries, and silence is not observed in them. The preservation of order is entrusted to the prisoner employed as nurse. We felt it our duty to call the attention of the visiting justices to the improper position of a privy opening into the male infirmary, and are glad to understand that they have since directed its alteration.

There were six infirmary patients at the time of our visit, three of whom were affected with scurvy, and had exactly the same symptoms as were observed at Springfield, viz., purple spots and contractions of the legs, and swelled gums. This disease does not appear until after a prisoner has worked for about six months on the wheel; but it rarely happens that a prisoner so works for eight months without his constitution being affected by it. The surgeon attributes it to continued hard labour, with insufficiency of and want of variety in the diet. A considerable number of prisoners (56 at one time) were lately afflicted by the prevailing influenza; but the state of health in general is favourable, as compared with that in other prisons. In the year ending Michaelmas 1836, the cases of slight indisposition were 9 per cent, upon the total number confined, the infirmary cases 149 per cent., and there was no death. The greatest number of sick at one time in that year is stated to have been 7.

The gaol allowance is 24 ozs. of bread daily, and nothing else. The house of correction diet for prisoners at hard labour is—

}32 ozs. of bread. Monday,
}32 ozs. of bread,
l½ pint of soup,
1 pint of milk-porridge.

The soup contains 6 oz. of meat without bone, in a quart, with rice and onions. The weekly diet thus consists of 224 oz. of bread, 6 pints of soup, and 4 pints of milk porridge; but this, though apparently good fare, is found scarcely adequate to presenre the health of a prisoner at hard labour for six months. The dietary table is affixed in the prison as a part of the rules. The cost of diet is stated at 5l. 8s. 2d. per head per annum, or about 2s. 1d. per week. Untried prisoners and debtors are allowed to be supplied by their friends, or to buy provisions, with no specific restriction, except that they are not to lay in more than a day's supply at a lime. They may purchase a quart of beer, but not wine or spirits without the surgeon's order. Upon an average of the last five years, the amount of extra allowances ordered by the surgeon appears to have been 19l 2s. 3d.

The prison dress is made of linen or duck, which is manufactured in the neighbourhood. A strong jacket of this substance costs 7s and a frock and trousers 6s. 2d. It is not varied by seasons. Shirts, stockings, and shoes are also supplied to such prisoners as need them. They not unfrequently damage their clothing and bedding, and are punished when detected. Only one prisoner appears to have been punished for this offence in the course of the last year. The keeper states the cost of the clothing and bedding to be at the rate of 2s. per head per annum, which, if correct, appears very low. The rugs for the beds cost 2s. 9d. a-piece. Straw mats are placed under the bedding in winter to save its wear. The supply of bedding was insufficient for the number of prisoners in custody as the time of inspection. It is aired in the yards in summer, but not regularly in winter.

The prisoners are not uniformly put into the bath on admission; only such as are dirtier than common. They wash daily in their yards several at a time, and are supplied with soap, towels, and combs, but the latter were in a bad state. A part of the linen is washed in the gaol, and part out of it; the latter portion is received and distributed by the turnkey. The day-rooms and cells in the gaol appeared dirty; but we were informed that they were washed three times a-week, and oftener in the summer. The prison is lime-washed twice in the year.

5. Prison Punishments.

In the year ending at Michaelmas last, the number of punishments is stated at 50, being 7.31 per cent, upon the total number in confinement in that year. Of these 50, 23 were inflicted upon convicted, and 27 upon untried prisoners. Of the 56 punishments, 32 were upon the convicted, and 24 upon the untried. The punishment of whipping is not defined, as the rules require, but the keeper states that the number of lashes is from 30 to 60. The instrument is a cat-o'-nine-tails. The surgeon is not in the habit of attending floggings. In the year ending at Michaelmas 1836, 21 persons were privately whipped in this prison pursuant to their sentences. In regard to boys, the officers say that whipping does them more good than any other punishment.

6. Officers.

The gaoler, matron, and one turnkey, are the only resident officers; but there is a night-watchman who parades the yards and balcony, and visits the cells nightly at 10 o'clock in company with a turnkey.

The keeper, Mr. William Wilson, has held that office for 12 years, and is 37 years of age. He gives security as gaoler to the sheriff. He does not visit the cells regularly at night, hut usually visits all the prisoners daily. His salary is large; hut he has to keep a clerk, and to pay, board, and lodge the chief turnkey out of his income; an arrangement which would be better altered by placing those officers on the prison establishment, and allowing the keeper a net salary. His allowances for bread, debtors' beds, and copies of warrants (amounting in the last year to 44l.) would also he better included in a fixed salary. The keeper has been concerned to a considerable extent in supplying provisions for the use of the prison; but in consequence of our disapproval, on the occasion of a previous inspection, of this improper practice, it has been discontinued, with the exception of a few trifling articles which the keeper still provides for the sick, &c., and for which he charges in his account of petty disbursements. He keeps a journal, which is regularly exhibited at the Sessions. The keeper is occasionally obliged to be absent in removing convicts sentenced to transportation, for which purpose he hires a stage-coach, there being no van belonging to the prison.

The matron is the wife of the miller, and resides with him in the prison. She has held the situation 9 years, and is 50 years of age.


The number of prisoners in custody at the following dates was—

25th February, 1835127
"  1836109
"  1837171

The greatest number in custody at one time in each of the three years ending at Michaelmas, was—

1836 114

And the total number committed in the course of each of those years respectively was—


The prison is usually fullest in the winter months from October to February, owing to the difficulty of finding employment in that season.

The number of prisoners in the last-mentioned year who had been previously committed is stated by the keeper at 33, which is in the ratio of 5.38 per cent, to the total number committed; but the number is so small that we doubt its accuracy, even as regards this prison, as all the officers remark that the same offenders are continually returning.

The number of offenders under the age of 17 in the last-mentioned year was 67, being in the ratio of 9.79 per cent, upon the total number in confinement (684). The boys are not separated from the adult prisoners, unless when sentenced to solitary confinement.

Small sums of money are given to destitute prisoners on their discharge, according to the distances of their places of residence, but it is not the practice to give passes.

The usual allowance of 6d. per diem is received from the War Department for military prisoners, which is given to the prisoner to find himself with. The keeper says that he remembers cases in which prisoners have pretended to be deserters in order to obtain this allowance. The great influx of poachers to this prison is remarkable. Of 171 prisoners in Poachers, custody at the time of our visit, 56, or 32 per cent, were committed for poaching.

The borough of Hertford contracts for the maintenance of offenders in this prison, paying an adequate proportion of the county rate.

It will be observed, that this prison not only does not furnish the means of separation by day, but is deficient in accommodation for separation by night. The object of the Silent System, which is here most loosely enforced, is thus wholly counteracted in regard to those prisoners who sleep several in a cell.

The prison was closed following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878. The buildings were then demolished to make way for the creation of Baker Street.


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.

  • Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, County Hall, Pegs Lane, Hertford SG13 8DE. Holdings include: Colour views of entrances to the County Goal County House of Correction (c.1700-1800); Assignment of County Gaol and inmates (1798-1865); List and account of convicts' transport (1838-41); Quarterly returns of the County Gaol and House of Correction (1821-64); Prisoners Photographs (1870); County Gaol Committee minutes (1864-78).
  • 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.