Ancestry UK

County Gaol and House of Correction, Huntingdon, Huntingdonshire

A new County Gaol and House of Correction was erected in 1826-28 on St Peter's Road, Great Stukeley, Huntingdon.

Designed by William Wilkins, the main building had a radial layout with three two-storey wings arranged like spokes around, though separated from, a central keeper's house and chapel. An entrance building stood nearest to the road included a turnkey's quarters, infirmary, and accommodation for female inmates.

County Gaol and Bridewell, Huntington.

In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This prison is situated in a secluded spot, about a quarter of a mile distant from the town of Huntingdon; it was erected in 1829, at a cost of about 16,000l., which was borrowed, and is now reducing by yearly instalments, through the proceeds of a rate levied for the purpose; the debt still unpaid amounts to 4,582l. 16s. 11d. The prison is enclosed by a wall 16 feet high, with six courses of loose bricks on the top. The buildings on each side the gateway are appropriated to the accommodation of the turnkey, an infirmary, store-room, cookhouses, and the female prisoners. The main building consists of a central house for the Keeper, and three detached radiating wings.

The Keepers dwelling contains a kitchen, scullery, parlour, office, and two chambers, with the chapel.

Dimensions of the Sleeping. Cells:

Ground floor, 6 feet by 9 feet; and 10 feet high.

First floor, single cells, 6 feet 3 inches by 9 feet 5 inches; 8 feet 10 inches high.

Cells where more than one prisoner sleeps, 13 feet 7 inches by 10 feet; 8 feet 10 inches high.

In the ground floor the division wail between the cells is 14 inches; in the first floor 9 inches thick.

Solitary cells for refractory prisoners, 9 feet by 6 feet; 9 feet high.

Observations:—The two cells thus appropriated are built apart from the general plan: they are arched, and paved with brick on edge.

The walls are painted black, and the only ventilation or light is by an iron grating in the doors, 7 inches high and 6 inches wide.

These are but seldom made use of in the winter, and exclusively for prison offences. Prisoners sentenced by any court to solitary confinement, are placed in a ward entirely apart from the others, and in extreme damp, or cold, are allowed a small fire by day. There is a great deal of wood introduced in the structure of this prison; the roofs of the cells in the upper story are planked, and in the double cells the floors are of the same material.

It would seem, from the number of effected and attempted escapes recorded in the Keeper's Journal, that the prison is not so secure, generally, as it ought to be. Sundry alterations, with a view of remedying its defects in tin's particular have been adopted with partial effect. The drainage does not appear to be perfect; the water lodges in the lower part of the Keeper's house, and it is necessary to pump it out daily, and twice a day in wet weather. The part of the prison appropriated to' female prisoners is very inconveniently arranged, and it seems that no provision for female debtors was ever contemplated in the original plan; and although they are but few, yet considerable inconvenience has resulted from their being obliged to make use of the infirmary for the purpose.

Diet.—One pound and a half of wheaten bread, to those not committed to hard labour; to those at hard labour, two pounds of bread, if not above fourteen days. To those confined for a longer period, in addition, one quart of oatmeal and milk-porridge, five days in the week, and soup, composed of meat and vegetables, on the other days.

Observations:—The soup and porridge are provided by the Keeper, at the rate of two-pence per head for each prisoner; they are both very good of their kind, but ought to be furnished as the other provisions.

The untried prisoners are permitted to expend upon themselves to the amount of two shillings a week; they are allowed to purchase a pint of beer daily.

Clothing.—The usual prison dress for convicted prisoners.

Bedding—Straw paillasse, two blankets, and a rug.

Fuel.—One bushel and a half of coals a fortnight is allowed to the untried wards, and not exceeding the same quantity to the convicted.

Cleanliness.—The prison, and the persons of the prisoners, clean.

Health.—The most prevalent disease is ague, which the humbler classes of the county are subject to, from its low situation; and the Surgeon considers the soup and porridge could not be dispensed with; it is indispensable as a preventive to low diseases. There have been a few cases of itch in the gaol, and he supposes it must have been communicated. He does not see the prisoners before they join their classes. His attendance is three times a week, and oftener if required.

If the prisoners were to be confined separately, conceives it would be necessary to provide the means of warming their cells. He inserts the dates of his visits in a book, and also the authority for discontinuance of labour, and increase of food, when necessary.

Moral and Religious Instruction.—The Chaplain performs morning and evening service, with one sermon on Sundays. On Wednesdays he attends the prison, and sees the prisoners in their respective wards, and is occupied three or four hours with them; on Thursdays he completes his general visitation with the females. There is no provision for instruction: the Magistrates made an order some time back, that at any time it may appear to the Chaplain, that there be amongst the prisoners, of any class in the gaol, a person competent to instruct, and to be entrusted with education in reading or writing, he may do so to those who are unable, in cases where their commitments are for longer than, one month, on any two days in the week, not exceeding an hour each day.

It is a rule of the prison that the debtors attend Divine Service. The prisoners are provided with books by the Chaplain. He conceives the most efficient part of his duty is by individual intercourse, and that his influence would be much promoted by separation. He has never found the prisoners in a state of mind proper to receive the Sacrament. He keeps a journal in the prison.

Classification.—The males, as by Act of Parliament. At the period of inspection, three females, one a convicted felon, another for a misdemeanor, and the third, a girl for leaving her place, aged twenty-one, sentenced to fourteen days' imprisonment, were together in the same room.

Labour.—Tread-mill and crank machine. The tread-mill is divided into compartments for the purpose of preventing communication between the prisoners while on it. The divisions are made of thin deal; the space allotted for each prisoner is 22½ inches.

This arrangement does not appear to me to answer the purpose for which it was intended; the men on the wheel loll, and rest themselves against the partitions, and the free circulation of air is much impeded; and they contrive to make holes in, and injure the partitions whenever they can do so unperceived.

Without the constant presence of the taskmaster, the tread-wheel is a very inefficient agent of correctional discipline. The tread-mill power is applied to the grinding of grist and the pumping of water. Grist is ground for the public, and for the use of the prisoners; their bread being made in the prison. The Keeper purchases the wheat in the market, and upon producing the farmer s bill to the Magistrates, he receives an order for the amount. 17¾ lbs. of bread are made from each stone of flour, and, taking in the money earned by grinding for the public, the average cost of bread per the year is 1s. 2d. a stone. The earnings of the mill from Michaelmas 1834 to Michaelmas 1835, were 50l. 14s. 9½d., which is applied as a credit against the prison disbursements.

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 on Wheels to the total number employed. Number of Feet in Ascent per Day as per Hours of Employ-ment. Revol-utions of the Wheel per Day. The daily Amount of Labour to be performed by every Prisoner. How recorded with precision. Applicat-ion of its Power.
1210 in summer; 8 in winter.248 inches.Two revolutions.Misdemean-ants, two-thirds; Prisoners, three-fourths.19,200 in summer; 15,360 in winter.1,080Cannot be correctly ascertained, there being no Gyrometer to the Wheels.Grinding corn, raising water, &c.

A crank machine is placed in one of the cells, but it is made little use of. Two females, refractory paupers, from a workhouse, were placed on the crank-wheel labour for twenty-one days, but without any apparent effect, either moral or physical. The males prefer the wheels, on account of the association there.

Punishments.—The punishment for infringing the prison rules is, ordinarily, confinement to the Solitary Cells.

Irons are only used in cases of attempted escapes; and whipping, by sentence.

Scourge:—Handle 20 inches long; nine lashes of common whipcord, each 17 inches in length, with nine single knots in each. The turnkey inflicts the punishment, and is allowed 2s. 6d. as a fee.

Irons:—Double irons, used in cases of attempted escapes, 13 lbs.

Body irons and chain used only on very refractory prisoners, to confine them to their beds, 11 lbs.

Visits and Letters.—The untried without, and the convicted prisoners by, an order from a Magistrate; the latter only when sentenced to three months imprisonment. The like restrictions as to letters.


Accounts, Expenditure, Books.—The accounts are made up every quarter, and a very copious and well-arranged abstract, accompanied by vouchers, produced before the Magistrates for their approval.

Books: Register.—Arrangements under the heads of No.; name; last abode; trade; description; when committed; by whom; offence; sentence; when discharged; behaviour; remarks.

Receiving Book.—Containing an inventory of the prisoners' clothes and effects; a description of his person and connexions, and other particulars taken upon their first coming in.

Daily Number Book.—Containing a daily account of the numbers, employment and conduct of the prisoners.

Keepers Journal.—Register of visits and letters, sent and received by the prisoners, with various other books connected with the interior economy and discipline of the prison.

Debtors.—Debtors, if lodged in the Keeper's house, are charged 10s. 6d., and 7s. 6d. a week for their rooms and bedding, according to the accommodation.

For bed and bedding in the debtors' wards, the charge is 2s. 6d. weekly.

The conduct of the debtors is described as very indifferent, and injurious to the discipline of the prison.

General Discipline.—Silence is enjoined among the prisoners, but from the want of sufficient officers to enforce it, it is but imperfectly observed, either during labour by day, or in the cells by night. The convicted prisoners take their meals in the cells; the untried in the day rooms.

The yards, being unpaved, afford great facilities for communicating by means of stones, thrown from one to another, and for playing at idle games.

The clothes of the prisoners are invariably taken away from them at night, as an obstacle to escape.

Keeper.—Age 44; appointed 1832; married. Salary, 180l. He also receives an allowance for taking a single convict, to the hulks, of 10l.; and 8l. a head, if more than one.

If as far as Portsmouth, 12l. for a single convict, and 10l. each if more than one. He calculates that he gains about one-half of the allowance, which brings his emoluments to an average of 220l. per annum. He has also a small garden of about a rood in extent.

Chaplain.—Appointed May 1832. Salary, 90l. He has a small perpetual curacy, about five miles from Huntingdon; the population about 50. Service once a week. Is likewise Chaplain to the Borough Gaol, where he attends on Fridays; resides at Huntingdon.

Surgeon.—Salary, 20l. per annum. Is paid half a guinea additional for itch, and venereal cases, and five shillings for attending corporal punishments.

Matron.—Wife of the Keeper. Salary, 10l.

Turnkey.—Age 35; married. Four years turnkey in Springfield Gaol; resides in the prison. Salary, 50l.

Miller.—Age 23; appointed 1S35; single. Salary, 41l. 12s. He receives two-pence for every five bushels of wheat ground for the consumption of the prison. Resides in the gaol.

In 1850 a new wing, designed by Thomas Smith, was erected. Between 1866 and 1881 a new female wing and treadwheel were added to the site.

Following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878, the establishment became Her Majesty's Prison Huntingdon and continued in operation until 1892. Parts of the building still survive.


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.

  • Huntingdon Library and Archives, Princes Street, Huntingdon, PE29 3PA. Hldings include: Register of prisoners (1845-56); General register of prisoners (1856-73); Habitual criminal returns, including photographs (1870-78, includes modern index); Notices from Gaols of discharged prisoners, including photographs and details (1881-92); Photographs of prisoners (1876-1877); Nominal registers (1881-85).
  • 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.