Ancestry UK

County and Borough Gaol, Huntingdon, Huntingdonshire

By 1179, Huntingdonshire's County Gaol had been established at Huntingdon Castle, overlooking the confluence on Alconbury Brook with the Great Ouse. The castle buildings decayed over the centuries and the prison moved to a site at the corner of the High Street and what is now Orchard Lane (formerly Gaol Lane). By the 1770s, the establishment was also acting as the County Bridewell and Borough Gaol.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

GAOLER, Henry Blane, afterwards Robert Nunn, now John Randall.
Salary, none.
Fees, Debtors, £0 : 12 : 6.
  Felons, £0 : 15 : 10.
Transports, If only one, £12; if more, £9 each: he paying the clerk of assize a guinea for each.
Licence, Beer and Wine.

Allowance, Debtors, none.
   Felons, four halfquartern-loaves a week.
   Debtors, £0 : 2 : 6.
Garnish, Debtors, £0 : 2 : 6.

 Debtors.Felons &c. Debtors.Felons &c.
1773, Nov. 5,7,4.1776, Sep. 27,3,6.
1774, Jan. 29,7,3.1779, Sep. 22,11,14.
Deserters 4.
1775, Nov. 9,4,5.1782, May 4,7,6.

CHAPLAIN, Rev. Mr. Brock. Now no Chaplain.

SURGEON, Mr. Hunt, now Mr. Perkins.
Salary, £5 : 5 : 0.

This gaol is also the County Bridewell and Town Gaol.—For debtors, a day room or kitchen; and over it a large lodging-room. Near it is a day-room for felons: and down 9 steps a dungeon for men-felons; in which is a small condemned room. In another place, down 7 steps, is a dungeon for women-felons: the floor of it level with the court; in which is the bridewell. This has two rooms below for men; and two above for women. No chimneys. The prison and court are too small: but I always found the whole remarkably clean, except at my visit in 1779. Clauses against spirituous liquors hung up. The act for preserving the health of prisoners not hung up. No infirmary. No bath. Salary for the bridewell, £24: 16: 0; for the town gaol, £4.—Straw, £4 : 16 : 0 a year.

I was sorry to hear at my visit in 1776, that Mr. Brock, the late chaplain, who officiated very constantly twice a week, and had a salary of only £20, was dismissed. He would have continued his attendance, without the salary; but an order was made expressly forbidding it.

At the back of the prison a hemp-dresser has a small house, and also a salary of £11 a year, to find work for the prisoners in the bridewell, in beating hemp at three pence a stone.

A Table of the antient accustomed Fees demanded taken and received time immemorial by the Gaoler for the time being of his Majesty's Gaol in the Town of Huntingdon and for the County of Huntingdon as well for Civil Prisoners as Criminal Prisoners.
As to Civil Prisoners, commonly called Debtors.
£.    s.   d.
For the dismission fee for each debtor, to the keeper0  : 10  :  0
For the like, to the turnkey0  :  2  :  6
For debtors bed per week0  :  2  :  4
For the bed per week, if two debtors lie together0  :  3  :  6
As to Criminal Prisoners.
For the dismission fee of each criminal prisoner discharged out of custody, either by the magistrate, or by the courts of assize or session0  : 13  :  4
For the like to the turnkey0  :  2  :  6
For the bed per week to each fine, trespasser, or felon0  :  3  :  6
For the bed per week, if two lie together0  :  4  :  8
Robert Nunn
Keeper of the County Gaol of Huntingdonshire Oct. 14, 1774.

There is a rasure, which cancels the name of the former gaoler Henry Blane, and the date when he signed.—There is added, the date of the present gaoler's coming into office, Oct. 6, 1778.

After a further visit in 1788, Howard reported that the hemp-dresser's house at the back of the prison was taken down, and many other alterations were taking place. The County Bridewell had also been removed to separate premises.

In 1812, James Neild gave his far from favourable account of the High Street site:

Gaoler, James Drage; now William Aveling.

Salary, 105l. from the County, and 4l. from the Corporation. Also allowed 6l. per annum, to supply the Criminals with straw for bedding.

Fees, Debtors, 12s. 6d. Felons, &c. 15s. l0d. See the Table. Besides which the Under-Sheriff demands of each Debtor four shillings for his liberate! For conveyance of Transports, if only one, twelve pounds; if more, nine pounds each.

Garnish, two shillings and sixpence each, by Order of the Magistrates: a most singular regulation.

Chaplain, Rev. Isaac Nicholson; now, Rev. Daniel Williams.

Duty, Prayers and Sermon every Wednesday.

Salary, 20l. for the Gaol, and 10l. for the Bridewell.

Surgeon, Mr. Desborough; for Felons only.
Salary, 15l. 15s. for Gaol and Bridewell.

Number of Prisoners,

 Debtors.Felons, &c.
1800, March 30th,54
1801, Aug. 20th126
1806, Aug. 2d,32
1807, Aug. 31st,46

Allowance. To Debtors, nine pounds of bread weekly: To Felons, and other Criminal Prisoners, three quartern loaves, ditto.

The Gaoler's house, which is situate in the High-street, has no appearance of an appendage to a Prison. The Gaol is behind it, to which the access is through a passage leading immediately to the Felons' day-room. This is about 16 feet square, and 10 feet high. It has a fire-place, with two iron-grated windows; and here, (as there is no Chapel) Divine Service is performed!

A place set apart for Divine Worship, should seem to carry some respect with it. I wish the present were not a glaring exception. The attendance of Debtors, I understand to be optional; and indeed it is scarce likely that a serious Debtor, who had his Prayer-Book, and could read, would come into a room where it is impossible he could be devout. What a close and motley mixture must it exhibit! Clergyman, Gaoler, Felons, Misdemeaners, — to say nothing of Debtors, (most of whom I suppose, never attend,) within a space of l6 square feet; all upon one floor. No reading desk, nor forms; to say nothing likewise of this House of Prayer's being made also the kitchen, day-room, and constant resort of an avowed Group of Thieves: In short, this is one of the worst constructed Prisons in the kingdom.

Adjoining to the Felons' day-room is another, about 14 feet square; in the flooring of which a trap-door is made, and through it a descent of eleven steps leads to their sleeping-room, of the same size as their day-room, having an arched roof, and two iron-grated windows. This last contains three bedsteads, for three persons each; to which straw-in-sacking only is allowed them to sleep on.

The Dungeon, or "Hole," formerly used for Convicts under Sentence of Death, adjoins to the sleeping-room before-mentioned; and is 10 feet by 4 only, 6 feet high, with an oak bedstead, and straw bedding as above. The Keeper, however, assured me that no Prisoners were ever put there now; yet, why continue its furniture, if never used? From what I thought, therefore, on seeing such a receptacle, I could not help wishing that it had been inaccessibly bricked up.

The court-yard to this part of the Gaol is about 21 feet square. In very severe weather the Prisoners are allowed two bushels of coals per week. For Deserters there are assigned two sleeping-cells, which both together are 14 feet by 11, and 10 feet high, with straw only on the floor to sleep on: also a day-room of 11 feet by 4 feet 6.

The sleeping room for the lesser Criminals is over the Felon's day-room, and of the same size. The common court-yard above-described is for the indiscriminate use of all.

The Women Felons have a court-yard 28 feet 6 inches by 17 feet 6, and a dayroom and sleeping-room adjoining to it on the ground-floor; each about 13 feet by 10, with a bedstead.

The Hospital, or Infirmary-Room, has four good windows, and is 19 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 6; but the ceiling is too confined, being only 7 feet 6 inches high. Here is likewise a small room for the nurse. The bedsteads throughout the whole Prison are of strong oak, 6 feet long by 5 feet wide; with no other bedding upon them than straw, put into what they here call "Coarse Pickling."

Men Debtors have a court-yard also, 53 feet by 26, and a day-room 30 feet by 14, with a fire-place. Their sleeping-room above is about 26 feet by 14 feet 6, and has four bedsteads, for two persons each.

At my Summer visits, the Debtors complained to me of excessive heat, from a want of ventilation; the two small iron-grated apertures made to admit a thorough air being nearly stopped up on the outside. The County allows straw only, so that Debtors in general bring their own beds, or else the Keeper furnishes a single bed at 2s. 4d. per week; or, if two sleep together, at 1s. 9d. each: and for those who can afford it, there are two other rooms in the house, at 3s. 6d. per week.

Women Debtors have a separate court-yard, 33 feet by 19; a day-room 21 feet by 16, with a fire-place; and over it their sleeping-room, nearly of the same size, with four bedsteads, for two each, like those for the Men Debtors. They furnish their own bedding. The windows of this room formerly commanded a fine view of the Country, which made it both pleasant and healthy; but, at my last visit, the wall of the court-yard had been so raised as to intercept the scenery.

Mops, brooms, pails, &c. are allowed to keep the Prison clean. Convicts under Sentence of Transportation have not the King's allowance of 2s. 6d. per week. For the conveyance of one Transport only to Woolwich, the Gaoler is paid 12l.; if more than one, 9l. for each; and to Portsmouth, for each, 12l.

The following Table of Rates and Fees, approved by the Magistrates, is framed and hung up in the Prison.

A Table of Fees, Demanded and Taken by the Gaoler, for the time being, of his Majesty's Gaol for the Town and County of Huntingdon; as well for Civil Prisoners as Criminal Prisoners. Established at an Adjourned Session, October 27th, 1785.
As to Civil Prisoners, commonly called Debtors.£.    s.   d.
For the Dismission-Fee, for each Debtor; to the Keeper0  : 10  :  0
For the like, to the Turnkey0  :  2  :  6
For the Debtor's bed per week0  :  2  :  4
For the bed per week, if two Debtors lie together0  :  3  :  6
Garnish, at coming in, for the benefit of the other Debtors0  :  2  :  6
If they find their own bed, &c.0  :  0  :  0
For the Copy of a Warrant0  :  1  :  0
Filing a Declaration.0  :  1  :  0
Issuing a Certificate for Supersedeas0  :  1  :  0
As to Criminal Prisoners.
For the Dismission-Fee of each Criminal Prisoner out of Custody, either by the Magistrates, or by the Courts of Assize, or Session.£    .s.   d.
0  : 13  :  4
For the like, to the Turnkey0  :  2  :  6
For the bed, per week, to each Fine, Trespass, or Felon.0  :  3  :  6
For the bed, per week, if two lie together0  :  4  :  8
For a Copy of a Warrant0  :  1  :  0

From the foregoing Table it appears, that the sum of 2s. 6d. for Garnish, is absolutely ordered by the Magistrates to be taken of every Prisoner. It is to be hoped this respectable County will follow the general, and almost universal example of all others, and cause it to be abolished.

No allowance of money to Prisoners on discharge is ordered, unless the Gaoler sees it needful; but when so, he informed me, it is given by him, and charged to the County.

No firing is here allowed, except to Felons in very severe weather; Nor any employment furnished by the County. Such Debtors, however, as are of handicraft trades, and can procure it from without, are permitted to work, and receive all they earn.

There is a pump in every court-yard; but no bath, nor oven, which are much wanted. I found the whole of this ill-arranged Prison well supplied with water, and very clean. The Act for the Preservation of Health, and Clauses against the use of Spirituous Liquors, are conspicuously hung up.

From 1829, after the opening new County Gaol on St Peter's Road, the High Street site continued in use as Huntingdon's Borough Gaol. In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported on the establishment:

This Prison stands in the High Street, and until the building of the County Gaol was made use of as such, as well as for the Borough. When the County prisoners were removed, the old prison premises were apportioned between the town and county, since which the latter have disposed of a part of their share, and made use of the remainder as a Military Store-house. The borough still apply their portion to the purposes of a gaol; and a more inconvenient application could not well have been devised for such a purpose.

The following are the dimensions of the six apartments appropriated to prisoners. Felons' day room, 17 ft. 3 in. by 17 ft.; and 8 ft. 9 in. high. Felons' sleeping room, 16 ft. 6 in. by 16 ft. 6 in.; and 7 ft. 6 in. high, containing three large wooden bedsteads, for three men each.

Observations:—This apartment is four feet under ground, descended to by a trap door, and staircase. It. is quite unfit for the confinement of any human being. The floor is rotting with damp, and is broken through in many places; is imperfectly ventilated, and almost without light.

Solitary cell, 10 ft. 6 in. by 3 ft. 10 in.; 5 ft. 10 in. high.

Observations:—This den, for it can only with propriety be so termed, is built below ground, in the shape of a barrel; it is without light, and is entered through the felons' sleeping room. Misdemeanants' sleeping room, 18 ft. by 17 ft.; 7 ft. 3 in. high. Three wooden bedsteads.

Females' day and sleeping room, 18 ft. by 15 ft. 6 in.; 7 ft. 6 in. high.

A female felon, under sentence of two years' imprisonment, was the only prisoner in the gaol at the period of inspection. Had there been male prisoners, she must have been confined wholly to this room, and precluded from air or exercise. Searching room, 14 ft. 6 in. by 13 ft. 3 in.; 9 ft. 6 in. high.

Felons' yard, 27 ft. by 22 ft. 6 in.

Misdemeanants' yard, 49 ft. by 20 ft.

The Keeper's house, fronting the street, consists of two parlours and a kitchen, on the ground floor; three bed rooms on the first floor, and three attics.

Observations:—The arrangement of these apartments is extremely inconvenient for the purposes to which they are assigned; they are connected, and under the same roof, with apart of the-old unoccupied premises belonging to the county; and should any accident by fire take place in the Keeper's house, escape would be impossible.

Diet.—The untried are permitted to purchase any food they please, but not, more than a quart of beer per day. They are allowed half a quartern loaf of the best wheaten bread, daily. Those sentenced to hard labour have, in addition, half a peck of potatoes, and half a pound of salt weekly.

Bedding and Duel.—Paillasse and pillow, two blankets, and woollen coverlid. Three pecks of coals, and turf for kindling, allowed to each ward, per week.

Labour.—Crank machine; the model was taken from the one used in the. County Gaol, and executed by mechanics in the town of Huntingdon; and with the gyrometer, it cost 13/. It is enclosed entirely in a close boarded frame-work, 5 ft. high, 3 ft. 2 in. long, and 2 ft. wide. The construction is two rollers of seven inches diameter, regulated by a pressure-screw to the strength of the person about ta turn it, and the revolutions performed are denoted by the gyrometer, attached to the end of one of the rollers. Both the gyrometer and pressure-screw are enclosed, and not seen by the person turning.

Punishments.—By putting in irons. The heaviest, nib.; the lightest, 5 Jibs., weight.


Instruction.—None. Bibles, Testaments, and Prayer Books are given to the prisoners by the Chaplain, who performs Divine Service once a week, upon a Friday.

Health.—Medical assistance is provided in case of need.

Visits.—Take place under an order from the Magistrates. Letters are examined by the Keeper.

Benefactions.—The Mayor gives a dinner at Christmas, of beef, plum pudding, and a pint of beer to each prisoner. There are no bequests, nor is money ever sent by charitable persons.

Books, Accounts, and Expenses.—The Keeper purchases the articles required for the use of the prisoners, and makes a profit out of them, he obtaining them at the wholesale prices, and charging the Corporation with the retail.

The following ingenious artifice is practised by him, on the prisoners, by his own admission. Each prisoner is allowed half a quartern lout a day, making seven half quarterns in the week; by connivance with the baker, six half quartern loaves are made into seven loaves, and distributed one to each prisoner daily; consequently, the gain to the Keeper is one half quartern loaf per week, subtracted from each person's allowance.

Observations:—I called the attention of the Mayor to this proceeding. The Keeper's book is a sort of mixed account, of provisions and of occurrences in the prison; and his bills are paid whenever there are funds in the Town Clerk's hands. The Gaol expenses are paid out of the Poor's Rates, under the head of Constable's Disbursements.

Keeper.—A carpenter and joiner by trade; carries on his business in a distant part of the town. Appointed November, 1824, by the Mayor and Aldermen, and succeeded his father. He gives a bond of 200l. for the safety of the prisoners. His salary is 7l. 3s. per annum. He also has the following fees, viz. 13s. 4d. upon the conviction of any felon, and 2s. for each person taken up to the Town Hall for examination. He has a profit out of all the provisions purchased by him for the prisoners, and the amount of one half quartern loaf per week, subtracted from each prisoner's allowance. There are sundry other small fees.

Matron.—The mother of the Keeper; appointed September 1828. Salary, 3l. 3s., and an apartment.

Chaplain.—Salary, 20l. per annum. Is Chaplain also to the County Gaol.

General Observations.—The County Gaol is about a quarter of a mile distant from the town of Huntingdon, where the Borough prisoners might be received by arrangement with the Magistrates.

The Borough Gaol of Huntingdon is, in itself, unfit for any of the real purposes of imprisonment. The greatest number of prisoners at one time was ten, and it seldom happens that they exceed four. There is but one at present, a female.

The prison closed in c.1845. The property is now a listed building.


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