Ancestry UK

County and Borough Gaol, Ipswich, Suffolk

From 1448, Ipswich's West Gate, at the western end of Westgate Street, was for many years home to the Borough Gaol.

West Gate, Ipswich, Suffolk.

By 1774, the gaol had transferred to premises on St Matthew's Street, which also served as a Suffolk county gaol. In 1784, John Howard reported on the establishment:

GAOLER, Rowland Baker, now John Ripshaw.

Salary, none,

Fees, Debtors and Felons, £0 : 10 : 8.

Transports, £6 : 6 : 0 each; he paying clerk of assize £1 : 1 : 0 for each.

Allowance, Debtors, none.

Licence, Beer and Wine.


Allowance, Debtors, none. Felons, two pence a day in bread (weight in Dec. 1774, 18½oz. July 1782, 20oz.).

Garnish, Debtors, £0 : 2 : 5. Felons, £0 : 1 : 0.


Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors.Felons &c.
1774, Feb. 3,22,14.1776. Nov. 18,15, 6.
1774, De. 7,15, 5.1779, April 5,24,23.
1776, Feb. 7,29,17.1782, July 9,27,10. Deserter 1.

CHAPLAIN, Rev. Mr. Brome.

Duty, Sunday and Friday. (See Remarks.)

Salary, £50.

SURGEON, Mr. Buck.

Salary, £40 for debtors and felons,


THIS is also the town gaol: yet only one court-yard. For debtors, a kitchen, or day-room; and several chambers: one of these is lately made a free ward.— For felons a day-room: and for the men a strong night-room; with beds well contrived for cleanliness and health. Each prisoner has a crib-bedstead, 10 or 12 inches high; the head raised a few inches; strong feet, low sides. These are easily moved when the ward is to be washed. The county allows to each crib a straw bed, and a blanket.—The women have no separate day-room: and their ward, or night room, has no fire-place.—One of the two drinking-rooms is called the garnish-room. —Two rooms for the sick; not distinct enough from the rest. No bath. Debtors weave in hand-frames, like those at Lincoln, good garters, &c. and make purses, nets and laces which they fell at the front grate. I found this close prison clean, though full of prisoners. The water from the pump is conveyed through the sewers, which prevents the court-yard, which is small, from being offensive.

In the centre of the cieling of a neat chapel lately built, is an aperture covered by a small turret, which keeps the room airy and pleasant. (All prison chapels should be thus supplied with fresh air.) Mr. Brome, the chaplain, does not content himself merely with the regular and punctual performance of his stated duty; he is a friend to the prisoners on all occasions.

Assize always at Bury: there is now an allowance to the gaoler for conveying prisoners thither. Gaoler, a sheriff's officer. The act for preserving the health of prisoners is not hung up.

Debtors have on Sunday from a legacy of Mr. John Pemberton, each 1½lb. of beef for broth, a penny loaf, and a pint of ale. The following memorial of this kind donation is now hung up in the chapel.

July 17, 1780.

At this, the annual meeting of the trustees of Mr. Pemberton's charity, it is ordered, that the treasurer should provide as the trustees shall see fit, for the debtors imprisoned in any of the jails in the county of Suffolk, either for their relief therein, by a proportion of bread, meat, and beer, as he fall think necessary, or for the delivering them out of prison, until the treasurer shall receive further orders. Nevertheless, such debtors in Ipswich jail, as do not regularly attend divine service (unless prevented by sickness, or some reasonable cause, to be allowed of by the chaplain), and behave decently and reverently, shall not have any benefit or allowance from this charity.

 TRUSTEES, Geo. Drury. Lott Knight. Ph. B. Brooke. Edwd. Hafell.

From another legacy the town supplies them with five chaldron of coals yearly. No memorial of this in the gaol.

Suffolk, to wit. At the General Quarter Sessions—holden by Adjournment at Bury St. Edmunds— 21st—July—1729, A Table of Fees settled by the Justices of the said Division—pursuant to a late Act —for the Relief of Debtors &c. at the assize for the County of Suffolk—at Bury St. Edmunds the 24th day of July 1729.
s.  d.
To the gaoler for the commitment fee and discharge of every person12; 8
Out of which is to be paid to the sheriff2  0
To the officer2  0
For the rent of every chamber weekly2  6
Jasper Callum G. Golding Jermin Favers M. Shelton
I have reviewed this Table of Fees and do think proper to moderate and reduce the same to [erased] shillings and eight pence by disallowing the two shillings to be paid to the Officer and deducting six pence per week out of the Chamber-Rent. THO. PENGELLY.

Following the opening of a new County Gaol and House of Correction on St Helen's Street in 1790, the St Matthew's Street prison continued in use as the borough gaol. In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, William Brame. Salary, 50l. Also two chaldrons and a half of coals, and eight dozen pounds of candles.

Fees, Debtors, on discharge, 6s. 8d.. Felons pay no Fees. Garnish abolished.

Chaplain (a recent appointment,) Rev. William Howorth.

Duty, Sunday, Prayers and Sermon. Salary, 30l.

Surgeon, Mr. Sechamp. Salary, none: makes a Bill.

Number of Prisoners.

Debtors.Felons, &c.
1801, Oct. 13th,35
1803, Sept. 14th,46
1810, Sept. 21st,38

Allowance, to Debtors, poor and unable to support themselves, one pound and half of bread per day: And from Pemberton's Charity a twopenny loaf, one shilling's worth of meat, and a pint of strong beer on a Sunday, once in three weeks. To Felons, &c. one pound and half of best wheaten bread, and one penny in money per day.

REMARKS. This Gaol is situate in St. Matthew's-street, and since my visits in 1801 and 1805, is become so much improved, that I can now give some account of it with pleasure.

The Gaoler's house fronts the street; and in it are rooms for Master's-Side Debtors, to which he furnishes beds at two shillings per week each. Behind the house is the Debtors' court-yard, 90 feet by 27, with a gravel walk; and at the end of it is a small area, in which to converse with their friends.

Women Debtors have separate apartments. The Infirmary-room is 17 feet by 12, and 7 feet 9 inches high, with a fire-place and glazed window.

Common-Side Debtors have a day-room, 16 feet square, with a fire-place; and also four rooms above stairs, to which the Corporation furnishes bedsteads and bedding

Men and Women Felons have each their separate ward, distinct and apart one from the other, with an airy court-yard to each; in which the sewers are judiciously placed, and unoffensive. Their sleeping-rooms are well ventilated, and furnished by the Corporation with bedsteads, a bed, two blankets, two sheets, clean once a month, and a coverlet each. They are obliged to make their beds, and sweep their wards every morning, before they receive their allowance of bread.

At the West-end of the Prison is a little neat Chapel, 22 feet by 18, where the Prisoners are properly seated in their respective classes, but in sight of each other during Divine Service.

At my visits some of them were employed in cutting skewers, at 25. a thousand; others spinning or making garters. They have all they earn; and the considerate Magistrates allow fire, soap, and towels for their use.

Debtors are confined here upon Writs of Capias, issuing out of the Court of Small Pleas, holden for the Town and Borough every fortnight, on a Monday. No Debtor in execution confined in this Gaol; had ever reaped the benefit of the Lords' Act, until the 30th of December, 1805, when Mr. Pulham, a very worthy and respect able Solicitor, at Woodbridge, obtained the Sixpences for them at his own expence, after an application had been made by him to the Court of King's Bench, for a Mandamus to have them allowed.

Every Debtor here is permitted to purchase one quart of strong beer per day, but not more.

The Act for preserving Health, and Clauses against Spirituous Liquors, are hung up in the Chapel. The Prison is well supplied with water, and kept very clean.

In 1820, following the closure of the old county bridewell on Rope Walk, it was acquired by the borough and was converted to become new premises for the borough gaol. The site had a central, three-storey building which contained the keeper's house, infirmaries and chapel, and two attached two-storey wings which had six cells on each floor. The gatehouse was flanked by two storey, single-sided wings.

In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

THIS prison was formerly a house of correction belonging to the County, and was purchased by the municipal authorities, and converted into a Borough Gaol, for the reception of criminals and debtors within the local jurisdiction. To provide funds for the purchase and necessary alterations, the sum of 2,500 l. was borrowed, of which 800 l. is still outstanding. The total monies expended on this account, amounted to 2,891l. 16s. 6d. The prison is detached from other buildings, and the plot of ground comprised within the purchase extends considerably beyond the boundary walls, and adjoins those of the County Gaol. It is encircled by a brick wall, and forms an irregular hexagon. In the angle fronting the public road, and on each side of the principal entrance are two stacks of buildings appropriated to misdemeanants and debtors. Their contiguity to the gate and exterior wall, against which their apartments are built, and may be said to form a part, and the opportunity they have of overlooking other parts of the prison, particularly the felons' yard, materially affect its security, and are the reverse of convenient arrangements.

The other prison buildings, apart from the exterior walls, consist of a central house for the Keeper, and two wings for prisoners, with several irregular projecting parts, added at the period of its purchase. The airing-yards are not paved, and are simply enclosed at the ends nearest to the walls with a slight stockade, which may with ease be turned into a ladder.

The Keeper's dwelling contains two parlours and kitchen, on the ground floor; two chambers, and the chapel, on the first floor; and three attics are occupied by the turnkey, and two as store-rooms.

The cells in the upper stories of the wings are 10 feet by 7, and 10 feet high. In the ground floor, 10 feet by 7 feet, and 9 feet high. They are well lighted and ventilated.

The day-rooms, of irregular shape, are about 17 feet by 11 feet.

Observations:—There is a very considerable and increasing settlement in the foundation of the western wing, which, if not attended to, will probably endanger that portion of the prison.

Diet, Clothing and Fuel.—One pound and a half of the best wheaten bread daily, and 1 lb.&of cheese a week, is the allowance to criminals. To debtors, 7½lbs. of bread, and ½lb. of cheese a week.

The prisoners are supplied with linen and shoes, and wear a partycoloured dress of coarse woollen.

A bushel of coals per diem is allowed to each day-room, from the 5th of November to the 5th of April.

Observations '.—There is a sum of 1 £a day charged for each prisoner by the Keeper, which appears in the bills under the head of subsistence, which she explains, as for 1 lb. of cheese per week, provided by her: if the prisoners object to the cheese, they are permitted to have to the amount of its cost, 7 d., in either potatoes, milk, table-beer, or tobacco.

Upon going through the prison I found portions of various sorts of provisions lying about in the felons' and misdemeanants' day-rooms, such as roast pork, and other meats. Tobacco pipes were strewed in all directions, and the rooms were filled with a dense smoke. The quantity of tobacco allowed to be purchased was stated to be an ounce, weekly, by each prisoner. There is no restriction upon the use of it as regards the debtors.

the partycoloured dress worn here by the prisoners generally, is contrary to the provisions of the Gaol Act.

Bedding.—Straw paillasse and pillow, two blankets and woollen rug. Observations:—The Keeper has not the privilege of letting out bedding to the debtors; they are furnished with sheets and bedding of a superior quality in the prison, without charge.

Cleanliness.—The prisoners are supplied with soap and towels, and water is laid on to every yard. The washing is done in the prison, and a woman is hired every week to assist the female prisoners.

Observation:—The prison clean, and well ventilated.

Health.—The health of the prisoners is in general good: the most prevailing diseases are itch, syphilis and gonorrhoea.

There has been one death in the present year, under such extraordinary circumstances, that I venture to cite the case, although not immediately in connexion with the subject of the Report:—

William Casey, a native of Ireland, was tried, March 9, 1835, for the murder of his child, and was acquitted on the grounds of insanity. He then manifested a determination to destroy himself, and every care was taken to prevent him. He then resolved to effect it by starvation, and refused all food. The first 10 days he was without a drop of water; on the eleventh day he drank a quart; then he went for several days without food, and drank a quantity of water again. Food, in every enticing variety, was placed and left before him, and carpets were laid in the approaches to his cell, in order that he might be watched; he was frequently seen to crawl out of his bed and smell the food, and then return.

His wife once attempted to put a strawberry into his mouth, and he would have strangled her, if he had not been prevented. He lived on in this way, taking nothing but water, except on one occasion, during the last five days of his life, when he took a little rum.

He died on the 1st of August. During the whole period of his confinement he always stood, and was never known to sit down when not in bed. His violence was so great as to preclude the possibility of the Surgeon's administering nutriment to him otherwise than by the natural channel.

Observations:—The Surgeon does not inspect the prisoners before they are classed. He is present at corporal punishments. The itch has been communicated from one to another within the prison. There is no infirmary. There have been two cases of child-birth within the last three months; neither of the mothers were married; they were treated and attended in a manner quite superior to what they would have been at their own homes. One of them has three natural children in Nacton Poor House, and the one born in the prison is the fourth.

The Surgeon does not attend female prisoners in child-birth, and in these cases extra assistance was obtained, and paid for; he takes the females and infants under his care immediately after delivery. The expenses incurred on account of these two women amounted to 4l. 18s. 6d.

The Surgeon keeps no register, nor book of any sort, the Magistrates never requiring him to do so.

Moral and Religious Instruction.—Divine Service is performed every Sunday, with a sermon. The reading of the lessons is accompanied with a running commentary, and the Chaplain visits the prisoners occasionally during the week, when sick, or under serious charges. They are supplied with Bibles and books of moral tendency, subject to his supervision. The debtors do not usually attend service. There is no system of instruction in the prison. The average number of prisoners who can read is about half. There is no journal kept by the Chaplain, nor was there ever one provided in the prison. The Chaplain says, that the prisoners occasionally, but not generally, manifest a desire to be instructed. With respect to juvenile offenders, he has long been impressed with the mischief of sending them to prison. They may be kept secluded during the day, but when night comes, and the men are locked up, the conversation begins.

He is firmly of opinion that when a boy is once sent to prison for a trivial offence, it is but a prelude to his coming again. He has never observed a peculiar despondency in prisoners at any particular periods, that would be likely to interfere with a general measure for their separation. He thinks that it would be highly beneficial if it could be carried into effect, and most materially extend the sphere, and strengthen the influence of the Chaplain's ministry. With reference to the Chaplain's observations on juvenile offenders, the results of his experience in this prison, I can well believe them to be true.

Upon going round the prison I found two boys, in what was termed solitary confinement, in the same cell, who were in the act of laughing and playing with each other. In another cell was a boy stripped of his clothes and fast asleep in bed, about two o'clock in the day-time.

The Chapel is without any divisions for the separation of the prisoners, and, according to the Keeper's evidence, every sort of irregularity, as to communication between the prisoners, is carried on.

Classification.—There are six classes, with the like number of day-rooms and airing-yards.

Observations:—The turnkey says, that "it is almost the same as being in one yard, from the way that communication is carried on, and we have not a cell but from which communication can take place to any part of the prison."

Labour.—None. Observations:—There is a crank machine, but it is out of order, and has not been used for a long time. There is a hand pump also, intended to employ those sentenced to hard labour, but it cannot be worked for want of sufficient depth in the well.

Punishments.—None have taken place for offences in the prison, excepting for attempts at escape, when irons were used. Irons known as "the Shears," used in cases of attempted escape, 10 lbs. Irons in conveying convicts, 8 lbs.

Scourge.—The handle similar to a common horse-whip, 25½ inches long; nine lashes of the usual whipcord, 24 inches long, with three knots in each.

The scourge is generally used for boys, and the punishment inflicted by the town beadles, who receive a fee of 2s. 6d. on each occasion.

Visits and Letters.—The prisoners are generally allowed to receive visitors once a week, in the presence of the Keeper, unless the Magistrates give orders to the contrary. Letters are inspected going out and coming in. The debtors see visitors from ten till four daily: the number is unrestricted.

Observations:—Loose women occasionally come in to see the debtors: one was turned out of the prison last week. The turnkey says that he is quite sure that many people come in to see the debtors for the purpose of communicating with the felons, and he has frequently detected them in doing so.

Benefactions.—A dinner is provided at the expense of the town, on Christmas day, for all the prisoners, consisting of roast beef, plum pudding, and a pint of beer each.

Two chaldron and a half of coals are sent annually to the prison by the Renter Wardens of Smart and Tooley's Charities, and applied to general purposes.

The debtors who are natives of Suffolk receive, every fourteen days, a half-quartern loaf, 2 lbs. of meat, and a pint of strong beer, from Pemberton's Charity. The following are the conditions of this bequest:—

"That the same should be applied by the trustees towards the relief of such poor distressed debtors as should be imprisoned within any of the gaols in the county of Suffolk, for delivering them out of prison, or relieving their necessities whilst therein, as the trustees should think fit, provided that the debtors should be born in Suffolk, and in no way indebted to the trustees."

Accounts, Expenditure and Books.—The tradesmen send in their bills, which are passed by the Magistrates in Sessions, and the town clerk gives a separate order on the treasurer for every account, for each of which he receives the sum of three shillings.

The Keeper says, in consequence of the Marshalsea rate being frequently in arrears, it happens that the salaries and bills of the gaol are not paid for six months after they become due, and that she has been greatly distressed at times in consequence.

The expenses of the Borough Gaol of Ipswich, inclusive of the maintenance of the prisoners, salaries, &c., from the 24th October 1834 to the 27th of October 1835, amounted to 507l. 14s. 1d.

Books,—Register of felons and convicts, with the name, description, trade, by whom committed, when committed, crime, when tried, sentence, when carried into execution, remarks.

Register of Misdemeanants.

Register of Debtors.

No Magistrates' Visiting Book, nor Surgeon's, nor Chaplain's Journal kept.

Observations:—The Keeper's account of sundries provided for the use of the prison is most unintelligibly kept. The books of registry are compiled at uncertain periods, from the commitments and rough memoranda, and by an individual brought into the prison for that purpose. The person alluded to underwent an imprisonment of twelve months in this prison, for grand larceny, and appears to be a very improper person to be permitted to have constant access there.

Debtors.—The debtors are confined under process of the Borough Court, where sums to any amount may be recovered, or under sentence of the Court of Requests. Observations:—The conduct of the debtors is very indifferent, and their example influences the other prisoners. The Keeper states, there is more trouble with the debtors than with all the other prisoners; she has found them with fires in the middle of the night; they talk to the felons, give them knives, messages, &c., and are in constant communication with them. The turnkey says, that whatever improper articles get into the prison, are got in through the debtors, who have every facility.

General Discipline.—None.

Officers of the Prison.—Keeper, a widow, aged 60: her husband held the situation of Keeper 35 years ago. Upon his death, in 1811, the Magistrates permitted her to succeed him. There is no established turnkey, but she employs one at her own expense, who boards and sleeps in the prison.

Salary and Emoluments.—Salary, 80l. per annum. She is allowed by the Magistrates ten shillings each Sessions for her attendance, which duty is only nominal. She has coals, candles, and soap. One shilling a mile is the charge for conveying convicts to the Hulks. She employs her son, who is 32 years of age, in this duty.

Chaplain.—Salary, 30l. per annum; appointed by the Magistrates in 1822. Is perpetual curate of St. Mary Key, Ipswich, where he has to perform two services on Sundays.

Cleric.—Salary, 2l. 12s. per annum; he attends the Chaplain at the prison, on a Sunday, and is clerk of the parish of St. Mary Tower, Ipswich.

Surgeon.—Salary, 50l. per annum, for attendance and medicine at the two establishments of the Gaol and Bridewell; appointed by the Magistrates, 1820.

Turnkey.—Paid by the Keeper; appointed by her May, 1829; shoemaker by trade.

General observations:—Without going into the question of the propriety of a female holding such an appointment as that of Keeper, the indifferent state of this prison is quite sufficient to manifest the utter incompetence of the person entrusted with its governance. She is a very respectable person, and it is impossible not to feel regret at her being placed in this anomalous position. She stated, upon examination, that she was quite unaware that there were Acts of Parliament for the Regulation of Prisons. She had no instructions, no rules. That prisoners, in many instances, were brought to the prison without commitments from the Magistrates, and have lain four or five weeks, and been discharged without any having been sent. I find the following recent cases, among others, in corroboration of what she advances.

John Catchpole was brought to the Gaol by the constable who apprehended him on the 25th of November. On the back of the warrant for his apprehension is the following note.

"Receive John Catchpole for want of sureties; the commitment shall be sent this afternoon."

The constable came and took him away again on the 2nd of December. No commitment was ever sent.

The imprisonment of debtors is carried on in a similar irregular manner.

An individual was arrested and brought into prison seven days after the writ had been made returnable. When this man had been in gaol eight days, the following note, now appended to the writ, was sent by the Town Clerk to the Keeper, and the individual walked out of prison:—

"Mrs. ——— there is no cause for detaining ——— if he desires his discharge."

 "25th November 1835."

The interior arrangements of this building are so inconvenient, that nothing but extreme vigilance could possibly maintain in it anything approaching to discipline. It would be most desirable to send all prisoners, who are sentenced to correctional discipline, to the County Gaol.

In 1878, with the nationalisation, the Borough Gaol was amalgamated with the adjacent County Gaol. In 1882 the former Borough Gaol became the house for the governor of the combined establishment, then later used as officers quarters. The prison closed in July 1925 and the borough gaol building demolished in 1931.


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.

  • Suffolk Archives, The Hold, 131 Fore Street, Ipswich, Suffolk IP4 1LR. Few records survive. holdings include Register of prisoners under confinement in the Town and Borough Gaol (1800-24, includes each prisoner's name, age, trade, height, complexion, date of committal, name of committing Magistrate, length of sentence, crime of which indicted or convicted, and date of discharge).
  • 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.