Ancestry UK

Town Gaol, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey

A Town Gaol from about 1264. It stood in Clarence Street, within the site now occupied by the Bentall Centre, and was known as the Stockhouse, from the stocks that were placed inside the prison to prevent escapes. The Stockhouse was mainly used as a debtors' prison, but until about 1800 held felons awaiting trial at the Assizes and Quarter Sessions.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

Two lower rooms, and 4 chambers; the cielings low. A court, not secure. The rooms at the Lent assize are crowded with prisoners. Gaoler keeps a public house, No salary. Fees, 2s. (see table). Clauses against spirituous liquors not hung up.

1776, April 26,Prisoners 0.1782, Nov. 9,Debtors 4.
1779, March 11,Debtors 3.1783, Oct. 21,No prisoners.

In the Town-hall there is "a table of such ordinary fees as are due to the bailiffs, town clerk and other officers and ministers of the said town." It is dated the 10th of December 1603; and confirmed by Charles Lord Howard, &c. high steward of the said town, Sir Edward Coke attorney general and learned steward of the court of the said town: the two bailiffs, the recorder with the assent of the freemen." These are the several fees of the bailiffs — town clerks — attorneys—sergeants — gaolers — cryers — chamber fees, and at last orders to be observed.

£ S. D.
For every one arrested wanting sureties and sent to gaol0  2  0
For every one sent to ward upon commandment or arrested for a trifle or being very poor not above 0  0  8
For the other fee heinous of the irons crime of every one committed for felony or suspicion of felony or for any 0  2  0
I am tempted to transcribe many more articles of this curious ancient table: I cannot omit the two or three following.
For arresting any freeman of this town inhabitant within the watch0  0  6
For the attorney's fee upon evidence delivering to a jury, when there is no other counsell0  2  6
Every counsellor's fee in this court0  6  8

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, B. Sergeant; now William Walter.

Salary, None. Fees, for Debtors, or Felons, 4s. 2d. No Table.

Surgeon, Mr. Taylor, who makes a Bill.

Number of Debtors, 1802, Jan. 19th, One. 1805, June 30th, One; a raving Lunatick, Geo. Rawson. 1806, May 11th, None. 1807, Sept. 16th, One. 1810, June 23d, None. I have not met with one Criminal here at my several visits.

Allowance, None. The late Keeper informed me that he had frequently made application to the Bailiff of the Borough, for a daily allowance, but was always told" there was none for them."


The Hundred Court of Kingston is a Court of Ancient Demesne, holden before the Bailiffs and Suitors, on Saturday, once in three weeks. This, in the old Court Books, is called "Curia cum Hundredo," to distinguish it from the Court of Pleas, which is holden every Saturday.

The Town Hall stands in the Market-Place, detached from all other buildings. The lower part is chiefly open, and used for the purpose of the Markets. The part at the South end is closed in at the time of the Assizes, and used by the Judge on the Crown Side. The room over it, up stairs, is appropriated to the Judge who sits at Nisi Prius: and the North end of this is the Grand-Jury Room; which, at other times, is used by the Corporation.

The Judges, who always hold the Lent Assizes here, have frequently complained of the badness and inconvenience of these Courts; and, it must be confessed, not without cause: for they make but a bad figure, when compared with the magnificent buildings of this nature, which have been erected, both in this and some other Counties.

The present Town Gaol, belongs to the Bailiff and Corporation; and Debtors are committed by process issuing out of the Court of Record.

A Court is held here every Saturday; but application for the Sixpences, or a Supersedeas, can only be made at a Court in Term time, upon a fourteen days' notice. The Prisoner, on application, obtains a Rule for the Plaintiff-Creditor to appear at the next Court; who may then object to the Prisoners' Schedule, and will have till the next Court to make his objections, which if not satisfactory, the Prisoner will be ordered his sixpences, or superseded.

For poor Debtors here is one room on the ground-floor, l8 feet by 14, and 6 feet 6 inches high: adjoining to which is a narrow slip, or lobby passage, 14 feet long by 3 feet wide; with an iron-grated window looking towards the Street, where the Prisoner solicits Relief from casual Charity.

In this Town-Gaol I found in January 1802, one Richard Holt, confined for a debt of six Guineas, for rent: and the costs incurred against him had amounted to three pounds, three shillings, and ninepence. This poor man told me that "he had maintained a wife, and brought up ten children, without Parochial assistance; but, having been in confinement eleven weeks, his wife, and the three youngest children were then in the Work-house."

Is it not to be regretted, that where our Laws ordain a loss of Liberty, there should be no respect shewn to Merit, in the conduct of a Debtor? This victim to misfortune had surely an abundant claim to the attentions of pity; for here was no Allowance whatever, to provide him needful food, nor even water accessible to the Prisoner.

In the narrow passage above-mentioned, (the "Straits of Misery," as I might well term it,) was this Prisoner standing to beg; and, but for the casual interference of sympathy in others, could no longer have existed than human nature can do without food.

The Corporation of Kingston supplies neither sustenance nor bedding. The Keeper, however, had humanely supplied the solitary Debtor with a bedstead and mattress, a blanket, and a rug; in return for which the Prisoner did any such little jobs as the nature of his confinement would admit of.

Above-stairs here are four rooms; one of which is well furnished, for those Prisoners who can pay 7s. 6d. per week; another, with inferior accommodation, at 2s. 6d. and a third for a Turnkey to lodge in, and guard the Felons, who, during the County Assize, are lodged in the fourth room, and sleep on the floor. The Keeper informed me, that for two or three days together, four and twenty Felons had been crowded here, like sheep in a Market-pen, into a room of 19 feet long by 9 feet wide. It must have been judged needful to secure them there; and accordingly, they were fastened down to staples fixed in the floor, by a ponderous iron chain, run through the main link of their fetters; one blanket being allowed to each Felon for his bedding.

The Gaoler at Kingston is a Sheriff's Officer, and keeps a Publick House, the sign of The Hand and Mace. He told me he would gladly give up the Publick House, if the Corporation would allow him a fixed Salary. He appears to be a humane man, and sensible of the impropriety of a Gaolers keeping a house of that description. Considering, however, that here is no allowance, it must operate to the advantage of the poor Debtor, by exciting commiseration from those who frequent it. A licenced Beerhouse should never be made a prudential article in any Prison-establishment, nor rendered an Ingredient of its Finance.

No court-yard. No water accessible. The whole Prison not white-washed, but out of repair, and dirty. The Clauses against Spirituous Liquors are hung up; but not the Act of Parliament for preserving the Health of Prisoners.

A New Town Gaol is building, and Sessions House to adjoin, which are in great forwardness at this time — 1810.

The gaol ceased operation in 1829, as part of a scheme to improve the approach road to the new Kingston Bridge, which was opened the previous year. Its role was taken over by a new debtors' prison in Bath Passage.


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  • Prison Oracle - resources those involved in present-day UK prisons.
  • GOV.UK - UK Government's information on sentencing, probation and support for families.