Ancestry UK

County Gaol and Bridewell, Lancaster, Lancashire

In 1745, the gaol at Lancaster Castle was designated as Lancashire's County Gaol and Bridewell, although a prison had existed at the site since medieval times.

In 1784, John Howard reported on his visits to the establishment:

GAOLER, John Dane, now John Higgin.
Salary, none.
Fees, Debtors, £0 : 8 : 0.
Felons,   0 : 13 : 4.
Transports, £5 each.
Licence, Beer and Wine.

Allowance, Debtors and Felons, one shilling each on Saturday morning.
Garnish, Debtors, £0 : 7 : 2.
    Felons,  0 : 2 : 6.

Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors.Felons &c.
1774, Mar. 25,74,131779, May 11,72,  11. Impressed 17.
1775, Nov. 20,48,17.1782, Sep. 3,57,  17.
1776, Sep. 17,32,19.  

CHAPLAIN, Rev. Mr. Spicer, now Rev. Mr. Watson.
Duty, Sunday twice; Wednesday and Friday once.
Salary, £50.

SURGEON, Mr. Dixon, now Mr. Wright.
Salary, now £10 : 10 : 0.

The castle-yard is spacious, and is supplied with water. Part of it is an enclosed bowling-green. Master's-side debtors have many apartments. One of them which they call the oven, is said to have been used as such in the time of John of Gaunt duke of Lancaster: the diameter, 24 feet; the height, that of an ordinary room. Debtors are allowed to walk and work (spin, knit, &c.) in the crown and shire halls. The latter is used as a chapel.

One of the rooms for debtors (60 feet by 27) is a free ward, and called the Quakers room; because, it is said, when those people were so cruelly persecuted in the last century, vast numbers of them were confined in it.

Petty offenders are sometimes sent hither, because the bridewells are distant. There is a large room for them near the gate; and they are kept separate from felons.

Men and women felons have their day-rooms apart, at the upper end of the court. Women sleep in their day-room: but the court being common, the men associate with them. Men have for their night-rooms two vaulted cells. One of them, the low dungeon, is 10 steps under ground, 21 feet by 9, extremely close, dark, and unwholesome; very hot even in in winter winter. Their other cell, the high dungeon (20 feet 2 inches by 11 feet 2), is close and offensive, though not under ground; and has an iron-latticed door.

In one of these dungeons, there were three felons sick: the recorder, Mr. Fenton, gave immediate orders for their relief by better nourishment, &c. and they soon recovered. No infirmary: no bath. Transports had not the king's allowance of 2s. 6d. a week. When prisoners are convicted at Preston or Manchester, and from thence brought hither, the gaoler has a shilling a mile conduct-money for each.

If the large stable which is not much used, and the great room under the shire-hall (in which there was only one poor lunatic; who had been there many years, and is since dead) were converted into night-rooms for felons, one small room for each; the court divided, and an infirmary were built, this would be a good gaol. From Mr. Fenton's humanity, and the regard that is justly paid him, I cannot but hope for some of these improvements.

These remarks were made in 1776: at my visit in 1779, I had the pleasure to find six cells made in the upper stable, 10 feet by 6 feet 8 inches, each having an aperture about 2 feet by l; and two good rooms fitted up for an infirmary in the dungeon tower. One of the six cells is appropriated to drunken and riotous debtors, over which this inscription is painted on a board, "This room is for unruly misbehaved debtors, to be confined in, until they promise to behave well."

At my last visit there were three new cells (10 feet by 6), two doors in each, one of which was iron-latticed. Here was also a separate closet for women, which is generally wanted in gaols.— This gaol is regularly white-washed, and kept very clean. The act for preserving the health of prisoners, and the clauses against spirituous liquors, hung up very conspicuously.—The gaoler lives distant.

The chaplain's salary, £50, is from the county; and from the dutchy £4.

I will give a copy of the table of fees, though it is not authentick;—a list of donations,—and an order for attending divine service, which are hung up in one of the court rooms. Much good, I hope, may be expected from the exertions now making by the gentlemen of this county, for the further improvement of their prisons.

Fees taken by the Gaoler of Lancaster Castle. (viz)
  £.  s.  d.
For every debtor's discharge when by a supersedeas 0  8  0
On a common discharge 8s. and 2s. & 6d. for the sheriff's certificate 0 10  6
When a debtor is surrendered in discharge of his bail 0  2  4
When a debtor is charged with a declaration 2s. & 4d. with the rule to take the prisoner to the bar and 2s. & 4d. with the remandato 0  4  8
When a debtor takes the benefit of the insolvent act 1s. and 25. & 4d. to bring the prisoner to the bar by rule, and 2s. & 4d. for the sheriff's certificate 0  5  8
Fees for all crown prisoners 0 18  0
Lately altered to 0 13  4
John Dane Gaoler

At my visit in 1782, the two last articles and the gaoler's name were erased, and there is now inserted "Crown prisoners to pay no fees."

The gaoler's wine cellar is down 20 steps, and has evidently been used for the confinement of prisoners. The different purpose to which it is now applied, is the only instance I know of the benefit of taps in gaols.

In 1812, James Neild reported on the prison:

Gaoler, John Higgin.

Salary, 500l. and 250l. to the Turnkeys under him. For Conveyance of Transports to Portsmouth, or Woolwich, one shilling per mile.
Fees and Garnish laudably abolished.

Chaplain, Rev. John Woodrow; now Rev. Joseph Rowley.

Duty, Sunday, Prayers and Sermon; Wednesday and Friday, Prayers.

Salary, 50l. and in addition to it, 30l. per annum, as Auditor of Accounts. From the Dutchy, 4l. and also from the Sheriff" 155. for his attendance upon every Protestant Malefactor who suffers Death. Roman Catholicks are attended by a Priest of their own Persuasion, who receives the like sum from the Sheriff.

Surgeon, Mr. Baxendale.
Salary, 84l. and Medicines furnished by the County.

Number of Prisoners,

Debtors.Felons &c.Lunaticks.
1802, Sept. 22d, 76900
1805, Oct. 24th, 74584
1809, Nov. 7th,116975

Allowance, to Debtors, one shilling per week in bread, and ten pounds of potatoes. To Felons, &c. six pounds of good wheaten bread, ten pounds of potatoes, 24 pounds of oatmeal per week, and one pennyworth of butter daily. On Sunday, half a pound of boiled beef, and a quart of broth .

This Castle, first built for a place of defence by the Romans, afterwards be came the Palace, or feudal residence of the Dukes of Lancaster; and at an early period, was converted into a County Gaol.

The situation is elevated and healthy. The Gaoler's house, which is a handsome building, and well situate for commanding a view of the spacious court-yard, fills up the space between the gate-way and the Well-Tower to the right. The Female Debtors' Prison is a room within the gate-way, and their court-yard is occupied in common with the Men Debtors.

The area of that part of the Castle-Yard which is appropriated to Debtors only, contains about 2792 square yards. On the West Side is a large arcade, for exercise in wet weather, or air in Summer; and over it are six day-rooms, each 14 feet.9 inches by 12 feet 3. In a wing adjoining are three rooms, each 40 feet by 14: that on the ground-floor is used as a workshop for Debtors. In the Well-Tower are four rooms; one of which is 20 feet square, and the average size of the others, 23 feet by 11.

In the Gate-way Tower are eight rooms, and an apartment for the Turnkeys: over which is a room for Debtors, called the Pigeon Box, 33 feet 8 inches by 12 feet 10; and two very spacious Reception-Rooms, where diseased Prisoners are put, until examined by the Surgeon.

Above the entrance is the ancient Court-Room, now occupied by the Female Debtors, in size 25 feet 8 inches by 15 feet 3; also a narrow winding stair-case to the attick story, on which are three ample rooms, of about 33 feet each by 16. Every Debtor, on his Commitment, pays 7s. 6d. towards a stock of coals, and 2s. for pots and pans. Formerly the Magistrates allowed a mop for each room; but from the insolence and extravagance of some of the Debtors, that indulgence is now discontinued. When a poor Debtor cannot pay for coals, he generally does the domestick work of the room instead of it; and if he cannot immediately pay for a bed, he obtains half a bed on credit, which is occasionally paid for by the Keeper, out of the Charity Fund.

When the number of Debtors does not exceed seventy or eighty, many sleep in single beds; but when more, they are under the necessity of assigning a bed for two persons. At my visit there were only three single beds in the whole of the Debtors' apartments.

All the Wards are free; and poor Debtors, who hire beds from the Town, pay from six pence to eighteen pence a week for the use of one.

The Male Felons' part of the Prison consists of four airy and well-paved courts, each containing about 238 square yards, for different classes. Each of these has a shed, and a day-room about 21 feet by 12, with sixteen cells to each, in two noble towers, making in the whole, sixty-four; every cell S feet 8 by 6 feet 8, and 8 feet high.

The Prison department for Female Felons occupies the space from the gate-way to the Dungeon-Tower on the left; and corresponds with the Gaoler's house towards the Castle-Yard. It contains two night-rooms in the Dungeon Tower, each 2S feet 9 by 15 feet; a day-room under the Infirmary; a wash-house adjoining; three night-cells also, under the Infirmary, of 8 feet by 6 feet 6; six smaller ditto, behind the new work-shops; six working-rooms, 15 feet 9 by 11 feet; and, betwixt the gateway and the Dungeon Tower, two well-ventilated rooms for the sick, of 30 feet by 21.

Between the outer wall of the Prison, and day-wards, there is a solitary day-room for refractory Prisoners, of 21 feet by 12; and three solitary cells, which being rather damp, are seldom used. Also a warm and cold bath.

The boundary walls of the four court-yards converge to a point, where the Turnkey's lodge is very judiciously placed, so as to have a complete command of the whole. The Prisoners may thus converse with their Friends under full inspection, without being admitted into the interior of the Gaol; and strangers may likewise see the Prisoners without being incommoded.

Every Prisoner on the Criminal Side is allowed a straw mat, a straw or hair bed, three blankets, a quilt or coverlet, and receives also one third of his earnings: The profits on their labour are sometimes equal to the expence of their maintenance.

The Bridewell Prisoners, and some of the Felons, are kept in the Great Tower, which has a small open court adjoining. In this Tower there are two large apartments, used as day and sleeping-rooms; the first of them, 55 feet by 26, is over the Chapel; the other, 43 feet by 25, is called "the Quakers Room," because, as it is said, when these people were so cruelly persecuted in the Seventeenth Century, vast numbers of them were confined in it: Also three sleeping-cells, 10 feet each by 7. The work shops adjoining to this court are, the Old Shire-Hall, for carding and spinning, 43 feet by 25; three shops for weaving, 40 feet each by 14; seven small ones, about 9 feet square; and the Task-Master's day and ware-room.

That part of the Great Tower, or Citadel, formerly called the Lungess, is now the Chapel, 55 feet long by 26; in which there is a commodious gallery for the Debtors, with seven separate divisions in the area below, for Felons, &c. who are placed according to their classes, and out of sight of each other.

I remarked with pleasure, that the Men and Women Felons were particularly clean at Chapel, when I attended Divine Service on Wednesday 22d September 1802, and was informed that they were obliged to wash their hands and face every morning, before they can receive their allowance. The whole number (ninety) were present at Prayers, except two or three, employed on necessary business. Their behaviour was silently attentive, and the countenances of all clearly shewed their love and respect for Mr. Higgin, the Gaoler; who, to great humanity and firmness of character, adds those religious regards which do him honour.

Of the Debtors, on the above day, I was sorry to observe, that only two out of seventy-six attended Prayers; although the following Order is stuck up in various parts of the Prison. The re-publication of it in this manner, and in a work like this, may have its good effect in other Districts, which it would not be difficult to mention.

At the General Quarter-Sessions of the Peace, held at Lancaster, in and for the County Palatine of Lancaster, the 15th day of July, [1777] in the 17th year of Geo. III.

Whereas it appears to this Court, on the representation of the Keeper of the Gaol of the Castle of Lancaster, that several Prisoners in his Custody, being Members of the Church of England, and having no lawful excuse, make a common practice of absenting themselves from Divine Service, performed in the said Gaol, and misbehaving themselves during Service:

It is therefore Ordered by this Court, that if any Prisoner or Prisoners confined in the said Castle, (except Roman Catholicks and Quakers) and having no lawful excuse, shall absent him, her, or themselves from attending Divine Service within the said Castle, or shall in any way misbehave; such Prisoner or Prisoners shall immediately be deprived of the County Allowance, until further orders to the contrary.

And it is further Ordered, That the Treasurer of the said County Stock shall, immediately upon receiving a complaint from the said Keeper, against any Prisoner or Prisoners, strike his, her, or their name or names out of his book; and forbear to pay such Prisoner or Prisoners any more money, until further Order,

Kenyon, Clerk of the Peace.

N.B. Whereas, many of the Debtors, of late, have absented themselves from attending Divine Service; This is therefore to give them Notice, that for the future, the above Rule of Court will be strictly put in execution."

In the excellent management of this Prison, which, from its situation in a very populous and maritime County, is seldom without atrocious offenders, there is the most clear and demonstrative proof how much more Humanity and Firmness oj5erate to promote penitence and reformation, than Harshness and. Severity; which last, as I have often witnessed, make the Criminal only more desperate, and tend rather to harden the heart, than reform the manners. Of the 90 Felons, &c. at my visit here in l802, not one was in irons; although amongst them was one committed for a double Murder, but of which he was afterwards acquitted. At my next call, in October 1805, not one of the 58 was in irons. They were all usefully and peaceably at work. In short, no Criminal was ever fettered at any time when I have been here. There are irons indeed, provided for the refractory, in terrorem, but I never saw any used. Such is the force of well-tempered authority, the influence of example, and the impressive weight of steady, calm, and active attention to duty.

The buildings for the convenience of this Gaol, have added much to the appearance of the Castle, and in some parts are singularly constructed, without either wood, plaister, or arches; the whole, both inside and out, being finished with hewn stone. The Architect, Mr. Harrison, (of whose professional abilities the Castle of Chester will stand a lasting monument) has here availed himself with much judgment of that fine material, which Nature has so plentifully provided in the neighbourhood; and of which is thus formed one of the strongest and most durable Felons' Gaols in this Country.

I cannot omit to mention, that at the request of the Magistrates of the County of Lancaster, and with the ready consent of the Sheriff, in the year 1784, Fees for Debtors were abolished, and a more adequate Salary was liberally granted to the Keeper in their stead.

Of the 116 Debtors that were here at my last visit, six I found had been committed by the Manchester Court of Requests; and Manchester being 55 miles distant from Lancaster, the Court allows the Serjeant escorting them 2l. 15s. conduct money for each. This expence, together with the Costs, are payable by the Creditor; so that, in some instances, the amount of the original Debt is exceeded in a triple degree. In the case of one Nancy Evans, whose Debt was but twelve shillings, I learnt that the Costs, &c. were 3l. 3s. 2d. A more than five-fold exceeding of the original demand!

The worthy Chaplain is empowered, at the expence of the County, to purchase Bibles and Common Prayer Books, and distribute them at his discretion for the instruction of the Prisoners.

Mr. Baxendale, the humane Surgeon, is frequent in his visits, and particularly attentive to the sick. He makes a regular entry of the state of his patients, in a book kept for that very useful purpose.

The Act for the Preservation of Health, and Clauses against Spirituous Liquors, are conspicuously hung up; and the Prison is kept exceedingly clean.

The prison site is shown on the 1845 map below.

County Gaol and Bridewell site, Lancaster, c.1845.

County Gaol and Bridewell main gate, Lancaster, early 1900s.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

The magnificent pile known as Lancaster Castle comprises within its area the duchy and county courts, and a gaol for Crown prisoners and debtors. In adapting a part to the purposes of a prison, the retaining portions of the ancient structure, and connecting them with new buildings under the restraint of a peculiar style of architecture, have seriously interfered with the requisite arrangements for health, discipline, and convenience. Exterior form and security appear to have been the main objects kept in sight by the projectors. The prison is entered through the noble and ancient indented gateway, with massive towers standing boldly in relief on each side for its defence. The interior of the towers is appropriated to offices for the keeper, reception room for prisoners, turnkeys' apartments, and lodgings for male debtors. A spacious court or airing yard for debtors first presents itself on passing through the exterior gate; the criminal prison for males shows itself on the right, and the one for females with windows overlooking the debtors' yard on the left. The keeper's house adjoins the debtors' prison, and has the following accommodation:—Basement, kitchen and offices; ground floor, breakfast, dining, and drawing-rooms; first floor, four chambers; attic, two chambers. The penitentiary, or prison for females, is a detached building of four stories, each containing a range of sleeping rooms, of a semi-circular shape, fitted, at one end with open iron railwork, for the purpose of inspection; the inspection room being within the circle. The female debtors' ward adjoins that of the criminals, hut is subjected to the inconvenience of having the cells for refractory prisoners under the saint roof; nor are there any means of reaching them hut through the debtors' day-room. The matron's apartments are a chamber and sitting room. The space for air and exercise, allotted to female debtors is very limited. The day-room attached to the laundry appears to be much exposed to accident from fire; the heat is conveyed from a stove, and the flooring consists of wooden laths laid at intervals of a few inches. I was informed that during the last summer they caught fire and that a portion of the wood-work was destroyed. The principal accommodation provided for the male criminals is in two massive towers of ancient form but of modern construction, containing eighty sleeping cells; they are mounted by well staircases, with ten landings in each, and eight cells in each landing, deficient both in light and ventilation. Portions of the old edifices have been incorporated into the chapel, male infirmary, and two dormitories, each capable of containing from thirty to forty prisoners. The principal turnkey's lodge is in the centre of the criminal prison, overlooking the yards, but is far from accomplishing the purpose of a complete general inspection of the prisoners.


1. For prisoners sentenced to hard labour; for convicted prisoners not sentenced to bard labour, but ordered by the visiting justices to be set to work; and for prisoners before trial who do not maintain themselves, but who work.

7 lbs. of wheaten bread, weekly.1½ lb. of beef, weekly.4 oz. cheese, weekly.
2½ lbs. of oatmeal, weekly.5 oz. of rice, weekly.3½oz. salt, weekly.
10 lbs. of potatoes, weekly.2 oz. of onions, weekly.1½ gill of peas, weekly.

Dinners—Sundays, 1 quart of stew made from cows' shins, in the proportion of one shin to every 14 prisoners.
Mondays, ½lb. of beef, boiled, and potatoes.
Tuesdays, 1 quart of rice soup, and potatoes.
Wednesdays, ½lb. of beef, boiled, and potatoes.
Thursdays, 1 quart of peas soup, and potatoes,
Fridays, ½b. of beef, made into scouce.
Saturdays, Potatoes and cheese.

Breakfasts—One quart of oatmeal pottage, and the same for Suppers.

7 lbs. of wheaten bread, weekly.1 lb. of beef, weekly.1½ gill of peas, weekly.
2 lbs. of oatmeal, weekly.5 oz. of rice, weekly.3½oz. salt, weekly.
5 lbs. of potatoes, weekly.  

Dinners—Sundays, 1 quart of stew, made as above.
Mondays, 1 lb. of beef, boiled, and 1 lb. of potatoes.
Tuesdays, 1 quart of rice soup.
Wednesdays, 1 lb. of beef, boiled, and 1 lb. of potatoes.
Thursdays, 1 quart of peas soup.
Fridays, l½ lb. of potatoes, and 1 quart of soup.
Saturdays, lb. of Potatoes.

Breakfasts—One quart of oatmeal pottage, ami the same for Suppers.

2. For prisoners before trial who do not maintain themselves, and who do not work; and for all other prisoners, (except such as are sick) who cannot maintain themselves, and who do not work.

7 lbs. of wheaten bread, weekly.10 lbs. of potatoes, weekly.
2½ lbs. of oatmeal, weekly.4½oz. salt, weekly.

All such articles of food and provisions for criminal prisoners shall be cooked in the regular cooking houses within the prison, and not by the prisoners individually.

One lb. of rice and four red herrings weekly are added to the county allowance to poor debtors, the expense of which is defrayed from the charity fund. The females all take their meals together in one room: the males in their day-rooms.

Clothing.—Males:—Woollen jacket, waistcoat, trowsers, cap, clogs, and shirt. Convicted felons—Yellow and blue. Misdemeanants—Blue. Untried—Brown. Females:—Woollen jacket, petticoat, cap, body linen, and clogs.

Bedding.—Hammock, hair mattress, two blankets (three in winter), and rug.

Heat.—The females' wards are warmed by steam. The humidity is very great in the towers from the porous quality of the stone, and the want of proper ventilation. Stoves are placed in the interior with pipes through the staircases, which afford but an imperfect remedy to the evil.

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

Health.—The attendance of the surgeon is daily and oftener if required. The prisoners are always inspected by him before they are classed. Medicines are provided by the county and dispensed in the prison. The surgeon states "that scurvy and pulmonary complaints are observable among those who have undergone a long imprisonment. Of a large proportion of these cases, there has probably been a predisposition to these complaints, which has here been called into action. The situation of the building being very exposed and cold catarrhal affections are very frequent: there is also a tendency to laxity of bowels among the prisoners. It is difficult to account for the cause; it may be in the locality. In the autumn and in wet weather such derangements are most frequent. A considerable proportion of the deaths ensue from pulmonary complaints and chiefly of men under long sentences. Imprisonment may be borne for twelve months without injury, but a period of two years is almost invariably detrimental to health. The periods of confinement at Lancaster Castle, from the serious cases being sent there, exceed the other prisons in the county in their duration, in the proportion of about3 to 1."

The surgeon says "the scurvy yields immediately to improved diet and treatment; there was considerably more of this disease previous to the increase of the food. The labour within the prison is less, and the prisoners enjoy a superior diet to those of their class beyond the walls: at the same time 1 think it not a particle more than they ought to have, for the long time they are shut up, and the depressing nature of the confinement. I have frequently observed prisoners under depression. From time to time attempts at suicide have taken place. The improved diet has lessened the general debility of the prisoners, and enabled them to support themselves under these circumstances. Formerly the mortality was much greater than at present, and many left the prison in such shattered health as to be unfit for labour. The women are upon the whole, more healthy than the men; their sleeping apartments are much superior to those occupied by the male prisoners, and it is to this that I attribute the variation in the health of the sexes. The debtors have not the tendency to low diseases observable among the criminals: on their side of the prison inflammatory disorders of the digestive organs, dropsy, and the usual tissue of complaints following intemperance are of constant occurrence. The result of lowering the diet in 1826 and 1827 was the appearance of scurvy, tabes mesenteriae,. atrophy, and chronic diarrhoea, in an increased degree. Since my connexion with the prison it has never been free from a tendency to diarrhoea, and I consider it imperative that the present diet should be maintained in its perfect integrity, in order to counteract this disposition."

There are many cases of simulated disease. It is common for the prisoners to create ulcers on the legs, by mixing the lime from the walls with soft soap. Two such cases are in hospital at the present time. The practice with such malingerers is to send them to the hospital, put them upon a reduced diet, and confine them strictly to their beds, and if there be reason to suppose they continue their tricks, to lock up their legs in a tin boot. There are separate infirmaries for the debtors and male and female criminals. The surgeon attends corporal punishments. A female nurse, a paid servant, attends the sick. The hospital servants are prisoners, selected for good conduct.

Moral and Religious Instruction.—The chaplain performs two full services upon Sundays. All the Crown prisoners attend chapel with the exception of the cooks and women nursing. children. On week-days he reads prayers every morning to the male prisoners selected from the Liturgy, and a lesson from the New Testament, which he accompanies with an explanation. He visits the sick and those in solitary confinement occasionally. On Sundays the female prisoners attend Divine service, but not on other days, in consequence, as he states, of their being subjected to the gaze of the debtors on their way to the chapel. He casually sees the prisoners by themselves, but from their strict application to labour, it is not possible to do so to any extent. The Sacrament is administered six times a-year, but only to those he considers in a suitable state of mind, which he satisfies himself of by previous examination. Many of the prisoners have assigned to him the fear of being scoffed and jeered at as reasons for their not attending the Lord's Table; others, who have once communicated, have been called hypocrites, and laughed out of coming again: occasionally sees the female prisoners. The matron reads prayers to them daily, and they are instructed by the assistant matron. The debtors seldom seek his attentions; about one in fifteen of the debtors attend Divine service, except w hen any prisoner is brought in under extraordinary circumstances, or has been left for execution at the assizes, then they crowd the gallery to excess. The chaplain says "it is impossible that any man in the situation a debtor is here, can have a serious thought." The boys and young men, who feel disposed to learn are placed in classes under the schoolmaster, and instructed in reading, writing, and the first principles of arithmetic. The boys are formed by the chaplain into two classes, and on Monday and Wednesday mornings, he hears them repeat the Collect for the Sunday and parts of the Church catechism. Considers it would be better if the boys were entirely apart from the other prisoners, and the same means of correction resorted to as in public schools. All books are submitted to his inspection and approval. It is not uncommon for men to apply for permission to have books in unison with their own religious tenets, which, after examination, are given to them. They have likewise asked to be attended by their own ministers, Catholics, Sociuians, and Unitarians. Does not think the present discipline of the prison has anything of a moral or deterring character; has often found, when he has flattered himself with making an impression upon a prisoner, it has been, speedily effaced upon his return to his ward. A well educated man, who attended most scrupulously to all his religious duties, and received the Sacrament while la prison, and of whom he bad the greatest hopes of a perfect reformation, was shortly after his discharge,, detected in carrying on a wholesale system of robbery in the metropolis. Another educated at Shrewsbury under Dr. Butler, who was thought so highly of as to be employed to assist the turnkey at the gate, was found intriguing with a female-debtor. He has met with numerous such instances of the inefficiency of the system, as now administered. He is convinced that the punishment of transportation is felt as a severe one by the criminal population. There are three prisoners in the Castle sentenced for a burglary to six months' imprisonment, and afterwards to seven years' transportation; this he considers to be worse than useless: the men are mixed with the others in the yards and day rooms, and the intermediate imprisonment is regarded as a relief by protracting the evil. The chaplain keeps a register, journal, and attendance book.

Schoolmaster.—There is no regular system of instruction except for the boys. The labour is not interfered with on that account. The attending school is not compulsory; sometimes a man or a boy continues for a month or two, then gets tired, and gives it up altogether. Occasionally they quit for a day or two and then return. The boys who are utterly ignorant of reading are allowed a trifle longer time from their work at the school than others, and in some few cases they have learnt sufficient to enable them to read the Testament, and write to their friends, before leaving the prison. The schoolmaster considers that many of the boys attend the school for the purpose of breaking in upon the monotony of a prison life. The prisoners are very generally desirous of being taught writing. He says, "I instruct them in both at the same time; when a boy begins to lead, and knows the meaning of a word of four or five letters, I put a pen in his hand and let him endeavour to form them. I am quite sure the reading is sufficient, and that the writing is of little real advantage." The prisoners are allowed the use of paper, pens and ink, indiscriminately, in the day-rooms. This is permitted with the view of mutual instruction, as many of them decline attending the school, and prefer learning from each other. There is no opportunity of knowing what they write. It is one part of his duty to instruct the prisoners in psalmody, which is done in the intervals from labour. Those who possess a good voice and are well conducted, are selected; they receive 3d. weekly, which is paid to them on their discharge. A circulating library has been formed in the prison, under the superintendence of the chaplain; it was first commenced by donations of books, but others were subsequently added by purchase: among the books are "Constable's Miscellany," and others of a similar description. They are selected from a catalogue by the prisoners themselves, or at their desire by the schoolmaster, and are changed every Saturday. The usual choice is for books of a short, or entertaining character, as history, voyages, travels. The "Saturday Magazine" is oftener called for than any other publication. The females are likewise permitted the use of the library, but are restricted to works of a religious tendency. The matron states "that the females refuse to avail themselves of the books, saying they want some of a livelier sort." She reads prayers daily to them. They are instructed, but not regularly; they are not anxious for it; if there is any work, by which they can make a little money, they prefer it to the school. The schoolmaster formerly kept a journal of the progress of the prisoners, but from the attendance being voluntary, and consequently very irregular, he discontinued it.

Classification.—As prescribed by the Gaol Act, except while at the wheel, where, from the small number of the class of misdemeanants, the labour could not be carried on if it was strictly preserved.

Labour.—The tread-wheel power is applied to the moving of twenty-three pair of power-looms for weaving calico. It requiring a degree of intelligence and activity, not found in everyone, the men who superintend this work are often so employed without taking their turn at the wheel with the other prisoners sentenced to hard labour. This is the first application that I have seen of the tread-wheel to such a purpose.

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.
May to October10138 inches.96 steps.13-24.10,4001,20010,400.Index attached to the machinery.Moving power-looms for weaving calico.
October to February 8138 " .96  ".13-22. 9,400 960 9,400.
February to May 7138 " .96  ".13-20. 8,750 840 8,750.

May to October10128 " .96 steps.6-11.10,4001,20010,400.Index attached to the machinery.Pumping water for use of the prison, and moving power-looms as above.
October to February 8128 " .96  ".2-3.10,200 96010,200.
February to May 7128 " .96  ".3-5. 8,100 840 8,100.

In the prison for females are four crank-mills for the grinding and dressing of flour. The prisoners sentenced to hard labour, with some few exceptions, take their turns at the wheels, of which a regular roster is kept.

The prisoners are employed in a variety of works, for which those before trial receive one-third of the set price; those not sentenced to hard labour one-sixth; those so sentenced one-eighth. The work done for manufacturers consists of the weaving of calico, by hand and power looms, at 1s. 1½d. a piece, the materials and gear being provided by the employer; the picking of cotton, at ¾d. or 1d. a pound; wool, at 1d. a pound; shoes, from 10d. to 2s. 9d. a pair; boot feet, from 4s. to 4s. 6d.; and boots closed, 7s. 6d. a pair. The tailors and women are also employed in making light clothing for the West India markets, at a rate of from 3d. to 4d. for each article; the women also knit and wash and mend for the male prisoners. The clothing, hammocks, bedding, &c. are made in the prison, and a nominal charge for them made against the county. Prisoners are paid their proportion upon their discharge.

Offences and Punishments.—The usual offences are fighting, quarrelling, and jumping off the wheel, punished by confinement in the refractory cells.

Whipping is inflicted by the sexton of the parish, who receives a fee of 1s. The punishment itself is described as one of no severity; forty or fifty lashes is the greatest, and two dozen the ordinary number upon adults.

Scourge.—Handle of whalebone, 22 inches; nine lashes, 19½ inches each; seven knots in each lash.

Irons.—For males, 6 lbs. 8 oz.; females, 2 lbs. 4 oz.

Visits and Letters.—Untried prisoners, at the discretion of the keeper; convicted prisoners once in three months. Letters are permitted to be written without any restraint; pens, ink and paper being indiscriminately allowed to be purchased by the prisoners, or obtained by them from their friends.

Debtors.—The conduct and situation of the debtors in this prison presents no difference to that of others of the same class elsewhere. The officers state that they are frequently intoxicated, occasionally found playing at cards; they make rules for themselves, and in spite of every precaution, garnish is demanded from fresh men, on their coming in. That in two of the rooms a species of tavern or boarding house is kept, on the following principle:—the debtors, each of whom is allowed to introduce a quart of ale into the prison daily, give the beer to the individual providing board, who makes an allowance or set-off for it, and then sells the ale at a higher rate to visitors or others requiring it. The price of the beer outside the prison is 6d., but immediately it gets within the walls its value is enhanced to 1s. One-half of the poor debtors live out of the richer ones not only by bartering their beer for food, but also in selling it the moment it gets into their hands. It never occurs but what the whole quantity of one quart a head is taken, although it is notorious many of them are without a farthing, and drawing the county allowance. They are stated, as a class, to be very inferior of late years to those who preceded them; only one out of 117, the number on the day of inspection, was drinking wine, or living in any degree of luxury. The introduction of spirits appears to be carried to a very considerable extent; numerous detections have taken place—two persons were convicted within a fortnight. A female, who had been in the habit of bringing provisions to sell to the prisoners, was one of those detected. She said, "It was no use for a person who had a living to gain, not to bring spirits in, for they could do nothing without it." The debtors' rooms are dirty, which may be partly occasioned by there being no public kitchen, and their being obliged to cook in the common rooms. A prisoner under contempt of the Court of Pleas at Lancaster, for not signing, certain deeds, has been confined for twenty years: he is now seventy-five years of age. Every attempt has been made to induce him to comply with the order of the Court, but in vain. He has now been subsisted by the county for many years.

Discipline.—The ensuing remarks upon the discipline of this prison are not intended to apply to the administration, but to the system. The whole of the officers male and female, without exception declare their opinion that it has nothing of a deterring or corrective effect. The prisoners are frequently heard making comparisons with the other county prisons, and invariably giving the preference to Lancaster Castle. The labour here imposed is much less than would be requisite to earn a livelihood without: a hatter exclaimed a short time since upon his discharge, "I must now work a great deal harder than I have been doing here and prisoners are frequently heard to declare themselves a great deal worse off out of the prison than within. That prisoners should feel thus can create no surprise, when even those employments which most tend to dissipate and enliven the monotonies of a prison life are made the objects of temporal advantage, such as paying them for singing in the chapel, &c. It cannot be supposed likely that men in such circumstances will voluntarily attend a schoolmaster for instruction, their minds pre-occupied with the stimulus of gain.

The prisoners still occupy their day-rooms, silence is not enforced and the bu1845 of conversation still pervades this establishment. Pens, ink, and paper are indiscriminately allowed to all prisoners who are able to purchase, or have friends to do so for them, with which they occupy themselves without the least restraint as to subject or time. Another authorised evil is the constant practice of the prisoners writing petitions to the magistrates or the keeper, either for the redress of fancied grievances, or for the obtaining of indulgences. I annex the following extract from the surgeon's Journal, as an illustrative example:—

"A petition signed by seventeen prisoners in the next ward praying the exemption of from the labour of the tread-wheel, on the ground of his suffering under, what they call, a severe asthmatical complaint. I had called out; be declared he knew nothing of this petition till last night, nor did he wish such a measure to he taken. He is a quiet orderly man, and is willing to continue the labour of the wheel, and I see no reason why he should not. He is not asthmatic, but has been subject to a cough. I consider this petition an impertinent interference, which ought to be treated as an attempt to dictate or intimidate."

A very extraordinary and which appeals to me an injudicious privilege is, that the prisoners in two large dormitories are permitted to have candles until nine o'clock in the winter, without being under the immediate control or observation of any officer, the monitors solely being responsible for the lights being put out at that hour. These rooms are of themselves great obstacles to good discipline, but this license tends to make them still more detrimental. It is done, I understand, with the view of allowing the prisoners to read to, and mutually instruct each other. Fighting, quarrelling, and disturbances take place, and in going into one of the rooms at ten o'clock at night, the odour of tobacco smoke was strongly perceptible. I conceive this privilege creates an invidious distinction between equals in guilt, and increases immeasurably the power of the keeper by affording him the means of varying in degree the sentences of the law.

Until very lately, a convicted felon was placed at the exterior gate with occasionally the key in his possession, to assist the turnkey in his duty; he received for this office 2s. a-week, and was discharged on suspicion of intriguing with a female debtor. A debtor now performs this duty.

The debtors have the opportunity of communicating with the cooks, who cross their yard when carrying provisions to the females. A most serious inconvenience is that of the females having to pass through the whole extent of the debtors' yard to reach the chapel, and being frequently shouted at and signalled to on their way by this class of prisoners. This might easily be obviated, by the chaplain performing an additional daily service to the women on their side of the prison, no very material increase to his most important labours. The constant influx of visitors to this prison from motives of curiosity is replete with experienced inconveniences, and very objectionable.

One prisoner, named, is detained here during his Majesty's pleasure, who was acquitted of murder, upon the ground of insanity, and was sent to the County Lunatic Asylum on Sept. 4, 1835, and returned therefrom to the gaol as cured upon the 7th of March, 1836. Addiction to liquor is described to have been the exciting cause of his distraction of mind. He is now perfectly tranquil and free from excitement, but has never adverted to the circumstances of his situation. He attends the chapel regularly, and has partaken of the sacrament. He is placed in a ward with two or three prisoners for bail. He boards with the principal turnkey, taking his meals with him, is allowed tobacco, but no beer. He pays 1l. a-week for victuals and washing. The same turnkey likewise provides the prisoners with pens, ink, and paper, from which he derives a trifling profit, in both cases contrary to law. The general evidence of the officers is to the effect that transportation is much more regarded as a punishment than was formerly the case, and that the effect of solitary confinement varies according to the disposition of the prisoner.

In conclusion I have only to add the opinion of the keeper, who says "The discipline of the prison is not of a deterring nor of a reformatory nature, which is evidenced by the number of times the same prisoner will be found here. The duration of confinement has no beneficial effect upon the prisoners; in fact, I rather consider it the reverse: they cannot he improved by coming here." A complete revision of the discipline at present carried on in this prison appears to me absolutely necessary. The enforcement of silence, the total abolition of temporal advantages, a compulsory system of moral and religious instruction, with other healthful regulations, would palliate, if not altogether remove the great disadvantages of inconvenient construction, and at least clear Lancaster Castle from the moral obloquy of being preferred by the criminal population to the other prisons of the county.

Keeper.—Aged 49; appointed 1833; Captain and Adjutant 3rd Lancashire Regiment; 28 years in the Militia; salary, 600l.; no other emoluments.

Assistant Keeper.—Aged 35; appointed 1822; formerly in business; does not reside in the prison; salary, 200l.; has charge of the prison in the keeper's absence; keeps the books, with the assistance of a prisoner as clerk.

Turnkey.—Aged 52; appointed 1821; 19 years in Lancashire Militia; married; read and write; resides in the prison; salary, 80l.

Turnkey and Porter.—Aged 48; appointed 1815; married; does not reside in the prison; read and write; salary, 80l.

Turnkey.—Aged 49; appointed 1830; gunsmith by trade; married; read and write; resides in the prison; salary, 60l., coals and candles.

Turnkey.—Aged 49; appointed 1833; 30 years in Lancashire militia; married; does not reside in the prison; read and write; salary, 60l.

Taskmaster.—Aged 47; appointed 1836; cotton manufacturer; married; does not reside in the prison; read and write; salary, 60l.

Watchman.—Agricultural labourer; 12 shillings a-week.

Matron.—Appointed 1820; wife of one of the turnkeys; resides in the prison; salary, 60l.; prisoner as servant.

Female Turnkey.—Aged 25; appointed 1829; daughter to matron; resides in prison; read and write; salary, 30l.; prisoner as servant.

Hospital Nurse.—Aged 65; appointed 1831; employed 30 years in the prison; does not reside; salary, 18l. 5s.

Chaplain.—Appointed 1804; salary,.350l. Is perpetual curate of Stalmin, 14 miles from Lancaster. The duty there is performed by two curates. He officiates there occasionally, and at such times, with the consent of the magistrates, one of the curates attends the prison.

Schoolmaster and Chaplain's Clerk.—Aged 37; appointed 1830; letter-press printer; read and write; does not reside in prison; salary, 60l.

Surgeon.—Appointed 1822; salary for attendance, 120l.

In 1878, following the nationalisation of the prison system, the site became Her Majesty's Prison Lancaster.

In more recent times, Lancaster was a Category C male training prison. It closed in February 2011 and the castle is now a visitor attraction.


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.

  • Lancashire Record Office, Bow Lane, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2RE. Holdings include: Register of prisoners from Assizes and Quarter Sessions (1820-1826); Lancashire Quarter Sessions Return of deaths (1822-9).
  • The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU. Holdings include: Lancaster Gaol Register of defendants (1884-6, 1895-1902); Lancashire: Register of Crown cases (1820-6); List of male convicts under sentence of transportation in Lancaster Gaol (29 April 1812).
  • Lancaster Central Library, Market Square, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA1 1HY. Archive name: Lancaster Central Library Holds: Lancaster Castle Gaol Transportation orders, warrants, committals, pardons, returns, writs, orders (1780-1881).
  • 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.