Ancestry UK

County Gaol, Launceston, Cornwall

The Cornwall County Gaol was located at Launceston Castle. One of its notable prisoners was George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends (The Quakers), who spent time there in 1655-56.

In 1777, John Howard recorded:

This gaol, though built in a large yard belonging to the old ruinous Castle, is very small; house and court measuring only fifty two feet by forty four; and the house not covering half that ground. The Prison is a room or passage twenty three feet and a half by seven and a half, with only one window two feet by one and a half :-and three Dungeons or Cages on the side opposite the window : these are about six and half feet deep; one nine feet long; one about eight; one not five : this last for women. They are all very offensive. No chimney : no drains : no water : damp earth floors : no Infirmary. The yard not secure; and Prisoners seldom permitted to go out to it. Indeed the whole Prison is out of repair, and yet the Gaoler lives distant. I once found the Prisoners chained two or three together. Their provision is put down to them through a hole in the floor of the room above (used as a Chapel ); and those who serve them there, often catch the fatal fever. At my first visit I found the Keeper, his Assistant, and all the Prisoners but one, sick of it : and heard that a few years before, many Prisoners had died of it; and the Keeper and his wife in one night.

I learned that a woman who was discharged just before my first visit (by the Grand Jury making a collection for her Fees) had been confined three years by the Ecclesiastical Court; and had three children in the Gaol. There is no Table of Fees.

The King, of his Royal Bounty, has offered TWO THOUSAND POUNDS towards a new Gaol; but nothing is done by the County.

I was edified by the serious behaviour of the Chaplain at Prayers. The Prisoners respect him, and were very attentive. He has a large family : I was sorry for the late reduction of his Salary.

The Mayor sends the Prisoners weekly one shilling's worth of bread : no memorial of the legacy in the Gaol. Transports have not the King's allowance of 2s. 6d. a week. Clauses of Act against Spirituous Liquors not hung up.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

This Gaol, for Felons only, belonged formerly to the Constable of the Castle of Launceston: But it has since been purchased by the County; and in the year 1779, the sum of 500l. was, by the King's bounty, appropriated to it.

The building is small, the area within the boundary wall being only 100 feet by 50. On the left of the entrance are the Gaoler's apartments; on the right is a room about 37 feet square, with a fire-place, and two glazed windows. This is called the Old Gaol, and is assigned for Women Prisoners; who have in it three sleeping-cells, the largest 7 feet 6 inches square, the two others of the same length, by 4 feet 6, and 7 feet 6 inches high. Divine Service, when performed, is in a room in the Keeper's house.

The Men's Gaol is down eleven steps: their day-room, 17 feet square, has a flagged floor, with benches to sit on, a large iron-grated window, and a fire-place, to which the County considerately allow coals; but it is, notwithstanding, very damp.

A passage, 27 feet long, and 5 feet 6 inches wide, opens into the day-room, and contains four sleeping-cells, of 8 feet by 6 feet 6, and 8 feet 4 inches high. All the cells have boarded floors, laid with straw, two blankets, and a rug.

Close to, and communicating with the above day-room, is the court-yard, 50 feet by 30, laid down in grass, with a pump, and sewer.

The Women Prisoners have also a court-yard, about 37 feet square, with a sewer; but, having a mud bottom only, and unsupplied with water, this court-yard is seldom, if ever used.

Ducks and fowls were kept in both courts, at my visit in September 1806; an accompaniment, which, in a Prison, might always much better be avoided : It occasions dirt and negligence, as I have experienced, and sometimes noticed, in several other Gaols.

The Dungeons of the Old Gaol were filled with lumber when I made my visits; and there was no appearance of their having ever been used since the new cells were built.

No Memorial in the Gaol, of the Gift of Bread allotted weekly, and sent in regularly by the Mayor.

The Prison is kept clean. A woman is always hired to wash the Prisoners' linen. Transports here have the King's Allowance of 2s. 6d. per week. The Act for Preserving the Health of Prisoners is not hung up; nor the Clauses against their use of Spirituous Liquors.

Although Chapel Duty here is but once a week, I was concerned to hear that in repeated instances it had been passed by, not for weeks only, but for several months together. That there were only three Prisoners in l806, was not, surely, a ground for omission; and as the Gaoler also, and his family, were ever present, and could not quit the Gaol, they ought at least to have had the Prayers read, for which a due consideration is allowed.

Gaoler, John Mules, now Christopher Mules. Salary, 16l.
Fees, 13s.4d. Conveyance of Transports, 1.s. per mile.

Chaplain, Rev. Charles Lethhridge ; now Rev. John Row.
Duty, only once a week, yet sometimes omitted. Salary, 20l.

Surgeon, Mr. Roe. Salary, 16l.

Number of Prisoners, Oct. l8th, 1803, One. Sept. 27th 1S06, Three.

Allowance, twenty ounces of brown bread daily, (one gallon of bran only being taken out of a bushel of wheat,) cut from the Keeper's loaf. Half a pound of meat on Sundays, and every morning a pint of skimmed milk, which costs a half-penny. The Mayor sends weekly to the Prisoners one shilling's worth of best wheaten bread; the weight of which, in October 1803, was six pounds and a half. The County humanely allow coals for the common day-room.

The prison ceased use as a county gaol in about 1830 but continued as a lock-up for a few years.

The remains of the castle are now in the care of English Heritage

Launceston Castle, Cornwall, 1980s.


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