Ancestry UK

County Gaol and Bridewell, Leicester, Leicestershire

Prior to 1792, the Leicestershire County Gaol stood on Blue Boar Lane, off the west side of Highcross (or High Cross) Street, where the entrance road to a casino car park now runs.

The site also included a County Bridewell, or House of Correction.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

GAOLER, Samuel Jordan, now William Jordan.

Salary, none.

Fees, Debtors and Felons, £0:15:4.

Transports, If only one, £8; if more than one, £7 each.

Licence, Beer, to deputy.


Allowance, Debtors and Felons, 2 a four-penny loaf every other day (weight once 2lb. 8oz. twice 3lb. 5 oz.).

Garnish, Debtors, £0:4:0. Felons, £0:3:0.


Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors.Felons &c.
1773, Nov. 16,16, 3.1776, Oct. 29,17, 5.
1774, April 4,16,11.1779, March 27,23,10.
1775, Jan. 3,15, 7.1782, May 2,20, 4.
Deserter 1.
1775, Nov. 11,17, 2.   

CHAPLAIN, Rev. Mr. Pigot.

Duty, Sunday.

Salary, £30.

SURGEON, Mr. Mason.

Salary, £15 for debtors and felons.

For master's-side debtors nine or ten rooms. Day-room common. The free ward, the cellar, is a dungeon, 29½ feet by 9, and 6 feet 8 inches high, down 7 steps and damp;† two windows; the largest about 15 inches square. Felons day and night-rooms are dungeons from 5 to 7 steps under ground. They sleep on thick mats on the floor; which, if cribs and coverlets were added, would be better than straw. The whole close and offensive. Court small, 36 feet by 17 feet 4 inches. No chapel. Two rooms lately built for an infirmary: but the gaol is not convenient or healthy. In 1774, three debtors and a felon died of the small-pox. Of that disease I was informed few ever recover in this gaol. The castle-hill is near the shire-hall, and is a fine spot for air and water.

Clauses of the act against the use of spirituous liquors painted on the same board as the table of fees. The act for preserving the health of prisoners not hung up. Here, as in many other gaols, is an useless tub, instead of a bath for cleanliness and health. An inscription on a board is fixed over the gate, "No money to be asked for by turnkeys or prisoners, for garnish or any other pretence whatever."

† This seems to be the low moist dungeon that was complained of by a debtor in this gaol, in his Letter 13th Nov. 1690, sent to Moses Pitt, a prisoner in the Fleet; who printed it, with other letters from prisoners, in his Cry of the Oppressed 1691. By this, and one or two more of the letters in that little tract, it appears that some inconveniences which I observed in gaols, and have set down in my remarks, are of long standing.

In 1792, the gaol moved to new premises on the east side of Highcross Street. The building was designed by George Moneypenny, who is also said to have become its first inmate as a debtor. Partly re-using existing buildings, its cruciform layout included four yards, single cells, a partitioned chapel, baths, pumps and privies. However, the space constraints of the site meant that it had a relatively cramped layout.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, John Simons; afterwards James Staples; now (1811) Christopher Musson. Salary, 130l.

Fees, as per Table. Besides which the Under-Sheriff demands 6s. 8d. for his liberate! Felons' Fee of 13s. 4d. each is paid by the County. For Conveyance of Transports, 8l. each.

Garnish, though prohibited, is generally exacted from a new comer.

Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Anderson. Salary, 60l.

Duty, Prayers four days in the week; Sermon on Sunday.

Surgeon, Mr. Maule, now Mr. Ludlam.

Salary, for Debtors and Felons, both in the Gaol and Bridewell, 25l.

Number of Prisoners,Debtors.Felons, &c.
1800, March 28th,1813
1802, Jan. 20th, 415
1803, Aug. 23d,1217
1805, Sept. 26th, 812
1807, July 30th,11 8
1809, Aug. 22d,1317.

Allowance. One pound six ounces of bread, sent from the Baker's every other day, in loaves of two pounds twelve ounces each; and one quart of small beer daily.


This County Gaol looks as it should do. It has a Prison-like appearance. The ingenious architect, Mr. Moneypenny, has shewn his knowledge of grand design, bordering on the terrifick.

The noble stone face of the building extends 120 feet in front of the street, and near to it is the Free-School. The Gaoler's house is at one corner; and the Turn key's lodge, which adjoins it, leads both to the Men-Felons' court-yard, and like wise, by a passage, to that of the Debtors.

It was first inhabited in 1793, and has four airy court-yards, with water in all; and a day-room to each. The court for Debtors is 74 feet by 32, and the day-room 29 feet by 13 feet 6 inches. For those on the Master's-side there are ten rooms, which the Keeper supplies with beds at 2s. 4d. weekly for a single bed; and if two sleep together, 1s. 6d. a week each. Common-side Debtors have a Free Ward, with ten good-sized sleeping-rooms over the Men-Felons' cells, to which they furnish their own beds. One room is set apart for an Infirmary, 30 feet by 16, with opposite windows, and a fire-place.

The Men-Felons' court-yard is 59 feet by 30, with a day, or common mess-room, 23 feet by 13, which has a fire-place, a large table, and benches to sit on. They have also four sleeping-cells on the ground floor, each 8 feet by 4 feet 11; one cell of double the size, for Convicts under Sentence of Death, which is likewise occasionally used for refractory Prisoners; and, at the back of these, and separated by a narrow passage, are five other cells, of equal dimensions. The cells upon the ground floor are boarded, but much out of repair, and dirty. Several of them had ashes heaped up in the corners. The Felons, for bedding, have two straw mats and two blankets each.

One side of the court-yard is occupied by a room with a cold bath; and another adjoining, for Prisoners to undress in, with a boiler for warm water.

Behind these buildings is another court-yard for less-atrocious Felons, 38 feet square; a day or mess-room (fitted up as above) 18 feet 4 inches by 11 feet 9; an Infirmary-room 16 feet square over it; and on the ground floor are five sleeping cells, exactly similar to those already mentioned.

Women Felons have a court-yard, a day-room, an Infirmary, and three sleeping cells; another room having a cold bath, and one adjoining it, with a boiler, like those before described. The Women's bath had not been used, nor is there any water to supply it.

The Chapel is a square building in the centre of the Prison; and has at each corner a door of entrance for the respective classes, who are seated in the area, separated from each other by partitions 6 feet 6 inches high.

Over the rooms that contain the baths are two spacious Infirmaries, 30 feet each by 16, with large opposite casement windows, and fire-places: But some of the Infirmary windows have been injudiciously stopped up. These rooms open into the gallery of the Chapel, which is partitioned off for the sick. The Chapel is open to the top, with a large sky-light, and fan sash-window.

The cells of this Gaol have boarded floors, with arched roofs, and are fitted up with three mats and two blankets each. The door-ways, being only 22 inches wide, are both too narrow to admit the introduction of a bedstead, and too few in number for so populous a Prison; so that two Prisoners are generally locked up in each cell, affording a space of 2 feet 5 inches only for each Prisoner. The court yards here are not kept clean: I found grass growing between the flag-stones: But they are well supplied with water, and the sewers are not offensive. The Keeper appears humane; and the Prison is as clean as its present construction will admit. It is much to be regretted, however, that the plan originally proposed by so able an Architect was not adopted. There would then have been no cells on a ground-floor, which are incommodious, unhealthy, and insecure.

Those Prisoners who work receive all their earnings, but no County Allowance of bread. It has always given me pleasure, at my several visits, to find some of them weaving stockings, others making shoes, &c.

To be taken by the Keeper of this Gaol.
£.    s.  d.
For lodging of every Prisoner, per week0  2  4
For Gaol-Fees on Discharge of every Prisoner0 13  4
For the Turnkey0  2  0
For the Copy of every Warrant or Commitment0  1  0
For signing the Certificate, in order to obtain a Supersedeas0  1  0
Thomas à Becket Sessions.—10th July, 1759.

Formerly there used to be an annual collection for the Prisoners, by a kind of voluntary brief. The Gentlemen of the Grand Jury recommended it to the Clergy, who promoted the good work in their respective parishes. A Table was kept, of the sum received from each parish; a list of Debtors clothed or discharged; and an account of the expenditure of the remainder, in feeding and warming all the prisoners, during the inclement season.

No firing is allowed by the County. Neither soap nor towels for Prison cleanliness. No Rules and Orders! Here, as in too many other Gaols, is an useless tub; and two cold baths, that are never used.

Prisoners are discharged from hence in a morning; but without money, or the allowance of bread. For eight of them, therefore, (who were 20 miles distant from home,) a stranger, present at the time, left one shilling each.

The Clauses against the use of Spirituous Liquors are properly painted on the same board as the foregoing Table of Fees. But the Act for Preserving the Health of Prisoners was not hung up.

In 1828, the gaol moved to new premises at the east side of Welford Road, Leicester. The buildings, designed by William Parsons, had an imposing castle-style entrance. The prisoners' accommodation adopted a detached radial layout, with six cell blocks arranged like spokes around but separated from a central building. By the following year, it included a Female House of Correction, taking all female prisoners from the County House of Correction.

County Gaol and Bridewell, Leicester, early 1900s.

In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

Construction.—The ground which surrounds this edifice does not belong to the Gaol. Articles of various sorts are continually thrown over the walls, and the Magistrates have much difficulty in attempting to remedy the evil; but all that is done at present is to punish the prisoner who receives such articles. A signal is given, the article is caught, and desperate struggles have ensued in taking away such things from the grasp of the prisoner. This evil seems only likely to be removed by the acquisition of the ground immediately surrounding the prison.

All the Yards are well paved, and the windows are not only well constructed, but are maintained in excellent order; a circumstance of the utmost moment to good ventilation. The supply of water is abundant, and in all the large Yards there are two water-closets.

The building is very solid, and seems well secured against escape. During the last 24 years there has been only one escape; this was of a Debtor, who was retaken after three days.

Some of the Dark Cells are so near the street that conversation may be heard from it: these are accordingly disused at present, although well adapted in other respects.

The only fire-places here are in the Day Rooms and the Infirmaries. No mode of warming the Cells exists at present.

The dimensions of single Sleeping Cells are, length, 8 feet 5 inches; breadth, 5 feet 10 inches; height, 9 feet 3 inches; of those in which more than one sleeps, length, 11 feet 8 inches; breadth, 8 feet 5 inches; height, 9 feet 3 inches; of the Day Rooms, length, 40 feet: breadth, 12 feet 8 inches; height, 9 feet 3 inches.

Management.—Silence has not been introduced here; it is, however, enjoined after the prisoners are locked up for the night, but, at that time, of course, is the most difficult to preserve. Singing and noise are forbidden at all times.

This is a House of Correction for Females only; they are placed here instead of at the County House of Correction, which is at present reserved for male prisoners alone.

On unlocking some of the cells at night, I found in one cell two beds, and two men sleeping together in each of these two beds. I am assured, however, by the Keeper, that these four men are the only males sleeping thus two in one bed in the whole prison; he states that it has been done in this instance in order that prisoners of one yard may not be mixed with those of another, which would sometimes be the case, if this expedient were not adopted; he affirms that it is a rare occurrence, and never resorted to except when the ward is crowded. In another cell I found three men sleeping on the same bedstead; two under one bedding and the other under another bedding. For females, it is a common practice here to place two in one bed. To provide separate beds for prisoners of both sexes appears as highly important; if any one point of the economy of prisons is more essential than another, it is probably this.

Prisoners who are confined in Dark Cells are not permitted to pass the night in them, but are removed in the evening to the Sleeping Cells. Irons are out of use. There are four Debtors' Yards, three for the males and one for females. The Untried Male Prisoners associate in three yards, sometimes in four. There are usually about15 in a yard. There is also a Yard for Untried Women. There are two Yards in which the Male Convicted Prisoners associate, and one more for the Convicted Females: the Convicted Females have also a Yard in that part of the building which forms the house of Correction for women. In the Chapel communication and sight are well cut off; it has 10 compartments. The prisoners take their meals in the Day Rooms; the hours for the meals are, eight, twelve and six o'clock in summer, and eight, twelve and a quarter before four in winter. The Convicted Males see their relations frequently, but the females in the House of Correction only once a month. There is no prohibition of letters, except that the Keeper inspects all, and keeps back such as he deems improper to be read.

Scale of Diet.

Prisoners committed for Trial.

For Women in House of Correction lb. 6 oz. bread, 2 pints gruel, 1 lb. potatoes.

For those who do not receive from their Friends lb. 10 oz. bread, 3 pints gruel, 1 lb. potatoes.

For those who do receive from their Friends 1 lb. 10 oz. bread, 3 pints gruel, daily.

The Unconvicted Prisoners receive a pint of table beer daily.

Prisoners not sentenced to Hard Labour, and whose Imprisonment is under Six Months receive:— 1 lb. 12 oz. bread, 3 pints gruel, 1 lb. potatoes, daily.

Prisoners not for Hard Labour, and who have been imprisoned Six Months and upwards 1 lb. 12 oz. bread, half-pint new milk, 2½ pints gruel, 1 lb. potatoes, daily.

Prisoners for Hard Labour:— 1 lb. 12 oz. bread, half-pint new milk, 1½ pint gruel, 1 pint soup, 1 lb. potatoes, daily.

Women for Hard Labour in House of Correction lb. 6 oz. bread, half-pint new milk, half-pint soup, 1 pint gruel, 1 lb. potatoes, daily.

The allowance for Debtors is 21 ounces of bread daily.


The allowance of Clothing consists of a jacket, waistcoat, trowsers, shirt, clogs; for the Women, a cap, handkerchief, two petticoats, shift, apron, stockings, shoes. The Convicted are distinguished by a party-coloured dress.

The Bedding comprises a straw mattress, rug, and two blankets. Debtors also receive this bedding,if they possess none of their own, (excepting only the rug.)

The beds are always washed twice a year, and the blankets as often as is found necessary. Shirts and shifts are washed weekly. The prisoners are shaved once a week, by one of their own number; two razors are distributed to each ward for this purpose.

Labour.—There is no Hard Labour enforced here for the Men; and the principal occupation for them is cleaning and pumping. One Convicted Felon is employed as cook. For the Untried, whether Male or Female, there is no compulsory work. But, as this gaol serves as a house of correction for Females, (Females not being received at the house of correction for the county,) they are obliged to work both for this gaol and also for the County house of Correction; they make beds, shirts, female clothing, and they mend for all. By this labour money is saved, but it is not produced: however, 8d. a month in winter, and 9d. a month in summer, is allowed to the working women, and is paid to them on going out of the prison.

The hours of labour for the Women are, in summer half-past 6 to 8, 9 to 12, half-past 1 to 5, in winter half-past 7 to S, 9 to 12, and 1 to 4.

Religious and other Instruction.—The Chaplain visits the gaol every day, except Saturdays, and sometimes also on that day. He performs Divine Service, and delivers a sermon every Sunday once. He keeps a Journal, which includes observations on the conduct of the prisoners. When a prisoner enters, the Chaplain always informs him that he shall be ready at all times to afford him religious instruction, either in the ward, or in his private room. He finds that prisoners under capital offences generally avail themselves of his offer, but not those who come in for minor offences. On two days in the week prayers are read; after the prayers, any prisoner may come to him in his private room to confer with him, by previously intimating his wish to the turnkey. Tile Chaplain is allowed to spend 2l. 10s. annually in books for the use of the prisoners here. There is a schoolmaster who gives daily instruction in reading and writing, in a school room.

The Chaplain also attends at the County House of Correction. He is the minister of St. George's, in Leicester, but he does not take the care of souls; he has an assistant for this church, who never interferes with the duties of the gaol.

The private room for the use of the Chaplain is an important part of every gaol; it is impossible to deliver advice with any effect, while the prisoner is surrounded by his comrades. Such an apartment is not to be found in every county gaol.

Care of the Sick, Disease and Mortality.—The Surgeon visits always twice weekly, and comes whenever circumstances require his aid. A nurse is selected from the prisoners.

During the last year only four cases of serious illness took place, but no patients were received into the infirmaries, and I find a report of 39 cases altogether of indispositions, both slight and severe. The greatest number of sick at any one time was three, and only one instance of death occurred during the year from Michaelmas 1834 to Michaelmas 1835. Only three deaths are stated to have happened since the year 1828, when the gaol was completed, one of these three was a debtor, who died a fortnight after his admission of phthisis. There has been no epidemic cholera seen here.

There is no insane prisoner in confinement.

From 1843, the prison was significantly renovated and enlarged, in part to include the entire County House of Correction which was closed on completion of the work in 1847.

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

Between 1829 and 1853, twenty-three exections were carried out at the prison. Prior to 1868, when the practice was abolished, these took place in public at the front of the prison. The first to take place, in April 1829, was of three mean hanged for horse stealing. A hug crowd witnessed the event, about half of which was said to comprised women and children. After 1868, hangings took place in the prison's internal execution shed.

The site is now a 'Category B' men's prison, housing both sentenced prisoners and individuals on remand to local courts. Substantial sections of the original buildings survive.


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.

  • The Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, Long Street, Wigston Magna, Leicester, LE18 2AH. Holdings include: Reception registers (1876-8); Register of prisoners (1868-79); Prisoners' admission and discharge register (1879-80); Register of executions (1894-1953); Register of officers (1884-1912).
  • The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU. Holdings include: Registers of Prisoners from national prisons lodged in County Prisons, Leicester (1848-65); Bundle of inquests which include several for people who died in Leicester County Gaol (1869-72).
  • 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.