Ancestry UK

Town/Borough Gaol, Leicester, Leicestershire

What was variously referred to as a Town Gaol or a Borough Gaol was established in 1297. By 1614, it occupied premises on Highcross (or High Cross) Street, Leicester.

In 1784, John Howard described the establishment : 

GAOLER, Henry Coulson, afterwards Samuel Jordan, now William Jordan.

Salary, none :  he pays rent £3.

Fees, Debtors, £0  :  15  :  4.
    Felons, ditto.

Transports, £10 each.

Licence, Beer, to deputy.


Allowance, Debtors,      Felons, ditto.

Garnish, Debtors, £0  :  4  :  6.

Felons, 0  :  2  :  6.

Number,Debtors.Felons &c.
1774, April 4,5,5.1776, Oct. 29,1,2.
1775, Jan. 3,1,2.1779, Mar. 27,3,2.
1775, Nov. 11,1, 0.1782, May 2,2,3.


SURGEON, Mr. Maule.

Salary, none :  he makes a bill.

Debtors. Felons &c.


A common day-room 12 feet by 9 :  two rooms above for such as pay. Down five steps a dungeon for men-felons; another for women; another for common-side debtors. This gaol is too close, and is never white-washed :  it has a court with plenty of water, and yet the sewers are very offensive. Neither clauses against spirituous liquors, nor the act for preserving the health of prisoners, are hung up; but there is now a table of fees.

At my last visit, William Slack one of the felons had received his majesty's free pardon (April 9), and was ordered "to be set at liberty " signed Shelburne; but for the fees of the secretary of state (£1  :  7  :  6) and clerk of assize (£1  :  1  :  0) the pardoned criminal was still in prison.

Borough of Leicester in the County of Leicester.
A TABLE of Fees to be taken by the Keeper of his Majesty's Gaol for the said Borough.
  £.    S.   D. 
For lodging every prisoner per week 0   :   2   :   4 
For a room of every person who finds his own bed per week 0   :   1   :   0 
For the gaol fees for the discharge of every prisoner 0   : 13   :   4 
For the turnkey 0   :   2   :   0 
A room called the debtors room if they find their own bed to pay 0   :   0   :   0 
For the copy of every warrant or commitment 0   :   1   :   0 
For signing a certificate in order to obtain a supersedeas 0   :   1   :   0 
At the delivery of every declaration 0   :   1   :   0 
Attending upon every prisoner to give bail, special bail, habeas or any thing necessary to go out of gaol for every mile travelling 0   :   1   :   0 

The building was reconstructed in 1792. In 1812, James Neild reported on his visit to the establishment : 

Gaoler, Welborn Owston. Salary, 37l. 10s.

Fees, for Debtors, 15s. 4d.; besides which the Under-Sheriff demands 6s. 8d. for his Liberate! Felons, 13s. 4d. Bridewell Prisoners, 2s. 6d. For Conveyance of Transports, 10l. each. Garnish abolished.

Chaplain, Rev. Thomas Robinson. Salary, 10l.

Duty, Prayers and Sermon once a month.

Surgeon, Mr. Maule; now Mr. Ludlum. Makes a Bill.

Number of Prisoners,Debtors.Felons &c.Assaults.Deserters.
1803, Aug. 23d,51203
1805, Sept. 26th,41120
1807, July 30th,21200
l809, Aug. 22d,4901

Allowance, one pound six ounces of bread, sent from the Baker's every other day, in loaves of 2 lbs 12 ounces.


This Gaol was built in 1793, and has on each side a narrow slip of ground, partitioned off by open iron palisades, and divided into court-yards for the different classes of Prisoners.

The court-yard for Debtors, is 32 feet by 16, with a day-room of 13 feet by 12; And up stairs are eight lodging rooms, to which the Debtor who brings his or her own bed, pays sixpence per week. If the Keeper furnishes a single bed, he is paid 28. 4d. a week; and if two sleep together, 1s. 9d. each. One room is set apart for the sick Women on the Debtors' side; and all the apartments above stairs are appropriated to Debtors.

In the centre of the Prison is the Chapel; very small, and the Prisoners are not properly separated.

The Felons' court-yard, on the Debtors' side of the Gaol, is 40 feet by 10; and to prevent conversation with the Debtors, a vacancy, 8 feet wide, is left between the palisades of the two court-yards.

The other slip is divided into three court-yards by similar iron palisades.

The bottom court, assigned for Women Felons, is 34 feet by 20, and has a day room, and five sleeping-cells. In this Female Felons' court-yard is stationed a coop to fatten fowls in! Such protectors, in such a place, are indeed the most eligible; but such an accommodation is very unsuitable, and must be attended with dirt, and other inconveniencies. Poultry should never be admitted amongst Prisoners.

The middle court, for Deserters, is 21 feet square, and has three sleeping-rooms. The upper, or top court, assigned to Men Felons, 41 feet long by 12, has six sleeping-cells. All criminals sleep here upon the ground floor.

Every cell is 12 feet long, by 6 feet 2 inches, and 9 feet 4 inches high, to the crown of the arch; and has a crib bedstead, with two sedge-mats to sleep on.

At my visit in 1803, each cell contained a cast-iron privy :  but in 1805 I had the satisfaction to find them removed, and instead of them, sewers were distributed in the court-yards. These cells are all on the ground floor; but above stairs there are sleeping-rooms, for those Prisoners who can pay for beds,

One room belonging to this side of the Gaol is set apart for an Infirmary. Such care and humane attention towards the sick is surely ever laudable, and a bounden duty. But the matter should not rest here. The healthy and the diligent also equally require some consideration.

Yet, really, instead of encouraging Industry, the very disposition to it seems here to be most unaccountably repressed, by a curious mode of pains and penalties.

Every Prisoner, Debtor or Criminal, that procures for himself the means of labour, in the Town Gaol of Leicester, has not only his County allowance of bread stopped, and withheld, but is even obliged to pay the Gaoler one shilling, and some times two shillings per week, for permission to work! A novelty of this kind is undoubtedly severe; and such as I have only once met with elsewhere, in my wide perambulation of the Gaols.

The number of commitments for Trial, from Aug. 1800, to Aug. 1809, was 423. A bath was heretofore provided, as an excellent accommodation for every place of incarceration, whether previous to admission, or during the state of confinement :  But I am informed it has never been used here; and at my visit in 1809, I found the bathing room converted into a stable for the Keeper's horse.

The Prison is seldom visited, but it is kept clean, and water plentifully supplied. No Rules and Orders. Formerly there was a Table of Fees, signed by the Magistrates, and confirmed by the Judges of Assizes; but none has been exhibited in the Gaol for many years. Neither the Act for Preserving Health, nor the Clauses against Spirituous Liquors, are hung up.

In 1830, the gaol, together with the Borough Bridewell relocated a short distance up Highcross Street to the premises previously occupied by the County Gaol and the adjacent County House of Correction. This was to prove an unfortunate move as a reported in 1835 explained : 

The gaol has been recently rebuilt, and the house of correction is likewise a modern building. After the passing of the General Gaol Act (4 Geo. IV. c.64.), the former borough gaol, which had been built in the year 1791 at considerable expense, was found incapable of being adapted to the regulations prescribed by that Act. The borough magistrates accordingly determined on building a new gaol; they purchased land of the corporation for the purpose, at a cost of between 3,000l. and 4,000l. Before, however, they had begun to build, the magistrates of the county having erected a new gaol, the old county gaol became vacant. This the borough magistrates purchased from the magistrates of the county for the sum of 5,000l. They then enlarged and rebuilt the old county gaol, and built the new house of correction at a further cost of 8,000l.

It unfortunately turns out, that the object for which this heavy expense has been incurred has altogether failed. All classification required by the statute remains as impracticable in the present gaol as in the former. We were informed by the gaoler, that both in the gaol and the house of correction, the only classification which could be effected was, the separation of women from men, and debtors from felons, winch separation already existed in the old gaol. It is impossible to separate men from boys, or the convicted from the untried. The latter object is attempted to be accomplished as far as possible, by confining men under sentence in the house of correction only, reserving the gaol for the untried and the women. As regards the latter, no classification whatsoever can take place. We were assured by the gaoler, that a considerable enlargement and alteration of the gaol must take place, before the proper classification could be carried into effect.

The gaol is besides inadequate in point of space. It is calculated to contain forty prisoners; more are frequently confined in it, and it sometimes becomes necessary to confine in the treble cells two more persons than they ought to contain. Several ofthe cells are ill constructed and confined, and do not sufficiently admit ofthe light and air. The debtors ward is particularly inconvenient and confined.

Borough Gaol, Leicester, c.1830.

In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported : 

Construction.—This house is dry, and moderately well ventilated. In regard to security, so many as seven escapes took place in the course of six years; this was previously to the erection of cheveux-de-frise, since which time no one has succeeded. There has been no alarm of fire for the last 25 years. Fires are only kept up in the Day Rooms. The Chapel has six compartments, and communication and sight are well cut off. Articles are frequently thrown over the walls; and there exists the serious evil of being overlooked by a neighbouring window. There is no boundary wall; in the Debtors' Yard the wall forms part of the street. In the Day Room of the Yard for the Untried I could not open two out of the three windows. No cell in this yard has a glazed window. The Cells for the Refractory are made by darkening the common sleeping cell.

This building immediately adjoins the Borough House of Correction; door divides the two establishments; but they have different officers.

Management.—All the prisoners are compelled to observe a certain degree of quietude, but positive silence is not enjoined. The Untried Male prisoners are placed together; they may receive food from their friends without, but not fermented liquors. The Debtors have also a yard; the Convicted Male prisoners have another one; and the Untried and Convicted Females are placed in the same yard. This last is a serious defect. The females are generally indeed very rare here; I found only two; they were sleeping in the same bed at their own desire. The women do not, always sleep two in a bed, and the men never; nor is there any cell in which only two men sleep. All the prisoners eat in their day rooms; but no cookery is said to be allowed, except the boiling of water. The Gaol is clean. There are no monitors here.

Diet.—The general allowance is one pound and five ounces of wheaten bread daily, which is supplied by contract, and a pint and a half of oatmeal weekly; this last they make every day into gruel for themselves. Such a diet appears to me insufficient in regard to the quality; but, in fact, the scantiness is corrected occasionally by food sent in to the prisoners from their friends out of doors. But of how much irregularity does such an introduction of food from, without lay the foundation! And how can we admit that the accidental circumstance of a prisoner's possessing liberal friends should be allowed to better his condition while in prison? It seems obvious that a sufficient quantity of food should be provided for all, otherwise we inflict a double punishment on him who happens to he friendless.

Liquors are only allowed to be introduced for the use of Debtors.

The Clothes are a jacket, trowsers, shirt, shoes, stockings.

The Bedding is a straw mattrass, two blankets, and rug.

Religious and other Instruction.—The Chaplain performs full service once on Sundays (with a Sermon), and on Thursdays; and he also makes frequent visits. He keeps a journal. The prisoners are supplied with religious works at the discretion of the Chaplain. There is no provision made for instructing the prisoners in reading. The Chaplain is vicar of All Saints and St. Mary's, in Leicester; but his duties there are light, and his curate takes the parochial care.

Whenever he visits, he inquires if any prisoner is ill, or requires his aid. He finds that the Untried prisoners attend the least to his religious instruction.

Care of the Sick, Disease and Mortality.—The Surgeon attends twice a week, and daily, if it happens to be necessary.

No Infirmary cases have been reported to me to have occurred from Michaelmas 1834 to Michaelmas 1835; but 23 cases of illness are recorded. The greatest number of Sick at the same time was two. No death occurred during the above year among so many as 627 inmates.

The most ordinary complaints are represented to be colds and coughs.

There is no insane prisoner in confinement.

In 1837, the Borough Gaol and the adjacent Borough House of Correction were officially merged into a single establishment.

Following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878, the prison was closed.

Some remains of the prison walls survive on the north side, and in the rear yard, of 19-23 Highcross Street.


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