Ancestry UK

Borough Gaol, Liverpool, Lancashire

In 1737, Liverpool Corporation leased an old property known as The Tower, on Water Street, for used as its Town Gaol, replacing the previous premises, which had become too small.

During the Seven Years' War (1756-63), the building was used to hold French prisoners. In 1775, the Corporation purchased the freehold of the site from its owner, Thomas Clayton. In the same year, rioters free imprisoned strikers.

The Tower of Liverpool

In 1784, John Howard described his visits to the prison:

Seven close dungeons in a passage 11 feet wide, 10 steps under ground; each 6 feet by 5 feet 9 inches, and 6 feet high. Apertures in the doors 11 inches by 6. Three prisoners are commonly locked up in each of them at night. There is another dungeon, larger, but not secure. Only one day-room for criminals of both sexes. No infirmary. The keeper told me in November 1775, that after I was there last year and said his prisoners were in danger of the gaol-fever, twenty-eight of them had been ill of it at one time. What led me to think so was, the offensiveness of the dungeons, and the number of prisoners. The prison is surrounded with other buildings, and cannot be made healthy and convenient. Allowance in common on Sunday, bread 4s. beef and broth about 6s. Firing from October to May. Gaoler, Rosendale Allen, sergeant at mace, paid the widow of the late gaoler, £20 a year; and put in a deputy who paid him £65 a year. Fees, debtors, felons &c. 4s. 6d. no table. Chaplain, duty,—Tuesday and Friday: salary, £12 : 12 : 0.

Felons are generally sent to Lancaster castle: the prisoners kept here are for the most part debtors. The act for preserving the health of prisoners, and the clauses against spirituous liquors, are both hung up.

At my visits in 1779 and 1782, this gaol was much cleaner than at my former visits: the court paved: the act for preserving the health of prisoners hung up; but the unhealthy dungeons still in use. The late surgeon, Mr. Shertcliffe, whose salary was £10 (which is now paid to the dispensary), informed me, that many more had the gaol-fever in 1775, than I mentioned in my publication. The gaoler now is Thomas Lyon: his salary, £10.

The debtors about Christmas receive £10, left by a lady. No memorial in the gaol.

1774, Nov. 7,Prisoners 58.
1775, Nov, 23,60. 
1779, Nov. 30,25.Impressed  2.Deserters 2.
1782, Sep. 5,Debtors  19.Felons &c. 14.2.

On a further visit in 1887, Howard reported:

No alteration in the old gaol. Allowance, to debtors, 3d. felons, 2d. and convicts, 4d. a day. Gaoler's salary augmented to £120 in lieu of the tap The sick are supplied with medicines from the infirmary.

The corporation have spared no expense for the new gaol which Mr. Blackburn is employed in building: there will be a proper separation of the different classes and sexes; and with a view to security, health, reformation and convenience, I apprehend, it will be one of the first borough gaols in the kingdom.

1787, Dec. 22, Debtors 18. Felons &c. 22.

Construction of the new prison referred to by Howard, known as the New Borough Gaol and Bridewell, proceeded slowly. In the 1790s, the still unfinished building was again used to house French prisoners of war. Throughout this period, the Tower continued to act as the Borough Gaol and was the subject of an account by James Neild, who had visited it several times:

Gaoler, Edward Frodsham; now William Frodsham. Salary, 130l. For Conveyance of Transports, one shilling per mile.

Fees, Debtors and Felons, on discharge, 4s. 6d.

Garnish, 4s. 6d.

Chaplain, Rev. George Monk. Salary, 31l. 10s.

Duty, Prayers and Sermon on Sundays, and Prayers on Wednesday. Nothing can exceed the slovenly manner in which Divine Service was performed, when I was here present on Sunday 12th Nov. l809; a short Prayer, and Sermon, to which no attention was paid by 24 Prisoners, out of fifty seven, who stood up all in one corner. They have a short Prayer only on Wednesdays, with no forms or benches to sit on, or to kneel at.

Surgeon, as wanted, is sent from the Dispensary; and 12l. per annum paid by the Corporation, who furnish Medicines.

Number of Prisoners,

Debtors.Felons, &c.
1802, Oct. 11th7138.
1805, Oct. 24th,34 4.
1809, Nov. 12th,3519.
And Five Deserters.

Allowance, to very poor Debtors, a threepenny loaf per day, weighing only 13¼ oz. Nov. 1809. Also a dinner from the Mayor every Christmas Day. To Felons, &c. a threepenny loaf daily. Convicts have 6d. a day in money and bread.


The Castle of Liverpool, built by Roger de Poictiers, was pulled down in the reign of George the Second. But the Earl of Derby's castellated mansion has been for many years used as the Borough Gaol, and stands at the bottom of Water Street. Here is only one court-yard, of 60 feet by 30, for all descriptions of Prisoners, Men and Women; it is paved with brick, and has in it a pump of excellent water, and two sewers. In the court-yard are kept fowls, ducks, &c. suffered to run about; and a large dunghill, that cannot but be offensive, and is only cleared away once a month. Attached to it are five day-rooms, three of which were originally intended for the Men Debtors, one for the Women, and the fifth for the Criminal Prisoners; but they are now used indiscriminately by all. Firing is allowed to every day-room by the Corporation. Here is also one small room set apart for the sick.

Common-side Debtors have seven rooms in one of the Towers separately partitioned off, and these are Free Wards, to which the Corporation allows straw for bedding. In the other Tower are three rooms for Debtors on the Master's-side. furnished with beds by the Keeper at one shilling per week each; and two sleep together.

At my visit in l805,, there was a narrow passage, or gallery, built in the Chapel, into which the doors of five new sleeping-cells opened, each 7 feet 6 by 6 feet, and 7 feet 6 inches high; these were intended for Men Debtors, and supplied with beds by the Keeper, at 1s. per week each. They had no light or ventilation, but what was received through the grated apertures over the doors, and I was obliged to have lighted candles at noon-day to inspect them. Also three new rooms, over what is called the Pilot's Office, for Women Debtors, two of them holding three beds each; the other a single bed, with fire-places and glazed windows. To these rooms Prisoners furnish their own bedding, or hire it from the Town.

Table of Fees.

For the Debtors in Liverpool Borough Gaol.

"Debts from 10l. to 20l. 7s. 6d. 20l. to 30l. 10s.  30l. to 40l. 12s. 6d. 40l. to 50l. 15s.  from 50l. to 60l. 17s. 6d.  60l. to 100l. 1l.  100l. to 200l. 1l. 5s.  200l. and upwards, 1l. 10s."

To this Gaol are taken all persons arrested for Debt, by process issued out of the Borough Court of Liverpool.

The Felons Gaol: Down ten steps under ground are seven gloomy cells, or more properly Dungeons, within a passage of 11 feet wide, each of them 6 feet 6 inches by 5 feet 9, and six feet only high. The grated vent-holes in these doors are of 11 inches only by 6 inches, and so barred, as almost to shut out every ray of light. When I was here in l802, no less than 28 Prisoners were locked up at night, four in each of these wretched receptacles, which could not allow more than twenty-two inches space for each Prisoner; and in a larger one adjacent, 23 feet by 16, and 13 feet high, were lodged the Ten other Criminals. This last is chiefly set apart for Deserters; of whom, I was informed, that Forty at a time had been there immured for three or four days together, and without being suffocated! It is ventilated and lighted by a treble iron-barred and grated window, that looks towards the Street.

At my visit on the 12th of November, 1809, eight Felons slept in two of the cells or dungeons, and nine in the three other dungeons. Two Women slept in another, and one was empty. Not Laving been changed for four months, the straw was short and dirty; and the brick floors being very damp, the Prisoners complained sadly about it, for they were neither stocks nor stones. Flesh and blood should meditate on these things!

From the promiscuous association and licentious intercourse between the Sexes in this Gaol, I could not but imagine that little attention was paid to the officiating Minister; and having therefore requested Mr. Stamforth, an able and active Magistrate of the Borough, to accompany me to the Chapel, I found that on the 14th of October l802, six Prisoners only, out of the 109, attended Divine Service.

Debtors of the Borough Gaol receive the benefit of a Legacy of Forty Pounds a year from some other source; which is paid into the hands of the Mayor and Bailiffs of the Corporation, and by them applied yearly at Christmas to the discharge of Insolvent Debtors. But no Memorial of it appears on record in the Prison.

The Act for preserving Health, and the Clauses against Spirituous Liquors, are both hung up. I am informed that the Gaol built by Mr. Blackburn is now fitted up, and nearly ready, for the reception of Prisoners; and that the wretched Prison just described, and the old House of Correction, are no longer to be continued as places of confinement.

It was not until 1811, that the new prison on Great Howard Street finally received its first prisoners from the city and enabled the closure of the Water Street establishment. The building was demolished in 1819 and the materials were used to build Castle Mills in Chaucer Street, Scotland Road.


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.

  • No individual records identified for this establishment — any information welcome.
  • The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU. Has a wide variety of crime and prison records going back to the 1770s, including calendars of prisoners, prison registers and criminal registers.
  • 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.