Ancestry UK

County Gaol, Maidstone, Kent

In 1746, County Gaol was erected on East Lane (now King Street).

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

GAOLER, Philip De'tillin, now Thomas Watson.
Salary, £60, instead of the tap.
Fees, Debtors, £0 : 12 : 4.
   Felons,    0 : 15 : 4
Transports, - 0 : 15 : 0 each, and the fees.
Licence, now wine.

Allowance, Debtors, none.
     Felons, a loaf once in two days (weight 2 lb. 8oz.) and every day a quart of small beer.
Garnish, Debtors, £0 : 3 : 0.
    Felons,   0 : 1 : 6

Number,Debtors.Felons, &c.Debtors.Felons, &c.
1774, April 13,21,31.1779, April 16,15,23.
1775, July 25,17,26.1782, Dec. 4,24,56.
1776, Feb. 19,22,38.

CHAPLAIN, Rev. Mr. Hudson.
Duty, now, only Sunday.
Salary, £30; augmented to £50.

SURGEON, Mr. Waller, now Mr. Peckham,
Salary, £50, for the gaol and bridewell.

This gaol was erected in 1746, as appears by the date. On the first floor there are eight rooms for debtors, which open into a passage 6 feet 2 inches wide. Under these are the felons wards near 13 feet square: but the air and light are obstructed (the wall being 3 feet thick) by double wooden bars 3½ inches broad (instead of single iron ones), at the windows both of debtors and felons. There are three courts: one for debtors; one for men-felons; and one for women-felons. The two last are much too small (that for men which is the largest only 28 feet by 27); but may be commodiously enlarged from the ground at the back of the gaol. Divine service was performed upon the stairs, but the chapel is now made commodious by the staircase being removed. The felons night-rooms have double doors; if one of them was an iron lattice door (as in the new gaol at Horsham) and was locked up in the day-time, the rooms would freshen and be better ventilated. There are two dungeons (12 4 feet square) down eleven steps for the condemned.

Felons are allowed yearly ten chaldron of coals: they have barrack-beds, hop-bagging with straw; but no coverlets. (Barrack-beds or bedsteads are low stages of boards, raised from the floor, and sloping from the wall towards the middle of the room; as in the barracks for soldiers.) This county has for years past been so considerate as to pay the fees of poor prisoners acquitted: and to transports cast at assizes, who are entitled to the king's allowance of 2s. 6d. a week, they continue the allowance which they had before trial. They also pay the gaoler's fees for those convicts. The felons formerly said they wished for more bread; and would, if that were increased, be content with less beer. The baker who serves the felons sells thirteen loaves to the dozen; and debtors have amongst them every thirteenth loaf, and are now allowed yearly three chaldron of coals.

There is an alarm-bell; and a sail-ventilator.

The infirmary is improperly situated. No bath. On examining two sick prisoners in 1779, I found they had no irons; and the surgeon said the gaoler was always ready to take them off when he requested it.

The clauses of the act against spirituous liquors are hung up. Act for preserving the health of prisoners not hung up.

Without great attention to cleanliness and the separation of the sick, here will be great danger of the gaol-fever, from the offensiveness of the wards and even the court of the men-felons.

Kent, to wit. A Table of Fees to be taken by the Gaoler—at Maidstone—settled at the General Quarter Sessions—holden—on Thursday the 12th day of July in the 24th year of—George II.—and in the year—1750 pursuant to the direction of the Statute in that behalf provided.
£ S. D.
For the discharge from the said gaol of every prisoner committed for treason, felony or any offence against his majesty's peace to the gaoler or keeper

0 13  4
To the turnkey on commitment of every such prisoner0  1  0
To him more on the discharge of every such prisoner0  1  0
On the commitment or coming into gaol of every prisoner in a civil action, to the said gaoler or keeper0  3  0
On the discharge of every such prisoner to the said gaoler or keeper0  7 10
And to the turnkey0  1  6
For the use of bed bedding and sheets for each of the said last-mentioned prisoners on the master's-fide of the said prison for the first night to the said gaoler or keeper0  0  6
And for every night after the first0  0  3
And if two such prisoners lye together in one bed then each0  0  2
For every such prisoner as shall chuse to be on the master's-side for the use of the bed, bedding and sheets the first night0  0  6
For every night after the first0  0  3
But if two such prisoners lye together then two-pence each0  0  4
If any such prisoner through poverty can only provide a couch, then to the said gaoler or keeper for chamber-rent per week0  0  1
July 12th 1750 Seen and allowed by us
Wm. Turner  P. Boteler  Ed. Austen
Herbt. Palmer  Jas. Calder  Wm. Champness.

In the illustration below, the felons' prison below is left of centre and the debtors' prison to the right (both bearing turrets), while the slightly lower gaoler's house stands between them.

County Gaol and Bridewell, Maidstone.

In 1791, Howard published an update on the establishment:

Here are many good alterations. The Debtors' Prison is new and separate; and the gaoler's house is now between that and the felons' prison. The rooms that were lately the debtors' on the first floor, and also their court, are now occupied by the felons; yet they are still crowded and have too little air. The infirmary,which consists of two close rooms, is in one of the courts. No bath. Two years ago, about twenty died of the gaol-fever. The thick wooden bars in the windows of the wards greatly obstruct the air and light. Divine service is still performed on the staircase. Several windows both of the debtors and felons are towards the street, which occasion many inconveniences to the neighbour hood. Here are no rules respecting the quantity of liquors which may be admitted for the debtors: indeed rules would be almost useless where the windows are so situated, Debtors and felons have the county allowance of bread and beer, and the assize convicts have also the half crown a week. Some of the prisoners expressed their desire of having their bread allowance increased, though they were to have less beer.

The Gaol was clean. I observed that the irons on the felons were very light, which induces them to use exercise; and I am persuaded that a good gaoler can more easily manage his prisoners by humane attention than by severity and heavy irons. Gaoler's salary £300 in lieu of the tap.

Here was a prisoner under sentence of death in one of the dungeons. The gaoler agreed with me in opinion, that execution should not be deferred longer than ten days after the sentence.

1788, July 15, Debtors 31. Felons&c. 80. viz. Assize Convicts 38. Session Convicts 23. Felons 4. Fines 15.

In 1812, James Neild reported on his frequent visits to the prison:

Gaoler, Thomas Watson; now William Cutbush. Salary, 300l. Fees, see Table; and for Conveyance of Transports one shilling per mile each.
Garnish, 2s. 8d. exacted by the Prisoners.

Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Lloyd; afterwards Rev. Mr. Evans: now Rev. Mr. Shelton.

Duty, Prayers and Sermon to Debtors, Felons, &c. and that, heretofore, only on alternate Sundays.

Salary, 50l.

Surgeon, Mr. Coleman. Salary, 75l. for this Gaol, (Debtors included,) and for the Bridewell.

Number of Prisoners.

Debtors.Felons, &c.Debtors.Felons, &c.
1801, Sept. 22d,30701808, July 14th,5157
1804, Sept. 26th,23251809, July 19th,3956
1806,, Aug. 14th,26542353
1807, Sept. 8th,29381811, May 23d,5150

Allowance, a half-quartern loaf every other day, and one quart of small beer daily, for Prisoners of all descriptions. Whatever the Baker's bill amounts to weekly for bread, one half of that sum is allowed for table beer: But, when a Debtor has obtained his Sixpences, the allowance of bread is discontinued.


From the Inscription, "C. Sloane, Architect," on a stone in front, it appears that this Gaol was erected in 1746. The Keeper's house separates the Debtors' Prison from that of the Felons; but he has no proper view of the Prison at large.

At the top of the Gaol is an alarm-bell.

For Men Debtors here are two court-yards. The upper one, 43 feet by 38, is paved with flag-stones: the lower, which is 96 feet by 48, has a hard gravelled bottom. They have likewise a common day-room, of 26 feet by 19.

The Women Debtors have no court-yard, and only one room, 13 feet by 10. On the first floor are eight spacious rooms for Debtors, opening into a lobby, 6 feet 2 inches wide. Masters'-Side Debtors pay 1s. 2d. per week: Those who have. a room to themselves pay 2s. 6d. and here is one handsomely furnished, for which a Prisoner has paid five shillings per week.

The Common-Side Debtors have two rooms, of 26 feet by 19 each, called, by a singular fancy, the "Pennyless Wards," because each poor Debtor who sleeps there pays one penny per week.

The Debtors are allowed by the County three chaldrons of coals a year; and child-bed-linen is also provided at the County expence.

The Infirmary has two rooms; one 20 feet by 18, the other 15 feet by 12; which are, very improperly, built in the Common-Felons' court-yard, in the centre of the Prison. The lower room had a barrack bedstead; the upper was used as a store room for bedding, &c. and both have glazed windows, and fire-places.

At my visit, in 1809, I found that the following alterations had taken place in the Infirmary. The lower part is now converted into a reception-room for unclean Prisoners, and supplied with a copper for warm water, and a tin slipper-bath: The upper room is furnished with beds and bedding, proper for sick persons; and both apartments are well lighted and ventilated by three large windows.

Here is no regular Chapel; for want of which, the Debtors have Divine Service performed to them in a lobby room. Of the Felons I shall speak presently.

Master's-Side Felons have a court-yard, 42 feet by 18, and a day-room of 16 feet by 13; with eight sleeping-rooms, nearly the same size; two of which front the street. They are furnished with wooden bedsteads without curtains, feather-beds, and bedding, at 2s.6d. per week, and have two or more beds in each room. But, if a Prisoner has a room to himself, the charge is five shillings per week. The wall being three feet thick, the light and air are still further obstructed at the windows, both of Debtors and Felons, by wooden bars, three inches and a half broad, instead of single iron bars.

The Common-Side Felons' court-yard is 47 feet by 29. They have also a day room, 15 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 6. Their sleeping-wards, on the ground floor, are six rooms, of the average size of 14 feet by 12; and each contains a barrack bedstead, for five Prisoners, which are judiciously made to turn up, as is done every morning; not only to give a fresher circulation of air, but for the purpose of sweeping and washing the rooms. These Prisoners are allowed a straw-in-sacking bed each, with two blankets, and a rug.

The Women-Felons have a court-yard, of about 18 feet by 12, with a pump, and a sewer in one corner; and arcades for air and exercise. Also a day-room, 20 feet by 16, and two lodging rooms, about the same size. The bedding here is like that on the Male-Felons' Side, for such as pay 25. 6d. per week. Those who cannot pay for beds have straw-in-sacking, with two blankets and a rug each.

Felons are allowed by the County thirteen chaldrons of coals yearly. Convicts, under sentence of transportation, in addition to the County Dole, have the King's Allowance of of 2s. 6d.. per week, till their removal.

In this Gaol there are two horrid Dungeons, of 12 feet square, and totally dark, assigned for the Condemned Prisoners; the descent to which is by eleven steps: And here it was, that in almost all my visits, (not likely to be soon forgotten,) I found men confined, for robbing their Fellow-prisoners in the Gaol! At my last visit there were two, of this very depraved description, shut up together; nor do I indeed recollect to have ever been here without seeing some one so detained. Surely this must seem to argue some reprehensible degree of neglect, as to matters of religious attention.

The duty of Divine Service, for many years past, has been generally performed to Debtors and Felons on alternate Sundays. I have been informed that at some times, previous to the appointment of Mr. Evans, the late Chaplain, no such service, no mental guardianship whatsoever, had taken place for six weeks or two months together.

And, even now, in what a manner, and where is the solemn business performed? Prayers are read, and a Sermon delivered by the Chaplain of this County. Gaol, upon the landing of the stair-case, to the Criminals, who are stationed within the Iron Gate; but scarce one-third of them can either see the Minister, or hear the Service. The Women Felons have long had no religious attentions of any kind paid to them, nor any opportunity of joining in the service, although some are confined here for years together. Nay, even those Convicts, who lie under sentence of death, are brought forth into a small open court-yard, and the Minister prays by them from the Keeper's back-room. Yet, this is the populous Prison of a most respectable and opulent County;—and thus I exonerate my mind upon the subject. [I have recently been informed, by a letter from the Gaoler, that Divine Service is at present performed every Sunday morning at nine o'clock, to the Criminals, in which the Women have an opportunity of joining; and likewise, that to the Debtors it is performed every Sunday evening, at seven o'clock; so that the Sacred Duty is now regularly attended to in the Gaol twice on every Lord's day.]

The Common-Side Felons, & c. of this Gaol are some of the most miserable beings imaginable, squalid, dirty, and in rags. No discrimination of turpitude is duly observed. The Prisoners here frequently rob each other;, and particularly those Deserters, who occasionally stay but a few days, are sure to lose any money they may have about them. One of this description lost ten pounds, and another had a pair of new shoes taken from him. Young Novices in transgression, and notorious Offenders, are blended in a mass of mutual and inevitable injury to each other. In short, the Prison in question is a discredit to the County, and I hope I am assured upon good grounds, that a New Gaol is intended to be soon built; which, like that just finished at Canterbury, may obliterate the remembrance of its Predecessor, and do honour to all who shall be concerned in so beneficial an improvement.

Here were, till 1809, no Rules and Orders. No employment is now furnished: no Regulations as to the quantity of liquors, which Prisoners may receive by sinister No books were heretofore provided for the Visiting Magistrates, Chaplain and Surgeon to enter their Remarks in, for the better ordering of their important concern; but, in my last visit, I found this deficiency properly supplied. The Surgeon now regularly sets down the name and disease of every sick Prisoner, together with what medicines, extra diet or clothing, are necessarily administered, according to his discretion.

Cupboards have lately been put up in the Debtors' rooms, to secure their provisions; and an alarm-bell is fixed in the Women's Ward, in case of sudden illness, or fire. A night-chair also is placed in each of the Debtors' wards, and one room is now set apart for their Infirmary.

Weights, scales, and measures, have been recently provided; so that each Prisoner may see that the allowance of bread, beer, &c. is fairly dealt out to them.

To this Gaol, the Earl of Romney and his family have annually, for thirty years past, given five guineas at Christmas, for the benefit of the Prisoners in general.

The High Sheriff also gives two guineas, and his Under-Sheriff one guinea, at each Assize.

Prisoners are discharged from hence in a morning; but have no money, to carry them home, and thus prevent an immediate recurrence to such acts of depredation, as may speedily consign them back to their late abode.

The Gaoler appears to be a humane Man; and every beneficial tendency to an improved arrangement, cannot but render the execution of his arduous office more respectable in itself, and infinitely more comfortable to the many under his care.

The Act for preserving the Health of Prisoners is not hung up: but the Clauses against their use of Spirituous Liquors are duly exhibited, in the entrance of the Gaol.

It is with pleasure I can inform my Readers, that since these pages were written, it has been determined upon to build a New Gaol, House of Correction, and Courts of Justice, upon a very large plan, every way worthy of so opulent and respectable a County: and that Fees and Garnish are then to be abolished,

The replacement prison mentioned by Neild, the Maidstone County Gaol and House of Correction, was opened in 1819, after which, the King Street premises were closed.


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.

  • Kent History and Library Centre, James Whatman Way, Maidstone, Kent ME14 1LQ Holdings include: Convict book — a register of all convicts, arranged annually by Sheriffs (1805-33); Letters to Romney from prisoners in Maidstone gaol (1811-13).
  • 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.