Ancestry UK

Town Gaol, Maidstone, Kent

One of the earliest prisons in Maidstone was the Archbishop's Gaol, which perhaps dated from as early as 1255, and was used to house heretics and excommunicants. In 1381, during the Peasants' revolt, Wat Tyler and his supporters stormed the gaol and set free all the inmates. Following the Dissolution in the 1530s, it was taken over by the town's Corporation and became known as Brambles Prison. It is thought to have been located next to the Lower Court House in the High Street, where there also was a town cage, removed to a site by the bridge in 1654.

In 1807, a new town gaol was erected adjoining the Maidstone workhouse on Knightrider Street. A report in 1819 described the gaol as follows:

This small insecure prison is in the yard of the parish work-house, through which it is necessary to pass, in order to get at it; it is under the care of the master of the work-house, and is the receptacle of prisoners for trial, for all offences, and for those convicted of crimes not capital, after trial, for the town of Maidstone, which has a jurisdiction and sessions of its own, entirely distinct from those of the county.

The prison consists of a small court, about 30 feet square, with two lodging rooms above stairs, each about 12 feet square, one for men,the other for women; that for men had 4 rings fixed in the floor, with chains attached to them, which the keeper said he had recently been under the necessity of using, in the case of some desperate prisoners, in consequence of the want of other means of keeping them quiet and in security.

These rooms are for the prisoners to sleep in, and it did not appear, the gaol contained any other apartment. Beds, I understood to be only occasionally furnished. At this time there was only one person in confinement, a poor girl, taken up in the streets as a vagabond.

When there are both males and females, they take their turn in the use of the yard; one sex being necessarily shut up while the other is out. No water appeared to be accessible in the premises. One small privy for all the prisoners in a conspicuous part of the yard.

A prisoner had made his escape some time ago, over the wall, since which it has been raised some feet. There have been as many as 14 prisoners confined here at one time, (in 1818, 61 prisoners passed through this prison.) A small Bridewell is also here, consisting of two rooms, built of wood, each 6 feet by 8, and 8 feet high. The only air admitted is by means of a small wooden window, with wooden bars, and through a funnel from the top : it must be dreadfully close for a single person, but the gaoler told me he had been obliged to shut 3 persons up in each room in warm weather, till the heat becoming so great that they were nearly suffocated, it was necessary to open the door for air, and to station a man at it, to prevent the escape of those confined. At this time there was a man in one of these dog -holes, for 7 days,and I understood that, till the expiration of that term, he would not be permitted to breathe the outward air. There had been a yard of about 8 feet square belonging to it, but at this time the wall was pulled down in consequence of repairs, otherwise the prisoner would probably have had the use of it.

A new Bridewell is building, close to the old one, which will have 4 rooms, a good deal higher than the present rooms, but not much larger in other respects.

The prison appears to have been closed in the mid-1820s following another prisoner's escape. From that time, the town made use of the county gaol, paying a shilling a day for each prisoner they confined there.


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  • Prison Oracle - resources those involved in present-day UK prisons.
  • GOV.UK - UK Government's information on sentencing, probation and support for families.