Ancestry UK

City Gaol and House of Correction, Manchester, Lancashire

The Manchester City Gaol and House of Correction, also known as Belle Vue Prison, was built in 1847-9 on Hyde Road, West Gorton, Manchester. It was designed by the Borough Surveyor, George Shorland, to house 486 inmates, the first of whom were admitted on 11 March 1850. In the same month, a local newspaper described the recently completed buildings:


The completion of this appendage to large municipality like that of Manchester, unfortunately too much a necessity, and the event of the first committal to the care of the governor and his subordinates, which took place on Monday last, the 11th inst., induces us to give a brief description of it, in its perfected condition, externally and internally. The building is situate in the township of Gorton, and stands about three miles from Manchester, without the limits of the municipal borough. The land upon which it is built about eight acres in extent, nearly a regular parallelogram, and is enclosed by a stone wall, 20 feet high, of great strength, and furnished with towers at three of the corners, so constructed that they may be easily converted into places of defence, should an attack be made. The building is within a few yards of the London and North Western Railway, on the west side, from which a single line of rails extends to the prison. This line was used Mr. Bellhouse, the contractor, for the transport of building materials during the progress of the works, and as it goes across land belonging to the corporation, is not improbable that it will be allowed to remain for the conveyance of heavy stores, such as coals, to the prison, or for the removal of transports.

The front has a northern aspect, that to say, it is opposite to Manchester. It consists of a centre and two wings, all in a style of architecture derived from the Italian. The centre is massive, and contains a noble gateway, linked by four pillars in advance, which are raised on immense square bases, and support elegant flat cornice. The gateway is closed by means of a ponderous door, the ribs of oak, and the panels between them of iron. It does not move upon hinges, when opened, but ascends into the upper portion of the gateway, as did the ancient portcullis, and being furnished at the lower edge with iron arrow-headed and lance-headed spikes, it much resembles that security of fortified places in appearance. But there is no cumbrous machinery required to move it. All that has been found requisite an iron weight, nicely balancing it, so that when the door is up the warder has only to pull it down by the aid of a hook, and its own weight assists in the descent; and when desiring to raise a strong push brings the balancing weight into play. When the door is down it is easily fastened: a bolt extends from each side of the centre of the bottom to the wall, inside the wood; means of a key both these are shot into the stone-work at one turn, and the movement is then fixed immovably by means of another and smaller lock. The deputy-governor and the warden having care of the portcullis door, reside within the gateway. The exterior is not embellished by those grim indications of the purpose to which the building is devoted, the bas-relief gyves, but in their place is a well-cut escutcheon of Manchester, and the inscription,— "Armitage, Mayor, 1848." The side buildings are, on the left of the gateway, first reached from the road, the house of the governor, Captain Lane — that on the right, nearest the railroad, the house of the chaplain, the Rev. J. P. O'Leary. Both are in the Italian style of house architecture, with balustered lower areas, and relieve the massive character of the front. They have, of course, through communications with the gaol. We now come to the main buildings, including the offices for the magistrates, governor, &c , the chapel, and the corridors for the prisoners. These are somewhat difficult to describe, but will be elucidated by the following plan:—

Beyond the gateway, it will be seen, is a court, pretty nearly square, intended for the reception of everything coming into the gaol. At the furthermost corners from the entrance are two gateways, leading to the sides of the corridors in which the cells are, and to doors in the basement storey. The building seen to have an entrance from the gateway, is of brick, but so embellished with stone as to have almost the appearance of a stone structure; the style of architecture is in keeping with the more ornate portions of the gaol, and has in front a balustered area descending to the basement, where are rooms for the reception of prisoners, bath rooms, fumigation rooms, store rooms, &c. It rises four storeys, and above the basement are offices for the governor, the chaplain, the magistrates, the surgeon, the governor's clerk, and the offices of the establishment. In the second floor is the chapel and the infirmary rooms, the former occupying the larger portion of the entire length and three of the storeys, and the latter the entire front above the first storey. At the farther end of this building, which is 96 feet long, is a door opening upon the corridors, which it will be seen are four, two formed by the division of the long one marked A and D, and two others radiating at an acute angle with it, marked B and C. The corridor A is appropriated to females, and is separated from the rest by a strong wall. The pentagonal space formed by the junction of these various compartments is called the inspection hall, as from the centre of it a view can be obtained down B C and D. It is a large area, about 120 feet in circumference. The roof is a dome, and above it rises a tower, reaching the height of 120 feet from the ground, and used as a ventilating shaft for the whole building.

Each corridor is built of brick, with stone window-frames. Externally they present a very singular appearance, from the immense perpendicular mass of brick-work, with a monotonous repetition of bevelled stone window-heads and square sills. Internally they present a strong contrast, an appearance of the utmost lightness, and were it not for the regularity of the cells (a necessity, of course), we might say elegance. A description of one corridor and what it contains will suffice for all, with a very slight exception. Each is 203 feet long, 15 feet wide throughout, and the height about 40 feet. First, there is a basement containing punishment cells, bath-houses, and store-houses. The punishment cells are dreary places, without the least glimmer of light, and furnished with two doors, having a lobby between; so that if a prisoner put there manifests any violence, and kicks his door or shouts, the outer closure will prevent his noise from being heard by the rest of the inmates. None but those committing breaches of the prison rules, or specially ordered there, will be confined in these terrible solitaries, and then only during the day, for there is neither bed nor seat. The baths are of stone, capacious and well furnished with cold and tepid or hot water The store-houses will receive the clothes of the prisoners, in which they enter the prison, after they have been fumigated. Ascending from this lower region, the regular cells present themselves. Of these there are three tiers or storeys, arranged one over the other, much like the berths in a ship, 36 in each storey, and consequently 108 in each corridor, exclusive of the punishment cells, we believe. As but one corridor is given up for the females there are but 108 sells for them. Access is obtained to each tier by an ornamental staircase in the centre, communicating with a gallery round the corridor, of stone flags laid on iron brackets inserted into the wall, and guarded from accidents to the prisoners by light iron work. In the A corridor the gallery is reached by a winding staircase of iron work. The roof of the corridor is arched; and as no floors intervene between it and the lower storey the appearance therefore from the inspection hall is that of an arch of great height though narrow span, with two galleries at certain elevations fixed to the walls. Light is admitted abundantly by means of 14 openings in the roof filled with glass, and by the end of each corridor, which it will be observed is semicircular, forming a very tall bay window, as it is filled with thick ribbed glass. The area of each cell is 13ft. by 7ft., the doorways are of strong fir, six feet high by two feet wide. The cells are lighted by oblong windows 3ft. 6in. long by1 ft. 9in. wide, the openings slanting from the exterior towards the floor, and the window frames are of massive cast iron in one piece wrought into the stone, of which the jamb and circular heads of the apertures are built. The great object has been to admit as much light as possible, and to secure at the same time strength of construction. The walls of the cells are two bricks thick, and they are all arched over with brick and rendered fire-proof, a precaution taken in every room in this part of the building. All the floors are of asphalte. The clear height of each tier, from its floor to the next, is 10 feet, and that of course is the height of the cells. The furniture is simple. In one corner is a rough piece of wood-work, or corner cupboard, without doors, intended for the reception of books, the knife and spoon, and other articles that may be allowed within the cell. There is also a three-legged stool and a small deal table of coarse workmanship. In one corner stands an earthenware water-closet, and adjacent to it an earthenware lavatory; a pipe of water communicates with each, and is readily turned on to either. The return of noxious gases is effectually prevented, where the prisoner takes the merest precautions. In another corner, close to the door, is a jet burner for gas, protruding from the wall. A bar of iron, with two loops at each end, is built into the division walls, so that one pair of the loops is fixed in each cell, close to the door; these ere for fixing the hammock, which is stretched across the width of the cell and strapped up to the loops. When not in use it is rolled up, fastened with the straps, and reared upon the head of the cupboard. About midway of the door is a small square trap moving up and down, and at the hours for meals this is unlocked from the outside, allowed to fall down so as to form a ledge; the food is placed upon it, and when the prisoner has taken it the warder closes the trap and retiree. Above this again there is a piece of black wire gauze fixed inside, which masks a circular aperture at the outside, through which the warder can at any moment ascertain what the occupant may be doing without the possibility of detection. If the prisoner requires the assistance of a warder from sudden sickness or other cause there is near to the gas light a handle, which being twisted strikes one blow upon a very sonorous bell, placed about half down that side of the corridor in which his cell may be in the respective tiers. Every room in the building is furnished with efficient ventilating apparatus, the air is admitted at near the level of the floor, and escapes at near the ceiling, into a shaft communicating with the ventilating tower over the inspection hall, where a draught is continually kept up by means of heated air from below.

The exercise grounds are four in number, planed in the triangular spaces formed by the radiation of the corridors, at 1, 2, 3, 4 of our plan. They are very singular places, consisting of a circular centre of brickwork, with twenty lines of brick wall radiating from it to an exterior circular wall of much larger diameter. This conical space between the boundary and centre walls and the radiating lines, is a yard for the recreation of the prisoners, twenty of whom are permitted exercise at one time, one in each yard. There is only one door into the place; the men pass up to the centre and walk round it, each one dropping into a yard as be goes on, and finally the keeper ensconces himself in the centre, which is furnished will an eye-hole opposite each yard, from which he can survey the movements of the occupant. In the space marked 1 are the matron's house, and the wash house, laundry, and places for other occupations suitable for the females.

The chapel is another singular-looking place. The communication with it is internal and separate for the sexes. Down the centre there is a division to make the game separation. More than half the floor is occupied by a very steep gallery, and the pulpit for the chaplain is at an elevation commanding a view of the whole. The governor's pew is on the floor, as is also the communion table. The pews for the prisoners are formed with a view to prevent the slightest communication between them. A structure of the usual form, but about five feet in height, with a very broad reading board, is fixed upon the floor of the room, and beneath the reading board are planed uprights and seats, forming, therefore, so many distinct stalls, the breadth of the reading board forming a cover and preventing any one from above recognising whoever may be beneath. On the first step of the gallery is a similar piece of wood-work, but, instead of having merely upright narrow partitions, there is a door to each seat. Each row of seats will contain, say eleven prisoners; the first man goes to the further end, and on arriving there pulls his door close, the next follows him doing the same, and so on until the range full, and then the keeper, by means of a lever at the bottom of the pews, shoots a bolt which fastens all the doors completely, and each prisoner is confined in a box of very narrow dimensions, with a seat behind him, under the reading-board, placed at such an angle that his body is of necessity thrown up to see the preacher. The wardens are accommodated with pews, so placed that they have full surveillance of the whole. No names are mentioned, each man being spoken of by a number, and, when any one is wanted, a rotary machine of figures and letters is set into play for the purpose. There is, of course, provision for the accommodation of the full number of prisoners whom it may be desirable to take in at one time.

The whole building is warmed by an apparatus in each wing of the building, on the basement story, constructed by Mr. Hayden, of Trowbridge, in Wiltshire. The water is contained in cisterns upon the roof, and there is ample provision for storeage. There is no provision made against fire, inasmuch as all the prison is fire-proof, the use of wood having been expressly forbidden in the cells or the roof (the latter being of iron), and where the material is used, scarcely anything but the hand of an incendiary could produce a conflagration. The gas will be supplied by the corporation, and it is said that about 2,000 cubic feet per hour will be required when all the lights are burning at night.

The cooking apparatus and apartments are on the basement, as are the warder's mess rooms and other offices, and the general receptacles for provisions and stores. The food is conveyed to the various galleries by means of a hoist in the basement, worked by a winch. This, we believe, will form part of the hard labour for two of the prisoners.

The system of treatment pursued will be that popularly designated "the silent system." Each cell will be the prisoner's day and sleeping room, and he will not be removed from it except for exercise, attendance at school, or at chapel. The Pentonville plan has been followed in the laying out the building, and in most of its details will be adhered to in the treatment of prisoners Education will be given, a schoolmaster and schoolmistress having been appointed. The latter is the daughter of Mr. Thomas Wright, known as the Manchester philanthropist, an individual who has done immense good silently and unostentatiously mono those who may be termed the pariahs of our community, and we may hope that her father's enlarged views and successful manner will be her guide in the work. Instruction will be given in the cells as rule, hut there will be also classes taught in the chapel. Religious instruction will be communicated in the same way, and divine service performed once a day, at the least.

The system of punishment will be graduated according to capability. From women, domestic labour will be required. There will be no tread-mill in the prison, but a machine called the crank machine, in use at the Leicester prison, will be substituted. Fifty have been ordered, and are expected to arrive shortly. This punishment apparatus can be erected in the corner of a cell, and consists of a machine rotating by means of a handle, and the resistance offered to the power used by the person working it can be regulated. There is attached to it a dial plate, which shows the number of revolutions made, and as this dial can and will be put outside the cell, the warder can at once see whether the prisoner is performing his work or not. There will be labour at trades and also lighter employment.

The staff for each corridor is to include a 1st warder and three others under him, and the establishment will consist altogether of about 32 officers, superior and subordinate. If government choose, and there be room, the prison might be tenanted by convicts; but there seems to be little probability of that taking place.

In 1851, the Inspectors of Prisons also reported on the establishment:

The prison is about two miles from Manchester on the eastern side. The neighbourhood is flat, but it appears to be as high as the upper parts of the town. The soil, too, is dayey, but in that respect, also, the prison is not worse off than a great part of Manchester and its neighbourhood.

The situation is at present open, but considering the rapid extension of the town in all directions, it will probably, at no great distance of time, be surrounded by buildings. The quantity of land secured, however, about 18 acres, will be sufficient to prevent any great inconvenience therefrom.

The building has been constructed with a view to the exclusive use of the separate system, and is so similar in its arrangements to the prison at Pentonville, and several other prisons built on that model, and which have been fully described, that it is unnecessary to give a minute description of it. It may suffice to state that there are four wings radiating from a central hall; that these wings, one of which is appropriated to females, contain together 432 cells of the ordinary size, and warmed, ventilated, lighted, and fitted up in the usual manner; that there is a chapel and a number of airing-yards, the chapel being divided into separate stalls, and the airing-yards into separate compartments; that there is the usual supply of baths, kitchens, store-rooms, and other offices on the basement floor; that there are the ordinary rooms for the governor, clerk, and visiting justices near the central hall; and that there are houses for the governor, chaplain, and matron.

All the cells have been certified as fit for the separate confinement of prisoners.

Except some parts of the basement floor, and a few other places which are at present damp, but which probably will gradually cease to be so, the building was dry and in good general condition, but I do not consider it secure. Only a few of the windows have other than cast-iron frames, which could easily be broken, and there are no grated yard-doors to the entrances to the corridor, which is the more important, since owing to the corridor windows not having been made to open, the doors are frequently kept open

for the sake of ventilation. About two months ago a prisoner nearly made his escape in consequence.

For several months the water-closets in the cells were very offensive, owing to a faulty construction; but the evil seems now to have been quite removed. During the continuance of the nuisance, sickness was warded off, probably to a considerable extent, by the governor having the cells frequently lime-washed; still among the females there was much illness.

The cost of the prison (including about 50001., the price of the land) but exclusive of the furniture, clothing, &c., was about 81,0001. which is at the rate of nearly 1881. per prisoner-a very great expense, but not so great as in some other instances.

The number of prisoners at the time of the inspection was 312 (215 males and 97 females), but the prison had not yet its complement, as there were still about 50 prisoners at Lancaster Castle, who belong to Manchester, and who would have been sent here had the prison been finished at the time of their trial.

With a few slight modifications, the rules adopted are those recommended by the Secretary of State. The chief exceptions to their observance appeared to be, that hitherto the chaplain had not been able to give the prisoners religious instruction in classes, or to administer the sacrament.

Artificial light is provided throughout the prison, and the prisoners rise in winter and summer at half-past 5, and do not go to bed till 9. I should be glad if it could be arranged for them to rise yet earlier; but the present hours are very much better than in the generality of English prisons.

The chaplain, who appears to take a strong interest in his duties, stated as follows:

"I enter the prison every morning at 8 o'clock, and at a quarter past 8 the prisoners assemble for daily prayers. The daily service jasts about half an hour. At its conclusion I commence visiting the prisoners from cell to cell, and to this latter duty I devote the chief part of my time. Owing to the large number of prisoners, however, and to my not having any assistance, I am not able to see each prisoner separately more frequently than once in about three weeks on an average. In performing this duty I have suffered much from the closeness of the cells. Even since the water-closets were made to act properly this closeness has continued. It is generally nearly 2 o'clock, and sometimes later, before I complete my round and leave the prison. Part of my time is occupied in superintending the duties of the schoolmaster and schoolmistress. I also, when there is a prospect of good arising from it, communicate either personally or by letter with the friends or former employers of prisoners, with a view of obtaining work for the prisoners on their release; but this duty is generally discharged aster I have left the prison. On Sunday there are two full services, including a sermon. On an average I am in the prison about five hours daily in the performance of my duties, exclusive of the time engaged in preparing my sermons, to which I devote the greater part of Saturday. The schoolmaster and schoolmistress give about eight hours a-day to the instruction of the prisoners. They teach reading, spelling, writing, and arithmetic, and also give a little religious instruction. The instruction in reading and arithmetic is given in the chapel, but owing to the construction of the chapel not admitting of ready access to the prisoners individually, it is difficult to give effective instruction in arithmetic, and no instruction can be given in the chapel in writing: this is taught in the separate cells. The prisoners would, in my opinion, make much greater progress in their school instruction if they were taught in classes, as in an ordinary school-room. Till the present high inspection boxes were provided, the conduct of some of the prisoners during divine service was often very bad. There was constant talking, frequent coughing, and occasional knocking; but a great improvement has taken place since there was more effective inspection. If the prisoners, however, were allowed to kneel, as it is very desirable they should, they would be out of sight of the officers even under the present arrangements, and the disturbances would probably be resumed."

Of the whole number of punishments that have been awarded (464), not fewer than 141 have been for misconduct in chapel.

All the prisoners have work of some kind; but it will appear by the following return that there is room for much improvement in this department. It will be remarked that the majority of the male prisoners, instead of being engaged in useful, active, and laborious work, are employed in picking cotton, &c.

I examined some of the prisoners in their progress under the schoolmaster and schoolmistress, but owing to the want of more precise entries in many cases of the state of the prisoners' education on admission, I had much difficulty in judging of their progress. In arithmetic, however, the male prisoners appeared to have improved very satisfactorily.

The library is very small at present, but the books were in a good state.

The building was clean, and the prisoners were clean in their persons; but, owing apparently to the cinders which are in the airing-yards and elsewhere, the prisoners' linen soon becomes dirty. Owing in part probably to the same cause also, and to the want of pillow slips, part of the bedding was dirty.

As the prison stands on day, it is desirable that a great quantity of dry material, such as cinders, should be laid down; but, perhaps, a firm and clean surface may ultimately be obtained for the airing-yards and the roads leading to them.

The matron stated as follows:

"The linen of the prisoners becomes dirty much more rapidly than was the case at Wakefield, owing, in part, to their being as a class less cleanly in their habits than the prisoners we received at Wakefield; but in part, also, to the floors of the cells being made of a darkcoloured asphalte. In order, apparently, to keep the colour as black as possible, the prisoners bring in cinders from the airing-yards and rub the floors with them, thereby causing a great quantity of black dust."

The clothing and bedding were sufficient in quantity.

The dietary is that lately recommended by the Secretary of State. The food was of good quality; but it appeared that the majority of the male prisoners (the female prisoners have not hitherto been weighed) on either of the first three rates, especially those on the third, lost flesh, and that it was only those on the highest rate (few in number) who in a majority of cases gained flesh.

It will be seen by the surgeon's evidence that he does not consider the two lower rates sufficient to maintain health and strength, but that, owing to the shortness of the periods during which prisoners are kept on these rates, they produce no material or permanent injury,

With regard to the female prisoners, the matron was of opinion that the allowance of food was sufficient, except to those who were employed at washing, but that their allowance was insufficient.

Most of the male prisoners had the appearance of being in good health, but there were many sick among the females. The matron stated as follows

"The general health of the female prisoners has been bad, and I and the two female warders who have been longest in the prison have also suffered in health. The prevailing disorder has been a disordered stomach, accompanied with some fever. There has, however, been only one death, and in that case the prisoner had a broken constitution, caused by eating opium. The chief causes of sickness, in my opinion, have been the state of the soil-pans in the cells, the want of better ventilation in the corridors, and the want of better means of carrying off the steam and water in the wash-house and the heated air in the laundry. The state of the soil-pans, however, has now been remedied, and I believe measures are about to be taken for improving the state of the wash-house. The infirmary and the punishment cells are damp; but the infirmary is not now used in consequence of its dampness."

The general conduct of the prisoners (except, till lately, in chapel) was reported to have been tolerably good. There have, however, been five cases of corporal punishment since the prison was opened—a punishment seldom resorted to now, especially where the separate system is in use.

The prison was not constructed with a view to the admission of debtors; but some have been committed under a local Act, the provisions in which for sending debtors from a certain Court to the borough gaol, if such a prison should be built, seem to have been overlooked. At the time of the inspection there were three debtors from this Court.

It is desirable that a contract should be entered into for transferring such prisoners to Salford.

No rules have been sanctioned by the Secretary of State for the regulation of debtors here.

There were two prisoners who, on their trial, were found to be insane. One of then, however, is not now so considered by the medical attendant. The other is regarded as imbecile, and it is desirable that he should be removed to an asylum.

Two prisoners complained that they had not food enough, one apparently with reason (for he had lost 15 pounds); and the debtors complained that their visitors were not allowed to remain more than a quarter of an hour. I called the attention of the surgeon to the first case; and, with regard to the latter, I pointed out to the governor that there was at present no rule authorizing this restriction, and he immediately gave orders for its discontinuance.

The registers and accounts were in a very satisfactory state, and such as to reflect credit on Mr. Longmore, the clerk, who had had the arrangement of several of the forms used.

All the chief articles of food and other stores are supplied by public contract.

It will have been seen that the work department is not yet in an efficient state (indeed, where, as in this prison, the separate system is exclusively used, it can never, in my opinion, be made very satisfactory), and that there is room for much improvement in other respects. Still there was much to reflect credit on the governor, matron, and other officers.

As a means of testing, to a certain extent, the deterring effects of the prison (so far as the present short experience affords the means of judging), I called for a return of the number of liberations and recommitments since it was opened, and for a similar return, for the same period, from the prison at Salford, where there is but little separation, but more active work; and I found that the returns showed a less number of recommitments from Salford prison even out of a greater number of prisoners; for of 694 prisoners who had been liberated from Manchester prison during the six months that it had been in use, 54 had been recommitted (9 twice and 2 three times); while of 1,068 prisoners liberated from Salford prison during the same period, only 45 had been recommitted (6 twice and 2 three times).

The prison was closed in 1887 and the building demolished in 1892.


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