Ancestry UK

County Gaol, Morpeth, Northumberland

In 1704, a County Gaol was opened at what is now 26-28 Bridge Street, Morpeth.

In 1784, John Howard reported on his visits to the prison:

GAOLER, John Kent.

Salary, none

Fees, Debtors, £0 : 12 : 6.

    Felons, 1 :  3 : 0.

Transports, only expences.

Licence, Beer.


Allowance, Debtors, none but on applying to justices.

Felons, two pence a day each, paid once a month.

Garnish, £0 : 1 : 4


Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors.Felons &c.
1774, Mar. 22,8,8.1779, July 1,10,6.
1775, Jan. 9,6,7.1782, Mar. 25,15,4.
1776, Jan. 16,9,11.

CHAPLAIN, Rev. Mr. Nicholson.

Duty, Sunday, Tuesday, Friday.

Salary, £10, and £5 for condemned felons; lately raised to £30.

SURGEON, Mr. Leidman.

Salary, none: he makes a bill,


THE debtors have six sizeable rooms which are out of repair, and a free ward called the Middle-tower. Some commodious rooms lately built are occupied by the gaoler. Only one court, which is for debtors. Felons are always shut up in the tower. In the women's room I saw (Jan. 1776) two; who, the gaoler said, were cast for transportation; one in Sep. 1773, the other in Nov. 1774: but at my visit in 1779, I found they had been humanely released at the assize.

Of the other two rooms, generally appropriated to men-felons, one is a day-room (14 feet 2 inches by 6 feet 9), the other an offensive dungeon, the window only 18 inches by 9. In the latter were three transports (1776) who, upon suspicion of intending an escape, were chained to the floor. They had not the king's allowance of 2s. 6d. a week.

Gaol delivery once a year. Assize held at Newcastle, whither prisoners are conveyed; and men and women confined together seven or eight nights in a dirty damp dungeon down 6 steps in the old castle, which having no roof, in a wet season the water is some inches deep. The felons are chained to rings in the wall.

The county for some years paid the gaoler's fees for acquitted prisoners, if poor: and clothed such transports as were quite indigent.

The debtors court should be allotted to felons: or two courts might be taken from the gaoler's spacious garden.

Clauses against spirituous liquors are hung up. The act for preserving the health of prisoners, painted on a board, was in the debtors hall or chapel: no bath. The following table of fees is framed and glazed.

TABLE of Fees & c. Settled and allowed to be due to the Keeper of his Majesty's Gaol at Morpeth by the Justices at the Quarter Sessions held at Hexham 1759.
Commitment Fees.
Every debtor £0 : 1 : 4 Every felon £0 : 2 : 8.
£. S. D.
To the room called the green room with one bed in it and if only one person will have it to himself, to pay weekly 0  :  2  :  6
If two persons therein to pay each 0  :  1  :  6
To the room called Burton's room having two beds, and the gaoler finding bedding and linen, each person to pay weekly 0  :  1  :  0
But if one will have a bed is to pay 0  :  2  :  0
To the little green room having one bed and if one person will have it to himself he is to pay weekly 0  :  2  :  6
If two therein only to pay each 0  :  1  :  6
The gaoler finding good and wholesome bedding  
To the room called the fencing room with three beds and the gaoler finding wholesome linen each person to pay weekly 0  :  1  :  0
To the little room called Mrs. Carr's room the gaoler finding beds and linen each person is to pay weekly 0  :  1  :  0
If the prisoner finds the bedding 0  :  0  :  6
To a room called Mr. Johnson's room; being on the same floor, the gaoler finding bed and linen each person to pay 0  :  1  :  0
If they find their own bedding, only 0  :  0  :  6
There is a large room that prisoners pay nothing for, which holds a great many beds, called the middle tower 0  :  0  :  0
Every debtor upon his discharge to pay to the gaoler 0  :10  :  2
To the turnkey 0  :  1  :  0
Every felon on his discharge 0  :18  :  4
To the turnkey 0  :  2  :  0
John Orde
Step. Watson
Wm. Ward.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, John Blake. Salary, 90l.

Fees, Debtors and Felons, 13s. 4d. each. (No Table.) Besides which the Under-Sheriff demands of every Debtor a fee of 2s.6d, for his liberate; and if upon a Supersedeas, 6s. 8d. Transports, the expence of conveyance.

Garnish, (not yet abolished,) is a gallon of ale, or porter, from Debtors upon coming in, and another on being discharged from Prison.

Chaplain, Rev. Edward Nicholson. Salary, 40l.

Duty, Prayers and a Sermon every Sunday afternoon; and daily attendance on persons under Sentence of death.

Surgeon, Mr. Douglas Sands. Salary, none; but makes a Bill.

Number of Prisoners.

Debtors.Felons &c.
1802, Sept. 9th,112
1809, Sept. 17th,188

Allowance. Those Debtors who are poor, and petition the Magistrates, obtain the same allowance as the Felons, of fourpence per day in money.


In the centre of this building is a small court, about 25 feet square, with pump in it, which is principally used for the Debtors to wash themselves; and is likewise a passage to the Keeper's large garden, of which the Debtors have the daily use. In this court are five sleeping-cells, two below, (which, on account of their dampness are not used,) and three above; each 9 feet by 6 feet 7 inches, with arched roofs. On the left entrance to the house is the Debtors' day-room, 23 feet by 19, and 12 feet high. This is also the Chapel.

The middle Tower, over the Dungeon hereafter described, is about 23 feet square, and occasionally used both by Debtors and Felons, but not at the same time. It has a fire-place in it, and a sewer. The two windows, glazed and iron-grated, are of 3 feet 7 inches by 3 feet; and in the door is an aperture about 8 inches square.

On the Debtors' side of the Prison there is, on the first floor, one room for Women, about 14 feet square, and another of 18 feet by 15. The second story has five rooms, to which the Keeper furnishes beds, at from two shillings to one shilling per week. The upper story has two rooms; the largest of which, 18 feet square, is used as a free Ward, whenever the middle Tower is occupied by Felons. The other room, used as an Infirmary, is 14 feet by 10, having a large closet, well lighted and ventilated.

On the right hand entrance to the house, two steps below ground, lies "the Black Hole," or Dungeon for Felons, 21 feet 4 inches by 19 feet 2, with a boarded floor; straw, two blankets and two rugs for each Prisoner: an offensive sewer in it, and the windows are only 18 inches by 9.

Over the Middle Tower is that called the High Tower, which is divided into two apartments: the one 24 feet 10 inches by 15 feet 8, having two grated windows; the other of 14 feet by 6 feet 10, with one window; a fire-place and a sewer in each.

Water is accessible at all times to the Debtors; and it is carried, as wanted, to the Felons, who have a day-room, 21 feet by 12.

Here is no Uniform Clothing; but the County, where requisite, allows what is suitable to the poor and needy.

It was intended, at the next General Quarter Sessions, to represent the want of a proper Infirmary, with a bath and oven, for the Prisoners.

I found this Gaol kept as clean as the bad construction of it would permit.

In 1811, updated rules were approved for the prison. You can view these on a separate page.

In 1827, it was reported that:

The new prison which is erecting for this county, to combine a gaol and house of correction, has not yet been completed for the reception of prisoners, and until that is done, the classification and other regulations required by the Gaol Act cannot be carried into effect.

The female prisoners are employed in making clothes, and mending and washing for the service of the prison. The keeper's wife acts as matron, and the women are kept apart from the male prisoners. The men are occasionally employed in the keeper's garden, for which they receive vegetables.

There is no prison dietary, but each prisoner is allowed four-pence a day in money, to purchase food and necessaries.

A clergyman attends on Sundays, and reads prayers and preaches a sermon. Religious books are given to the prisoners.

Irons are only used on the removal of felons to the quarter sessions and assizes.

The greatest number of prisoners at one time in the last year was 21, and the whole number committed during the year was 63.

The present gaol contains ten rooms for debtors, three day rooms for felons, and eight sleeping-cells. There is one airing-yard,which is chiefly used by the debtors. When the felons walk in this yard, the keeper or turnkey attends them, to prevent communication with the debtors. There is no separate apartment for the sick.

A small allowance of money is ordered by the magistrates to destitute prisoners, when they are discharged.

As indicated in the 1827 report, a new county gaol, bridewell and debtors' prison was under construction on on Castle Bank, Morpeth. Following its completion, the existing county gaol was closed in 1828.


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.


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