Ancestry UK

Town Gaol and County Bridewell, Newport, Isle of Wight

Newport's Town Gaol and County Bridewell were originally on separate sites. In 1774, John Howard visited the gaol and reported:

No yard: no water. Allowance three halfpennyworth of bread: three pints of water. Gaoler's Salary £3.

1774, Sep. 27, Prisoners none.

On the same day, he visited the county bridewell:

This is the Keeper's property. Two rooms; one of them quite dark: no yard: no water. Keeper told me his Salary was £19 : 15 : 0, for which he was to supply each Prisoner daily with three-halfpennyworth of bread, and three pints of water.

1774, Sep. 27, Prisoners none.

Also in 1774, the town's workhouse on Holyrood Street was closed and the inmates transferred to a new House of Industry. The old workhouse premises were then taken over to house both the gaol and bridewell in separate sections of the building. The joint establishment was the subject of another report by Howard:

The bridewell for twenty-eight parishes; and the town gaol, are now both in the old work-house; four rooms being appropriated to that purpose. No chimney: no straw: no court: no water accessible to prisoners. There are two keepers; one for the county bridewell, whose salary is £19 : 15 : 0; the other for the gaol, whose salary is £3. Neither the act for preserving the health of prisoners, nor clauses against spirituous liquors, hung up.

1774, Sep. 27, Prisoners
1779, Mar. 5
1782, Nov. 5, Petty Offenders 2.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, James Reynolds; Sergeant at Mace. Salary, 40l. Fees, none. Surgeon, Mr. Watersworth, who makes a Bill. Number of Prisoners, 1802, March 18th, Debtors, One; Felons, &c. none. 1807, Sept. 19th, Debtor, One; Felons, &c. Two.

Allowance, to all, sixpence per day, in bread or money.

In this Prison Debtors are confined by process issuing out of the Borough Court, and their allowance is granted them after two Court-days, which are generally held in a fortnight. Here is no court-yard, nor water accessible to the Prisoners. The Gaol consists of six rooms, about 14 feet each by 8; two of which are appropriated to Debtors, who pay 6d. per night; and the other four are for Felons or Petty Offenders, Their bedding, hulls of oats in sacking, changed once a year, with two or three blankets, and a rug. The floors are boarded, windows glazed, and urinals emptied as required daily. All have the same bedding. The Prisoners here are chiefly Debtors from the Courts of Conscience; and the proceedings for five pounds, the same as in London. Neither the Act nor Clauses hung up.

In about 1820, two yards were added, and the gaol much improved at considerable expense, with arrangements also being made to provide the means of constant employment for the prisoners.

During the 1820s, a tread-wheel was installed at the gaol as described by a report in 1832:

This prison is under the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, and it is also used as the gaol and bridewell for the Borough of Newport. It comprises five divisions, with airing-yards. There are twelve sleeping-rooms. The tread wheel labour has been for some time in operation, and it has been found very efficacious in lessening crime. The prisoners work about eight hours daily. A matron is appointed, and also a chaplain, and a surgeon. The dietary is 13 lb. of bread daily, with meat on Sunday, and soup on Monday. Each prisoner has a straw bed in a mattrass, two blankets, and a counterpane. Clothing is supplied when necessary, but there is no regular prison dress.

A very comprehensive description of the establishment was provided in 1838 by the Inspectors of Prisons:


The wards or divisions in the prison are 5.
Day-rooms, 5.
Work-rooms, 0.
Tread-wheel houses, or divisions upon the tread-wheels, 1.
Receiving rooms or cells, 0.
Divisions in the chapel, 3.
Infirmaries, or rooms for the sick,—males, 0; females, 0.
Warm and cold baths, or bathing tubs, 0.
Airing-yards, 5.
Refractory cells—light, 3.
Yards for Untried male prisoners, 1.
 " " Convicted male prisoners, 1.
 " " Debtors, 1.
 " " Female prisoners, 1.
and there is also another yard for male prisoners, which is not used.

There are altogether for the male prisoners 19 rooms, of which none is used as a day-room, and of which 14 are used as single cells or rooms. In the debtors' rooms four beds are contained. For the women there are four sleeping cells, and there is one dark cell. There are besides two cells for night charges: one for men, and one for women. These, properly, do not belong to the prison: the keys are kept by the watchman.

The prison appears dry. The cells are too dark, not sufficiently lighted to enable the inmates to read or to work, and not well enough ventilated to render them suitable for separate confinement during the day. The whole building is not very well ventilated. In some of the cells there are fire-places.

Management.—This prison is under the control of the county magistrates. The prisoners of the borough of Newport were formerly kept here, at the time when sessions were held here for the borough; but they are now sent to Winchester. This prison is at present principally occupied by prisoners on their passage. Most heavy offenders are removed to Winchester.

Silence is enjoined here, and the use of tobacco is prohibited. Every prisoner sleeps at present in a separate cell, excepting the debtors. The meals are taken in the day-rooms; but the doors of the day-rooms are sometimes kept locked, in order that the prisoners may not congregate there. The female prisoners are exclusively attended by the matron.

The building is maintained in a neat stale generally. The keeper, the turnkey, and the turnkey's wife (who is the matron), all reside on the premises. The keeper makes up a weekly account to the magistrates. The keeper makes a bill for the conveyance of prisoners. Convicted prisoners are not at present allowed to receive any visits, nor any letters. The letters are delivered to them at the time of their discharge.

Diet.—The untried prisoners may receive, food from without. The allowance to all the prisoners is a threepenny loaf daily of the best bread; it weighs l¾lb. On Sundays half a pound of pickled pork, ready cooked, and without bone, is given to each prisoner: six or seven potatoes, and a large cabbage boiled up with the pork, are also distributed on that day to each individual. The poor debtors also receive the above rations. The gaoler buys these articles where he thinks fit: there is no contract.

The weekly cost of the prison diet per head is 2s. 3d.

Bedding.—There is no regulation as to bedding. The gaoler allots such as he deems proper. He usually provides a straw mattress, two blankets, and a rug, for each individual. The debtors pay nothing for their bedding, unless they choose to have a feather bod.

Clothing.—There is no store whatever of clothes kept here.

Escapes.,—During above 20 years two prisoners only have completely escaped. They made their exit through a hole in the wall. During the same period there have been two instances in which prisoners have succeeded in getting outside, but they were recaptured.

Executions.—None has taken place here since the year 1814.

Insanity.—There is no case of it in the prison at present. About five insane persons have been confined here during the space of 20 years.

Labour.—The hard labour is afforded by the tread-wheel, which holds 12 at one time. Whitewashing and cleansing the premises are other means of employment. Both the men and women wash their own clothes. A man sometimes works at his own trade, by the permission of the magistrates.

The hours of labour are from nine to four. No ruptured prisoner and no female works at the tread-wheel. The prisoners remain at the tread-wheel for half an hour at a time. The surgeon has remarked that at the end of a quarter of an hour they become exhausted. He has examined the pulse on such occasions, and has observed that it has risen from 75 to 130 beats during the quarter of an hour.

There is no profit from the labour, nor is the tread-wheel applied to any purpose but that of toil.

Religions and other Instruction.—The chaplain performs divine service once on Sundays, and preaches a sermon. He usually reads two short prayers or services in the week, besides his Sunday duty, and also gives instruction to the prisoners: the instruction takes place in the chapel, as being the most convenient place for it. Several prisoners are taught at the same time. He generally appoints one of the prisoners to teach the others to read. He offers to administer the sacrament three times in the year; but no one will take it. He never recollects to have found a prisoner who had received the sacrament previously. The gaoler is present in the chapel on Sundays; but there is no female who attends with the female prisoners during the service. The chaplain has held this appointment 10 or 12 years: he is the master of the grammar-school, and is also chaplain to the house of industry; but this last office he will resign almost immediately; and at present another gentleman divides the duty with him. The prisoners are well supplied with Bibles and other religious books, procured by the chaplain at the expense of the county. He keeps no separate journal, but writes memoranda in the common register.

The chaplain has seen a few cases of reformation. He came into office about the year 1824.

Care of the Sick, Disease, and Mortality.—The surgeon has hold this office above 20 years. He attends whenever he is sent for; and, if a case requires it, he visits the sick prisoner every day, or even twice in the day. He usually comes here on a Saturday. There was no epidemic cholera here, although a few cases appeared in the town; no other epidemic has prevailed; but a few prisoners suffered from the influenza last spring. There is no infirmary. Prisoners, when ill, are taken to the house of industry, and are there attended by the surgeon of the house of industry. None of the prisoners who have been sent thither have died. No particular disorder has been common here. The prisoners who have been sent to the house of industry on the ground of illness have been generally syphilitic. But the plan of transferring prisoners, when sick, to the house of industry is most objectionable on every ground, and may easily be superseded by fitting up an infirmary cell for the men, and another for the women. During 20 years only one death is recollected to have taken place among the prisoners committed hither, including those who have been removed, when unwell, to the house of industry. During the last 12 months only one prisoner has been so much indisposed as to keep his bed: he was afterwards removed to the house of industry. The surgeon has occasion to send some medicine hither, perhaps twice in the week on an average; but this is for slight complaints. In January 1837 six prisoners were unwell at once with the influenza, out of 19 prisoners, the entire mass. Only one woman has lain in here since the year 1813.

Suggestions towards Improvement.

1. To place a curtain in the chapel in order to separate effectually the male prisoners from the female.

2. The matron should always be present during the performance of Divine service.

3. The turnkey should be present during prayers on a week-day, which is now not the case. 4. An infirmary cell should be prepared for the use of the sick of each sex.

5. A bathing tub is wanted.

6. Three or four of the privies have no seats and are quite open; there is a bad smell from them, and they need repair.

7. There is no fixed allowance of soap nor of salt. A small store of clothes, of combs, and of towels, is requisite.

8. The window in the day-room of the women's ward should be made to open.

9. Both the gaoler and the turnkey (his son) are constables, and are sent for whenever a disturbance occurs. It is very desirable that they should be confined to their duties within the walls of the prison, and that they should not be liable to services requiring their sudden attendance outside.

10. The gaoler at present cooks the prisoners' food with his own coals, and supplies them with his own salt. This practice should be discontinued, and an allowance made for the purpose.

11. The lumber rooms adjoining the female sleeping rooms should be fitted up as separate female sleeping cells.

12. The gaoler holds an office which, according to his own account, occupies one day in the week, although he derives no emolument from it. It is very desirable that he should be relieved from this impediment to his ordinary functions in the prison.

I am assured that all the above suggestions will be immediately carried into effect.

The prison was closed in about 1848 and the buildings converted to a police station. Housing now occupied the site.


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