Ancestry UK

County Bridewell, Northleach, Gloucestershire

As part of the overhaul of the county's prison provision under the 1785 Gloucestershire Gaol Act, a new Bridewell, or House of Correction, was erected in 1788 on Fosseway, Northleach. Perhaps not an obvious location but the new prisons stipulated by the Act were to 'particularly have regard to the airiness, dryness, and healthiness of the situation, the accommodation of water, the avoiding of all ill smells, and being overlooked, and for that purpose to the keeping at a proper distance from the centre of any populous town.' The Northleach building, like the others in the scheme, was designed by William Blackburn, in collaboration with the prison reformer Sir George Onesiphorus Paul. It had an unusual polygonal arrangement in which the cells opened to the outside to maximise the circulation of air and prevent disease. They layout is shown on the 1884 map below, by which date the building was serving as a police station.

County Bridewell site, Northleach, c.1884.

Former Northleach Bridewell from the south, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1812, James Neild, reporting on his visits to the establishment, was impressed by what he had seen:

Keeper, Samuel McDowell. Salary, 5l. No Fees.

Chaplain, Rev. John Allen. Salary, 20l. Duty, Prayers and Sermon on Sunday, and Prayers on Wednesday. Also enters in a book his attendances, and the number of Prisoners who attend Chapel.

Surgeon, Mr. Thomas Child. Salary, 10l. He visits the Prisoners twice a week; and, by entry in the book, reports the state of their Health.

Number of Prisoners, 1802, 22d Nov. Five. 1806, 31st Aug. Four.

Allowance, one pound and half of bread per day, and a quart of pease soup for dinner on Mondays and Fridays.

This Prison, in the Parish of Hampnet, is surrounded by a boundary wall, within side of which vegetables are raised for the use of the Prisoners.

The Keeper's house, in front, has a convenient kitchen and office below, two rooms above, and one for the Turnkey, which command every part of the Prison. The Magistrates have here also their Committee Room, in which the Sessions are held four times a year.

This excellent House of Correction is semicircular; and encloses seven courtyards, divided from each other by open wood palisades, with a stream of excellent water running through them.

On the ground-floor are seven working-cells, of about 7 feet by 6, arch-roofed, which open into a lobby 20 yards long, and 3 yards wide, where the Prisoners were employed in picking wool; and above these are seven sleeping-cells, of the same size.

On the upper story is a large store-room for the goods manufactured, and also as a deposit for the Prisoners' clothes, &c.

On each side of the centre building are ten day-cells, upon the ground-floor; and above them as many sleeping-cells, opening into a stone gallery, skirted with an iron railing. Each sleeping-cell has a double door; the outer of iron, the inner one of wood; furnished each with an iron bedstead, straw mattress, hair-stuffed and quilted bed, two sheets, two blankets, a coverlet, and a night-cap.

The Women's wing of the Prison adjoins to one end of the last-mentioned cells, and has a kitchen and wash-house on the ground-floor. On the first story six sleeping-cells, three on each side of a passage, about 6 feet wide; and on the upper story is a large work-room.

The Men's wing is on the left, and has on the ground-floor a large day-room. Above, six sleeping-cells, divided by a passage, the same as on the Women's side. On the upper story are two Hospital-Rooms, and small one used as the Dispensary for Medicines. There are, in the whole,, thirty seven lodging-cells, and the greatest number of Prisoners confined at one time has been 30.

Adjoining to the Men's wing are a cooking and provision room, two warm baths. a cold bath, and a fumigating-room.

The Chapel is on the second floor of the Keeper's house; to which the several classes of Prisoners enter, by different doors, to the seats set apart for them; where they are excluded from seeing each other, by a wooden screen in the centre of the arch.

The Prison is very compact, clean, and regularly visited by the Magistrates, Surgeon, and Chaplain.

The goods here wrought up for sale are garters, gloves, and bottle stands. Employment also comes from a Fell-monger in Northlech, who sends in wool, and pays two pence per pound for spinning, picking, and carding it. Prisoners before Trial have one half of their earnings; but if they can procure employment of themselves, they receive the whole profit.

At my visit in 1806, it unluckily so happened, that there was no Employment. The pavement of some of the cells was loose, and the court-yards wanted paving. The back part of the Keeper's house seemed to afford a too easy means of escape at the two corners, by the projecting stone work. This might be prevented, either by a chevaux-de-frize, or an extended coping. I found the Gaol well ventilated; plenty of excellent water in every court-yard. The sewers were all water-closets.

The plan of this Prison may justly be reckoned as one of the best in the whole Kingdom. Its situation, dry and elevated, has the singular advantage of a copious stream of excellent water, running through the centre; and its salubrity must be unquestionable: for it appears that during a period of eighteen years, not one Prisoner has died, though the Commitments exceeded eight hundred, nor has there been any specific or contagious disease within it. Such are the incalculable benefits resulting from cleanliness, and a free circulation of vital air: yet, in many Prisons, how seldom and how little are they thought of.

In 1838, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

Construction.—A canal intersects the prison yards; it was covered with green matter at the time of my visit in the summer, but it is affirmed to do no harm, and to be useful for water, of which they stand in need. The cells are light, roomy, and well-ventilated generally; and they are numerous in proportion to the inmates. There is a room for persons suffering under itch, and baths for both sexes. The infirmary for men is a good one, and a good convalescent room adjoins it; but there is no night-stool nor water-closet. For the women, also, there is a good infirmary; but the removal of a few inches of the upper part of the external iron blind would admit more air. No night-stool nor water-closet is to be found in this room. There is one dark cell, in which the refractory of both sexes are placed; but it is not sufficiently ventilated. Another cell, originally destined for the same purpose, has been appropriated as a sleeping-cell, because it was found to be too comfortable for punishment. This prison contains cells for day and night; but, under the actual system of discipline, the day-cells might be converted into night-cells, whenever there is not a sufficient supply of the latter. The day-cells are light and of good size. The windows do not open in the upper male cells. There are no prisoners in wards 1 and 4, nor in debtors' yard 3.

Management.—Silence is moderately observed; tobacco is prohibited. No untried prisoners remain here longer than a few days. The premises are clean and neat. Besides the keeper and matron, there is only one turnkey, properly so called; there is another officer, the miller. Both of these are appointed by the magistrates; both sleep in the prison. A wardsman is constantly present during the hours of labour, but this is of no use; a turnkey should also be constantly present, if any order or silence are to be maintained; as there is only one regular turnkey here, it is found difficult or impossible to place him always in the labour-yard. The plan pursued here is to place prisoners in the day-cells during the intervals of labour and during the hours of meals, and to consign them to other cells at night. Convicted prisoners, who are not sentenced to hard labour, are also confined in their day-cells, except during the hours of labour. The quantity of exercise in the yards allowed to prisoners on hard labour is one hour and a-half on Sundays; while those not sentenced to hard labour are permitted to walk in the yards for one hour and a-half, or even more, daily. The trades which now happen to be carried on in the prison are of one shoemaker and one tailor. No prisoners sleep more than one in a bed; but all do not sleep in separate cells. All the women are at present placed in one ward, both the convicted and the debtors. There are no untried females here.


  £.  s.  d.
Gaoler (has also coals and candles)100   0   0
Matron 29   0   0
Turnkey (weekly)0  14   0
Miller (weekly)0  16   0
(Both the last have coals and candles.)
Chaplain 80   0   0
Surgeon (finds medicines)30   0   0

The keeper is allowed to purchase articles for the prison of any tradesmen whom he chooses.

Diet.—The untried prisoners, and all those who are not sentenced to hard labour, receive only a loaf of 1½ lb, of good seconds' bread daily, and nothing else whatever. Those who are confined for want of sureties may receive food from without. Prisoners sentenced to hard labour obtain the same allowance of bread and the following additional provision:—1 oz. of oatmeal to make gruel for breakfast, daily; 2 lbs. of potatoes for dinner on four days of the' week; for another day's dinner 2 ozs. of oatmeal and 1 oz. of rice made into gruel; and for dinner on the two remaining days half a pint of pea-soup, into the composition of which, shin of beef or cow's cheek, or sheep's head and pluck has entered. The quantity of meat is not fixed; but all that is used is divided as equally as possible among the respective portions. Only the prisoners on hard labour receive ¼oz. of salt for breakfast, and again at dinner. The debtors receive 3d. a-day, and may obtain food from without. Convicted prisoners, not sentenced to hard labour, often petition for it, in order to obtain the extra food.

Labour.—The tread-mill is applied to the purpose of grinding corn for the public, and forms the hard labour for the male prisoners. It will contain 12 persons. The other occupations are occasional tailoring, shoemaking, and washing; all the washing is done within the walls. Soap is supplied without limitation.

The Clothing consists of cap, jacket, waistcoat, trousers, shoes, stockings, and shirt, for the men; and, for the women, comprises cap, shift, shoes, stockings, short gown, and two petticoats. The dress of the convicted is party-coloured. There is an ample stock.

The Bedding consists of a hair mattress, two blankets, two sheets, and a coverlit. There is a sufficient store.

Religious and other Instruction.—The chaplain performs Divine service on Sunday, with a sermon, and reads portions of the Liturgy twice a-week, on Wednesdays and Fridays. The behaviour of the prisoners during the service is exemplary. He has never delivered the sacrament, nor, indeed, has it ever been delivered here to his knowledge, nor is there any communion table or plate. Very few prisoners have much religious knowledge; some he has known to possess a general notion. He has ascertained one case of reform; but he seldom possesses the means of discovering the future condition of discharged prisoners. The boys he teaches to read; and he has imparted this instruction to about 18. He converses with prisoners in their cells, and bears them read. There exists no ladies' committee for the purpose of visiting the female prisoners. The chaplain has exercised his functions here during the space of six years. He enters in his journal the number of prisoners present. Books are moderately well supplied; the chaplain has the power of ordering them. The chaplain is curate of a neighbouring parish, a quarter of a mile from Northleach. There is no chaplain's room. The chapel contains only two divisions, one for men and one for women. The gaoler is generally present at chapel, and the turnkey and miller are always present.

Visits and Letters are only admitted by an order from the committing magistrates, except to prisoners for want of sureties. There is no special rule respecting letters; but they are seldom permitted during the first three months, and are always read by the keeper.

Care of the Sick, Disease, and Mortality.—The surgeon keeps a copious journal; but it does not afford any tabular view of the diseases which have occurred during the year. There is no surgery room. During the last 12 months it has been only necessary to remove one man into the infirmary; he was about 70 years of age, with sore legs, and recovered. The prison is healthy The surgeon has been in office one year and a-half, during which time he has witnessed no bad effect from the canal; no ague has occurred. There is one woman now in the infirmary with the itch. No woman has lain in here during his appointment. Diarrhoea is seen here occasionally; itch and syphilis occur also sometimes. The surgeon has been assured that individuals at Cheltenham have occasionally committed an offence in order to be brought into this establishment, to which they look forward for an economical cure of their venereal disorders. He has occasionally ordered gruel, night or morning, for those prisoners who have not the hard-labour diet; but prisoners remain here a very short term: two months is the longest sentence of any prisoner now in the house. He has seen no bad effect from the present diet; but a similar diet has undoubtedly in other places produced bad results. There was no cholera here. Only two slight cases of influenza occurred in the spring.

Suggestions towards Improvement.

1. To have an additional turnkey.

2. To build privies in the yards which are at present without them.

3. To use the day-cells as night-cells whenever it may happen that there is not a separate sleeping-cell for each prisoner.

4. To increase the present scale of diet to those prisoners who are not sentenced to hard labour.

5. To place a nightstool in each of the infirmaries.

6. Those prisoners who are placed in solitary confinement for any term exceeding three days ought to have a more ample diet than bread and water.

7. To take off to the depth of three inches from the iron blind of the female infirmary, in order to favour the access of light and air.

The prison closed in 1860 and was subsequently used as a police station. Only the front block now survives as is home to the Old Prison Museum.


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.

  • Gloucestershire Archives, Clarence Row, Alvin Street, Gloucester GL1 3DW. Holdings include: Register of prisoners (1791-1816); Committal orders to House of Correction (1817-53); Orders for discharge of prisoners from House of Correction (1826-53).
  • 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.