Ancestry UK

County Gaol and Bridewell, Norwich, Norfolk

Norwich Castle, erected in the eleventh century, probably had a gaol within its walls from the outset. From the fourteenth century onwards, it was designated as Norfolk's County Gaol. Major repairs or alterations to the premises were carried out in 1707-8 and 1713-15, and further improvements in 1775.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

GAOLER, George Gynne.

Salary, he pays the under-sheriff £31 : 10 : 0 per annum.

Fees, Debtors, £0 : 7 : 8.

  Felons, 0 : 13 : 4

Transports, 5 : 15 : 6 each,

Licence, Beer and Wine.


Allowance, Debtors & Felons, Number,

Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors.Felons &c.
1774, Feb. 1,30,14.1776, Nov. 17,18,32.
1774, Dec. 10,16,15.1779, March 31,24,29.
1776, Feb. 5,29,16.1782, July 6,25,23.

CHAPLAIN, Rev. Mr. Willins,

Duty, Friday.

Salary, £30.

SURGEON, Mr. Palgrave, Mr. Brown, now Mr. Rigby.

Salary, £40.

The castle is situated on the summit of a hill. That part which is called the upper gaol, has ten rooms for master's-side debtors; and leads for them to walk on. The low gaol has several rooms for debtors, felons &c. A small area in the middle of the gaol, in which are made some improvements; such as a pump, a bath, and some rooms over it. There is a dungeon down a ladder of 8 steps, for men-felons; in which has been sometimes an inch or two of water: here are now barracks and mats. Only a small room for women-felons; and they cannot be separate from the men, when decency would most of all require it. There are three airy rooms for the sick; so distinct from the rest of the prison, that there is no danger of spreading any infection from thence. The gaoler is humane, and respected by his prisoners. These, felons as well as debtors, sell at the grates of their separate day-rooms, laces, garters, purses, nets, &c. of their own making.

There is a nurse or matron to attend the sick; and provide for them, when the surgeon orders. it, broth, gruel, milk-pottage and extra-firing. It is also her business to see that the prisoners be duly served with their allowance of bread, which is remarkably good. The act for preserving the health of prisoners not hung up. At Lent assize, prisoners are moved from hence to Thetford; and put into a dungeon which is described in that place. In 1779, twenty-seven prisoners, and in 1782, eighteen were carried thither, and confined four nights, most of them in the dungeon.

Mrs. Frances Kempe formerly bequeathed certain charities to the poor of Norwich and Heyden; and a stipend for preaching three sermons a year. For payment, she bound an estate in Heyden left her by her father John Mingay, Esq. Among the charities were some to prisoners in this castle, and in the city gaol. These have for some years past received nothing; although the legacies are paid to the other objects.

Norfolk. A Table of the Rates Fees and allowances to be—taken by every Gaoler or Keeper of any Gaol or Prison within the said County—settled at the General Quarter Session—holden by Adjournment at the Castle of Norwich—31 July—3d of George II—1729—in pursuance of a late Act for Relief of Debtors & c. That is to say
£.  s. d.
For the commitment or coming into gaol of any prisoner for debt0 : 5 : 0
For chamber rent where the gaoler finds bedding and linen, and a prisoner hath a bed to him or herself, per week0 : 2 : 0
Where there are three in a bed not exceeding per week each prisoner0 : 1 : 6
For the discharge of those in execution0 : 5 : 4
For the discharge of those upon outlawry0 : 5 : 4
For the discharge of those upon common process0 : 2 : 8
We his Majesty's Justices of the Peace-have hereunto set our hands—the day and year above written 31 July 1729

In response to Howard's reports, a major enlargement of the accommodation was carried out in 1790-93, with Sir John Soane as architect. A four-storey U-shaped cell block was erected inside the walls of the castle keep. The courtyard within the 'U' was open to the sky. Soane also added a new cell block on the east side of the keep.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, John Johnson.

Salary, 200l. He is also allowed two Turnkeys, to whom the County pays 10s. 6d. each per week; and for Conveyance of Transports, one shilling per mile. Fees and Garnish are abolished.

Chaplain, Rev. Peter Hansell.

Duty, Prayers and Sermon on Sunday; and Prayers on Tuesday and Friday. Salary, 50l.

Surgeon, Edward Rigby, Esq. Mayor of Norwich in the year 1805. Salary, 40l. for Debtors and Felons. And here let me seize the occasion of paying my respectful acknowledgments to the then worthy Chief Magistrate, for his politeness in accompanying me to the Prisons, Hospitals, and Workhouses of this City.

Number of Prisoners,

Debtors.Felons &c.
1800, April 1st,30  34
1805, Sept. 6th,12  12
1810, Sept. 7th,15  17, and 1 Lunatick.

Allowance, to Debtors, one pound and half of bread per day, and half a pound of cheese per week each. One bushel of coals to each room weekly in winter, and half a bushel in summer; to be increased or diminished at the discretion of the Visiting Magistrates.

To Felons, and other Criminal Prisoners, two pounds of bread daily, and half a pound of cheese per week each: with an allowance of coals, regulated according to their number in custody, so as to avoid superfluity, waste, and want.


This Castle is seated on the summit of a lofty hill, and the Prison has of late been enlarged by additional buildings.

In 1806, an Act passed, enabling His Majesty to grant the Castle of Norwich, with the Castle-hill and circumjacent ground, (consisting of six acres, one rood, and thirteen perches,) and to convey the same absolutely to the Justices of the Peace for the time being, acting in and for the County of Norfolk; free and discharged from all claim, right, and title of his Majesty, His Heirs and Successors.

Since the obtaining of this Act, the site above described has been fenced in or inclosed by handsome iron-palisades, forming an area round the Castle of 100 yards in diameter; and affording the Citizens a most beautiful and healthy promenade.

While the Castle was merely a place of defence, the grounds adjacent were surrounded by a very wide and deep moat, with a bridge thrown across it: but, being now become dry, they are converted into a variety of gardens; and the whole being encircled by an elegant fence on Castle-hill, displays a view of scenery singularly cheerful and pleasing.

At the foot of the bridge are erected two stone-lodges; one of which is assigned for the residence of the Turnkey, and the other as a Lazaretto, or receiving room for Prisoners, until they have been examined by the Surgeon, and deemed proper for admission into the interior of the Castle. These additions and alterations, of recent date, give a noble appearance to the approach of entrance; and are well suited to the grandeur and magnificence of that venerable pile of buildings, which constituted the Old Castle.

The defects of this Prison, as they existed at the time of my visit in 1805, are so fully described by me in the Gentleman's Magazine for August 1808, as to preclude the necessity of any farther notice, than that, now, they are happily done away. Such, I trust, may have been the salutary effect of my entries in the Magistrates' Book at the Castle, where it is presumed they still remain on record.

The Gaoler's house is to the right of the entrance; and on the ground floor are his parlour, and the Visiting Magistrates' Committee-Room. He has also four bedrooms, upon the first and second floors.

A small area, of 18 feet 6 inches by 15 feet, divides the Gaoler's house from the Turnkey's lodge, on the left: and over it stands the Chapel; in which the Gallery is appropriated to Debtors, and the lower part to Criminal Prisoners. The Master's Side Debtors, or those of the better order, who are on the Keeper's side of the Prison, have five rooms, of 12 feet by 7, with fire-places in each, and glazed windows; but of these the casements, being 20 inches only by 12, are far two small. On the Chapel side are three rooms, ten feet square, with glazed windows, but no fire-place; and four others, 15 feet by 10, with fire-places, but windows scanty, like the former.

The Debtors' court-yard is 39 feet by 37, with an arcade 18 feet square, and a pump in it; which is supplied from another pump in the Felons' court-yard: and river water likewise is laid on.

Women Debtors, on the Master's-side, have three cells, each 9 feet by 7; with a day-room 12 feet square, having a fire-place in it, and glazed windows. Their courtyard is 17 feet by 7.

To all the above rooms the Keeper furnishes beds and bedding, at from 1s. 6d. per week each to 4s. The prices are painted on the doors; but none of these lodging-rooms have sufficient air to be wholesome.

Common-Side Debtors, Men and Women, have six sleeping-rooms, each 9 feet by 7; a day-room 12 feet square, with a fire-place; and all the windows are glazed. These rooms have each a bedstead, rush-mat, two blankets, or in winter three; and a rug also supplied by the County.

Male and Female Debtors have only one day-room.

The Female-Felon Convicts have a court-yard, 13 feet by 8. For some years they had two rooms only, of about 8 feet square, with glazed windows in both, and a fire-place in the lower-room: But now, a good lodging apartment, of 24 feet by 14, and 8 feet 6 inches high, is added for their accommodation, near their day room. They have, however, no water accessible, except what is fetched for them from the Debtors' pump.

The Male Criminal Prisoners, of all descriptions, are confined in the older part of the building, and have one court-yard only, 54 feet long by 32; on each side of which are arcades under the cells, for taking air and exercise in bad weather. Their cells are in all thirty-six, each 5 feet 6 inches by 8 feet; and furnished with an iron bedstead, wooden-bottomed; two mats, two blankets in summer, or three in winter, and a rug. The windows are not glazed, but have inside shutters. They have also seven day-rooms, of 14 feet each by 12, three only of which have fire places.

In each of the before-mentioned cells a tub is substituted for an urinal; and on every landing-place are sewers, which, from their construction, were heretofore rendered very offensive, but have since been greatly improved. The cells are all ventilated by a circular aperture over the doors, and likewise by a small kind of pothole placed in each door.

Felons are always divested of their own apparel, on being brought into custody, and the County clothing put on: but when going to Le tried, they have their own clothes given to them. After conviction, the County dress is always resumed. Their washing linen is all done out of the Gaol, at the County's expence. Misdemeaners also, if received in a dirty, offensive state, are always stripped and washed, previous to being admitted into the interior of the Gaol.

Out of two of the Felon's-court arcades, two cells, of 9 feet by 7, have been constructed for refractory Debtors. In the same court-yard there is also an hospital: On the ground-floor is a bath, not used. On the upper floor are two convalescent rooms; one of 15 feet by 8, with a fire-place, the other without one, and 10 feet by 6; both furnished with iron bedsteads, wooden-bottomed, and suitable bedding. Above these is the Hospital or Infirmary-Room, 17 feet by 14, with fire-place and glazed windows; ventilated by leaden pipes run through the roof, and fitted up with a wooden bedstead and hangings, bed, bolster, pillows, a regular change of linen, &c. There seems to be no proper store-room in the whole of this Prison.

The general employment here consists of Taylor's work and Shoemaking; cutting, of pegs and skewers, and making various sorts of nets. Debtors are allowed to work, if they can procure the means from without, and they have all they can earn. Criminal Prisoners have nine-pence in the shilling of their earnings; and the Keeper has the other three-pence, for furnishing them with implements and materials.

Many are the comforts here afforded by the considerate Magistrates, to alleviate the burthen, and soothe the sorrows of imprisonment. A nurse, or matron, is constantly retained, and paid six shillings per week by the County: Her duty is to attend the sick daily, whether Criminals or poorer Debtors, and to provide for them broth, gruel, milk-pottage, wine, extra diet, &c. by order of their Surgeon; of whose professional abilities, humanity, and assiduous attentions, the Hospital and Prison, books bear ample record.

A Porter, or Errand-Man, also is employed, at 10s.6d. per week by the County, to purchase articles of food, and other needful accommodations for all the Prisoners. Every Debtor is allowed to purchase one quart of ale or porter daily, but not more:. And no other liquor is permitted to be introduced, except by order of the Surgeon, in cases of sickness.

Bibles, Prayer-Books, and religious Tracts, adapted to their condition, are most humanely furnished by the County, and delivered out to the Prisoners, at the judicious discretion of their worthy Chaplain.

Mops, brooms, pails, towels, washing-bowls, coal-boxes, &c. are liberally supplied by the Magistrates for their use; so that not their persons only, but all parts of the Prison may be kept in a state of cleanliness and comfort; and the orders given to this end I found literally obeyed by the attentive Keeper.

At my visit in 1810, not one Prisoner was found in irons; nor are those odious implements ever now used, except on the refractory, or those unhappy objects who are under sentence of death.

There is still a want of arrangement in the distribution of the building. The Gaoler's house commands but a very imperfect view of the whole Prison. The court-yards are small, and the air, of course, is rendered impure. Almost every chimney smokes miserably, when the wind is at west, south-west, and north-west; owing to an eddy which, under such an exposure, is unfortunately produced in those directions.

The lobbies, or passages, in this Gaol are scarcely wide enough for a single person: nor is there any convenience for a proper distinction or decent separation to be observed between the sex or classes of its inhabitants. Above all other considerations, however, this last, though little regarded, is in fact the most important, as it affects the MORALS. Those who are guilty of atrocious crimes, and others, barely suspected of venial faults, should never be mixed together. In little, and far distant abodes of durance vile, it may, because it must be, seen and passed by, as locally irremediable; But never so, surely, in the Gaol, or the Bridewell of a large, opulent, and well-informed County, to which many others in the kingdom may look up for exemplary precedence in liberal regulation.

Every Prisoner in this place attended Divine Service at Chapel, when I was here on the 8th Sept. 1805, and 7th Sept. 1810. Their behaviour was orderly, and they were suitably attentive to a very appropriate and impressive discourse from the Rev. Mr. Hansell.

Here is now an alarm-bell. Abstracts from the Rules and Orders are duly exhibited in various parts of the Prison. The Clauses for prohibiting Spirituous Liquors are also conspicuously hung up in the Gaol; but, singularly enough, the Act for preserving the Health of Prisoners is placed in the Crown-Court of the Shire-Hall adjacent; and of course the Prisoners here have not a chance of ever seeing it.

Enquiry is made, on the discharge of every Prisoner; and, if not possessed of means of subsistence to his legal settlement, or if destitute of friends, he is supplied with money by the Gaoler, according to distance, or necessity; which is charged in his Bill at the General Quarter Sessions.

The Gaol-Delivery is once a year at Norwich, and once a year at Thetford; to which Gaol the Keeper of Norwich informed me he had removed forty-two Prisoners in 1805, when three more were sent from Wyndham, three from Aylsham, and four from Swaffham; making in all fifty two; who were confined for six nights in the dungeon and two cells of Thetford. At the Assizes in 1810, he sent from the Castle, 23; from Wyndham Bridewell, 2; from Swaffham Bridewell, 5; and one from the Bridewell of Walsingham: And the whole thirty-one were then confined in Thetford Dungeon and its two cells for six nights!

The following is an enumeration, and the annual average, of Prisoners of all descriptions in Norwich Castle Gaol, for nearly twelve years, from the commencement of 1799, to September 1810; viz.

Number of Debtors675.Average56.

In 1822-8, new accommodation was erected at the north of the site in the form of a detached radial building, its three wings arranged at 90 degrees to one another, like spokes around an octagonal central Keeper's house, though not directly connected to it. Additional buildings between the outer ends of the wings and at the south-east of the site formed three-quarters of an octagon. There were exercise yards between the cell blocks and outer buildings, all of which could be observed from windows in the Keeper's house. The Keeper could also view the day rooms on the ground floor of each cell block. A chapel on the upper floor of the Keeper's house was accessed by open first-floor walkways from each cell block. A corn-mill, powered by tread-mills was located next to the main entrance at the south-east of the site. The scheme was designed by William Wilkins. The layout of the buildings is shown on the 1907 map below:

Norwich Castle Prison site, 1907.

Norwich Prison / HMP Norwich, Norwich, c.1920.

The east and most of the north wing housed male felons, with a small section at the north of the north wing used for female felons. Male debtors were placed in the west wing and female debtors in one of the outer buildings between the north and west wings.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

The old prison, restricted to the walls of the ancient fortress, having been found insufficient for the increasing number of prisoners, the New Gaol adjoining it was-erected, in 1824, at the expense of 50,000l. It consists of a Keeper's house, of octagonal form, and three radiating wings. The Keeper's house contains:—

Basement.—Kitchen, wash-house, cellar, and store-room.

Ground Floor.—Office, two parlours, and committee room.

First Floor.—Two chambers.

Second Floor.—Two chambers.

The Chapel is situate between the first and second floors, and has nineteen divisions.

Dimensions of the cells, &c., in the New Prison.

Ground floor, 11 feet 2 inches high, 6 feet wide; 9 feet 4 inches long.

First floor, 8 feet high, 6 feet wide; 9 feet 4 inches long.

Second floor, 8 feet high, 6 feet wide; 9 feet 4 inches long.

Six radiating yards, 54 feet long, 33 feet wide, and 10 feet 4 inches narrow end.

Six diagonal yards, 31 feet long, 22 feet wide; and 10 feet narrow end.

Observations:—The choice of this site for the erection of the New Prison does not strike me as altogether a judicious one. The Old Prison, enclosed within the massive and lofty walls of the more ancient Castle, remains, obstructing the free circulation of air, and excluding the sun from the modern erections. The various buildings of the-New Gaol are too much crowded together, and the only space remaining between them and the exterior walls, is, upon an average, but 7 feet: much too little to secure the inmates from communication; and another inconvenience in the present arrangement is, that the Keeper has no inspection from his house of the Old Prison, which contains twenty-four cells, each 9 feet by 7 feet.

Diet.—Felons and misdemeanants, two pounds of bread daily; half a pound of cheese weekly.

Convicted felons, two and a half pounds of bread and a pint of milk daily, and half a pound of cheese weekly. Debtors, one pound of bread daily, and half a pound of cheese weekly.

The untried are allowed to purchase milk, radishes, and onions; and those convicted and sentenced to long imprisonment have the same indulgence as regards the two latter articles.

Observations:—The bread is contracted for at 2s. per score loaves, one pound each; the cheese is also contracted for at 6½d. per lb.: both of most excellent quality.

Debtors, in extreme cases, are allowed an additional half pound of bread.

Clothing.—Prison dress, according to the provisions of the Gaol Act. Observations:—The clothing is made up by the prisoners, the cloth being supplied by contract; the work thus performed by the prisoners is not carried to the account of prison earnings. The shoes are also made in the prison; they are supplied by contract, at the rate of 4s. a pair, the master shoemaker providing materials sufficient to keep the prisoners employed, and making an allowance for their labour, amounting, from October 1834 to October 1835, to 23l. 5s. 6d.

Fuel.—The debtors are allowed two bushels of coals weekly, all the year round, and the criminals one bushel and a half, weekly, to each fire.

Bedding.—One rush mat, two-blankets, and rug. Observations:—The bedsteads in the Old Prison are made of wood, three, prisoners sleeping occasionally in each; those in the New Prison, of cast iron Upon examining many of the cast iron bedsteads, I found a very considerable, oxidation on them, where the upper part of the human body usually reclined,, apparently the process of condensation on a cold surface. Upon removing the rush mats in the morning, the bedsteads are noticed in one spot, to be always covered with moisture. The Surgeon has frequently noticed it; he thinks it prejudicial, but has not traced any ill effects to result from it.

Prisoners, who are habituated to the prison, often take their mats from the bedsteads, and lay them upon the stone floor, finding it warmer.

Cleanliness.—The condition of the prison and prisoners,-with the exception, in some degree, of the debtors1 wards, is quite satisfactory on this head. The prisoners' linen is sent weekly to the prison at Wymondham, where it is washed by the females, to whom that establishment is solely appropriated. The linen of the greater proportion is washed by their friends.

Health.—There has been no epidemic within the prison the last year. The scurvy is the most prevailing disease. The Surgeon states, " It requires the greatest attention, and the diet is scarcely sufficient to keep it down, the proof of which is, from the cases which occasionally appear." He has not in the course of his private practice met with the scurvy, nor does he believe it to be prevalent beyond the walls. He attributes it to the lowness of diet, and to the confinement, in 1826 the scurvy assumed a very malignant form; not fewer than eighteen persons were violently attacked by it. It yielded to the usual remedies. He found great benefit to result from rubbing the skin with slices of lemon, which produced .absorption of the extravasated blood. The constant use of chloride of lime in all parts of the prison, particularly where the prisoners assemble, he considers very important towards checking the disease. He was many years Assistant Surgeon at the County Hospital, and never witnessed there any cases of scurvy.

Constipated bowels are very frequent in the prison, and the frequency of the occurrence leads him to suppose there is some prevalent cause. There are occasional cases of itch; and syphilis and gonorrhoea are very common.

There were two deaths last year, both of which were females, debtors, one from strangulated hernia, and the other from bowel complaint.

The infirmaries have boarded floors, with wooden bedsteads and fire-places; they are close to the warm and cold baths, and have every convenience which the situation of the patients, as prisoners, can permit. Nurses are provided from without the prison when required, and the Magistrates authorize the Surgeon to procure the advice of other practitioners when he considers it necessary. He, the Surgeon, has no experience of the effect of solitary confinement upon the bodily health. He does not see the whole of the prisoners weekly; but will, in future, make a point of doing so. He does not invariably attend corporal punishments. The entries in the Surgeon's Journal are only made weekly, unless in serious cases.

Observations:—Every suitable provision for the sick appears to be liberally granted by the Magistrates, and every requisite of skill and attention afforded by the Surgeon.

Moral and Religious Instruction.—The Chaplain reads prayers twice, and gives one sermon on Sundays; and is in the habit of paying a visit on that day to all the prisoners; particularly attending to those in the infirmaries. On week-days prayers are read at half-past nine; and after this duty is performed, he retires to the room set apart for him by the Magistrates, and receives the Schoolmaster's report of the conduct of the prisoners during the day preceding. He examines the prisoners who have come in, and before they are classed, and he states this to be the time when, previous to their intercourse with others, he finds he has the greatest influence over them. He is frequently occupied several hours in obtaining information from them, as to their former habits, connexions, and conduct. He then proceeds with those who are about to be discharged, and gives them suitable advice; arid, if they can read, accompanies it with the present of a Testament, Prayer Book, or Tracts. He then examines into the progress the different classes have made who are under, the Schoolmaster. The prisoners do not attend Chapel until examined by the Surgeon and classed by the Chaplain. Their con duct at Chapel is always respectful and proper; regular registers are kept of the attendance and absence of the prisoners, debtors included, who, if not present, are locked up in their cells during the time of Divine Service. Some of the debtors occasionally object to attend Chapel.

The Chaplain states, that under all the disadvantages, he still thinks the present system of prison discipline has somewhat of a deterring and reforming influence, but that it would be greatly advanced by,the imposition of silence and separation. The idle conversation held on the tread-wheels and in the day rooms, and the impossibility of its being prevented, is very injurious. The day rooms, from being less exposed to inspection than the tread-wheels, are more detrimental, and he Has reason to know that much of the good he might have done, has been counteracted by the bad advice given there. The impressions made by him have generally been upon individuals, not upon classes. He has not had sufficient experience to give a decided opinion upon the efficiency of solitary confinement, the construction of the prison rendering it difficult to impose this sentence in its full extent. Has no recollection of any prisoner sentenced to solitary confinement, suffering under depression of spirits so as to excite alarm, and cause a relaxation of its rigidity. Has found it necessary to class prisoners much earlier than he otherwise would do, from their state of mind. The two periods requiring particular attention, are upon committal and after sentence. Several cases of attempted and effected suicide have taken place in the prison at these times. In the cases which have come under his personal notice, he drew the attention of the Keeper and the Surgeon to them, and no accident occurred after such precaution.

He thinks the teaching the prisoners to read, greatly facilitates the inculcating of religious and moral principles. In no instance has he suffered them to learn to write, except as a stimulus to further improvement; he promises that they shall learn to write when they have got to a certain point in reading. There are only five slates in the prison; he does not conceive there is any benefit beyond the holding it out as an incitement. The slates have in some cases been made improper use of, but whenever this has been discovered, he has immediately taken them away.

Schoolmaster.—Under the direction of the Chaplain. He states that no prisoner is ever taken from his labour for the purposes of instruction; it is done in the intervals allowed for rest, in the day rooms and cells. He thinks there are many prisoners who seek to be taught for a good purpose, but there are others who resort to it merely for employment of time, and to relieve the tediousness of a prison. The prisoner in solitary confinement is always the first to ask for books. He is sure that it would tend much to reformation and improve the discipline of the prison, if the prisoners were confined apart and provided with hooks. Still the instruction now has a beneficial effect. He keeps a book for each class under his tuition, noting down their daily advancement, and a list of the books in their possession; likewise a journal of the disposal of his time, and how employed.

Observations:—The instruction of the prisoners is not altogether voluntary on their parts. When a prisoner refuses to be taught, he is removed from his class, and placed in close confinement in his own cell; but allowing him exercise. The Chaplain states this only to last two or three days before the individual is glad to get back to his class. It is done with the sanction of the Magistrates. The prisoners are cautioned, that if they do not make that use of the day rooms for which they were intended, they will be removed from them; that they are not for the purpose of idle communication and talk, and that those who do not choose to learn themselves, must not be there to disturb the others. I examined several of the prisoners who had been under the schoolmaster, and as far as reading fluently, and learning by rote, their proficiency was satisfactory; their spelling was much less so.

The books used in the process of instruction are wholly of a moral and religious tendency.

The Keeper in his examination states, that "there is a much greater anxiety among the prisoners to write than to read; for it gives them a facility in communicating with their friends." He found this to be the case when they had paper, and slates were substituted.

Classification.—The classification is generally according to Act of Parliament.

Observation:—This has been beneficially departed from in some instances, particularly by transferring the worst, and apparently irreclaimable, offenders to a class by themselves, and placing them, for greater security, within the Old Prison.

Labour.—The labour for prisoners consists of the tread-wheel, applied to the grinding of grist, and a crank wheel for the pumping of water.

The mill-house is situate on the right hand of the entrance, and the crank machine in its rear. The mill earnings, from October 1834 to October 1835> amounted to 54l. 9s. 6d.

Months Employed Number of Working Hours per Day Number of Prisoners the Wheel will hold at one time. Height of each Step. The ordinary Velocity of the Wheels per Minute. The ordinary Proportion of Prisoners on Wheels to the total number employed. Revolutions of the Wheel per Day. How recorded with precision. Application of its Power.
According with sentence. 8 or 10 as the season permits. 52. 12 rest men. 8 inches. Twice in 6 steps. Four wheels
17 in one.
17 in one.
13 in one.
5 in one.
480 per hour. No indication. Grinding corn and pumping water.
Months Employed Number of Working Hours per Day Number of Prisoners the Cranks will employ at one time in separate Apartments. The ordinary Velocity of the Cranks per Minute. How the Labour is apportioned to the Number and Strength of the Prisoners employed. Application of its Power.
According to sentence. 8 or 10, as the season permits. 1. Time is not kept. The prisoner works 25 minutes, and rests 5. By a balance. Pumping water, which discharges itself. Two pails will last nearly a month.

Observations:—From the tread-wheels being placed laterally in the sheds, instead of longitudinally, and from the want of sufficient space, there is no perfect inspection of the prisoners while at labour, and there is a want of ventilation, and the men in summer are described as suffering greatly from the intensity of the heat.

The Surgeon states, that he found it his duty to represent to the Magistrates the inconvenient situation of the tread-wheels, and further means of ventilation were essayed, but they are still ineffectual. The turnkey states that there are frequent complaints of illness from those on the wheels in summer time. The prisoners prefer labour to being locked up in their cells in winter. The tread-wheel is hard work in the summer; it is an alleviation to confinement in winter. Men in solitary confinement have frequently applied to be placed on the wheel. One individual, sentenced to three months' imprisonment for a misdemeanor, slipped out unperceived, and was found on the wheel, at work with the others. Misdemeanants sent for assaults, who are unable to support themselves, are also put upon the wheel for-half their time. Transports are placed upon the wheel; but, to preserve them in perfect health for embarkation, are only worked five or six hours a day. It appears from the statement of the task-master, that considerable disturbance and quarrelling takes place among the prisoners, as to who shall have the first place for working off, when they commence their labour in the morning. It would he very easy to remedy this, by making them take the same places on the wheel which they had upon quitting it the evening previous.

The crank-wheel is generally appropriated to prisoners under sentence for unnatural offences; it is in the same yard with the tread-wheels, but communication is prevented by the presence of the task-master. A prisoner is employed in the mill to assist the miller; he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment and hard labour. He is alone while in the interior of the mill: he eats his meals in the day-room, with his class: he is a man of most infamous character; has been transported for seven years; the magistrates wished him to be kept as separate as possible from the other prisoners. A wardsman is appointed to each class; his duty is to clean the cells; they are worse off than other prisoners in the gaol; but in the House of Correction it is of some advantage, as being a less monotonous employment than the wheel. The wardsmen are selected from the best behaved, but are frequently discharged for misconduct. The officers describe them as of no use in checking or reporting misbehaviour.

Offences and Punishments.—The usual offences are quarrelling, and talking Castle upon the tread-wheels, calling from the yards, and talking from the cells. County Gaol. The punishments are, locking up in the cells, permitting no intervals of rest from labour at the wheels, and diminishing the allowance of bread; whipping and irons, in very refractory cases.

Irons ordinarily used in conveying convicts5½lbs. weight
Made use of only occasionally9 ditto
For extraordinary refractory prisoners13 ditto

Scourge.—Handle of whalebone, 19 inches long; nine lashes of whipcord of ordinary thickness, each 16 inches long, with four or five knots in each.

Observations:—Whipping is inflicted by one of the turnkeys. Only three cases are recollected for refractory conduct in prison: they received from 12 to 15 lashes. The principal turnkey states that he is quite satisfied that the terror of it is of great assistance in the maintenance of prison discipline.

Visits and Letters.—Convicted prisoners are permitted to receive visitors only once in three calendar months; untried prisoners once a fortnight. The visitors are brought into a room, and the turnkey is present. It is understood that only near relations are permitted to visit. If the party after one visit with a Magistrate's order, is known to be what they describe themselves, they are not required to go a second time to a Magistrate for an order. In case of a prisoner being sick, the Magistrates relax the rules, and permit relations to visit oftener. Each debtor is allowed to have two visitors daily. A book is kept at the gate, wherein are inserted the names of the visitors to persons under criminal charges.

The writing of letters, excepting those of the debtors, is at the discretion of the Keeper. Every sheet of letter paper given to the prisoners for this purpose has the following memorandum printed on its margin:—

"Persons writing to prisoners in Norwich Castle are to take notice, that the permission to write and receive letters, is not given to prisoners for the purpose of hearing the news of the day, or of other matters with which they can have no concern: much less are they allowed to give or receive any improper advice or hints, or to use or receive any unbecoming language.

"It is therefore expected that their correspondents will not offend against the rules of the prison in these respects. As all letters sent into the gaol are read by the Keeper, they ought not to be of unnecessary length; and as the cost of them is charged to the prisoner's account, they should not, for their sakes, be very frequent."

Benefactions.—The prisoners are allowed a dinner at Christmas, at the expense of the County. Nine pounds a year were left by a Mr. Norris, at the disposal of the Chaplain, to be laid out in books, or in sundry small sums to well-conducted prisoners on their discharge. A rent charge of five shillings is paid annually by the Churchwardens of St. Stephen's parish, for the use of the prisoners, and the Chaplain has also received, for some years past, a donation of one pound from the widow of his predecessor in office, which sums are carried to the credit of the same account, with a similar appropriation.

Observations:—The Chaplain keeps a regular debtor and creditor account of these monies. There is at the present time a credit of 8l. 15s. in favour of the fund, but a considerable portion of it is on the eve of being applied to the purchase of a stock of books.

Accounts, Expenditure, Prison Books.—No accounts of the expenditure are kept in the prison; the contracts are made by the Magistrates, the bills audited by them, and paid by the County Treasurer, without the intervention of the Keeper, whose bills for salaries and sundries are sent in and paid in the same way.

In 1834-5, the average number of prisoners was 144. The Average cost for maintenance, per head, was 5l. 12s. 8½d.

Debtors.—The debtors are not allowed to bring their own bedding into the prison, those who can afford to pay for it, hire it of the Keeper. In addition to articles of food, they are allowed to have a quart of beer brought in daily. They have a collection among themselves, of about a penny a week each, to provide candles and soap. As soon as it is dark the exterior door of their day-room is locked, and at ten o'clock the lights are put out, and they are locked into their cells: they sleep two in a bed! The greater number come in to take the benefit of the Insolvent Act.

Observations:—The Debtors' Ward is by far the least cleanly part of the prison. The officers of the prison agree without exception, as to the trouble and difficulty of managing this class of prisoners. The turnkey, who has the charge of them, says they are very dirty and noisy. It is impossible to get them to clean the yards and rooms. They are locked in their bed-rooms if they do not attend Chapel; and he thinks this is the only reason of their attendance. The Keeper says, the condition of debtors is much altered now from what it was; formerly they came to avoid payment of their debts, ami spent>their money upon luxuries; but now they are, in many instances, quite destitute, and are from necessity supplied with the prison bedding and food.

General Discipline.—The system of prison discipline enforced among the prisoners is not sufficiently rigid, as may be inferred from the evidence of the various officers.

The Schoolmaster states that, with the untried, the conversation is of a very low order. They are constantly bartering their provisions with each other; is quite sure that the onions and radishes purchased By the prisoners, or supplied by their friends, would be much better done away with. The men who do not eat their whole allowance of bread, accumulate it and then exchange it for milk and other articles. The prisoners can communicate with each other, and do so all round the prison. The greater number of them have their linen washed out of the prison, and occasionally they correspond by this channel.

They make use of coal and the lead from the bedsteads for pencils. One of the turnkeys says, that the conversation of the prisoners is very frequently upon their own criminal exploits; and they sometimes amuse themselves with mock trials, and pass sentences upon each other for the very offences under which they stand committed to prison. They frequently speculate upon the quantum of punishment that will be awarded to them, and the chances of acquittal.

He frequently hears them talking, and trying to communicate from their cells as early as four or five in the morning. It is quite a treat for them to get a new man into a class; they get all the news out of him.

Thinks it would be better the men should dine together; the closets in the day rooms where their provisions are kept are now locked, to prevent the prisoners from robbing each other.

Tobacco is frequently attempted to be got in; only last Saturday, detected it between the soles of a pair of shoes.

When a prisoner is about to be discharged, the others always contrive to put the man going out in possession of their wants. A few days ago he caught a prisoner telling another to call upon his brother and tell him to send him money and tobacco, and not to fret about him, for he should do no hurt. Both parties were punished by locking up, and the stoppage of half a meal. The other prisoners generally entice the wardsmen into the commission of some prison offence, that they may have them in their power.

Another turnkey states, that the bread, being served out in the morning to each prisoner, occasions frequent quarrelling, in consequence of the bartering and stealing which takes place among them. The conversation of the prisoners is generally very bad. The prisoners in the House of Correction call to the men in the Receiving Cells, and obtain intelligence this way: one was detected during the Inspector's visit.

As soon as a fresh man comes into a class, all seem interested, and flock around him, asking him all sorts of questions, both as to himself and others out of the prison. Messages are sent by discharged prisoners, detailing to their friends the most likely way of escaping detection, in sending them tobacco and money. He has detected letters and money in the clean linen, inserted in the wristbands and the double parts of the shirts. As careful as the officers can be in their examination, they must sometimes succeed, which is apparent from the frequency of their attempts. A large number of persons are assembled on a Saturday at the prison gate, bringing and taking away the prisoners' linen. The examination of it occupies the officers from ten till four o'clock. The prisoners wake very early, which is the time they talk together.

Observations:—The want of any regularity in the prisoners' taking their meals, is the source of much disorder in the prison. There is a great deal of trucking and selling of provisions going on; and if each prisoner's allowance was divided and placed before him at regular periods, and the broken fragments taken away, it would remedy the inconvenience. There are closets in every day room, which are the depositories of unconsumed victuals; they are uncleanly, and are obliged to be kept locked to prevent robbery. If the onions and radishes are necessary to the prisoners' health, they certainly ought to be supplied by the County; the permission for prisoners to purchase these articles, who happen to have money, perhaps the proceeds of their plunder, is establishing an unjust inequality between those parallel in crimes. It moreover excites the cupidity of the prisoners who are destitute.

Officers of the Prison.—Keeper: sixty-nine years of age; appointed in 1797. Salary, 500l. per annum, and coals and candles. His other emolument is from providing the debtors with rooms, furniture, and bedding. The Magistrates fix the price, which varies, according to the accommodation, from 1s. 6d. to 4s. per week.

Observation:—The Keeper states that the expense attending executions falls upon him.

The fee paid to the person from London is 12l. 12s. and the clothes, and he has had to pay upwards of six hundred pounds in this way since he held office.

Chaplain.—Sixty-one years of age; appointed January 1825. Salary, 300l. per annum.

Observations:—He is also perpetual curate of the parish of St. Andrew’s, Norwich, contiguous to the chapel; he employs a curate, who resides in the parish, and who, with the approval of the Magistrates, in case of the Chaplain’s being ill, does his duty in the prison.

One sermon on a Sunday is the duty required of him in his parish church.

Surgeon.—Fifty-three years of age. Salary, including medicines, 120l. per annum. Formerly attached to the medical department in the Navy; has served at the various establishments of Haslar, Plymouth, Forton, &c.

Porter and First Turnkey.—Sixty-five years of age; married; two children; a woolcomber by trade; appointed July 1806. Salary, 65l. per annum.

His family have the two small exterior lodges to reside in. Sleeps in the prison, adjoining the Keeper's house, and is always present there, except from five to seven in the evening. Has charge of the gate.

Second Turnkey.—Thirty-four years of age; married; four children; formerly in service; appointed in 1821. Salary, 54l. 12s. per annum. Sleeps in the prison, but takes his meals out, except his dinner, which is sent to him. He is in charge of the untried prisoners and the sick. Is present at all visits to prisoners, excepting debtors, and looks after the linen and clothing.

Third Turnkey.—Forty-three years of age; married; four children; formerly in service; appointed Oct. 1830. Salary, 52l. per annum. Has his dinner sent into the prison, but takes his other meals out. Has charge of the debtors.

Fourth Turnkey.—Twenty-eight years of age; married; five children; shoemaker by trade; appointed 1833. Salary, 42l. 10s. Turnkey to the House of Correction, and has charge of the prisoners in the Old Castle, where he sleeps.

Schoolmaster.—Thirty-eight years of age; married; three children; carpenter and joiner by trade; appointed 18 January 1825. Resides out of prison. He is the son of the porter and principal turnkey; he was educated at the Norwich National School. Salary, 54l. 12s.

Taskmaster.—Thirty-eight years of age; married; four children; formerly waiter at a hotel; appointed 1828. Salary, 52l. per annum. Resides and takes his meals out of prison.

Miller.—Fifty-seven years of age; married; one child; lately appointed. Salary, 52l. per annum. Attends to the mill, and does the duty of turnkey, in their occasional absences during meals.

General Observations:—The defects in this establishment, with trifling exceptions, result much more from the inconvenient construction and arrangement of the buildings, and the general imperfection of the present system of prison discipline, than from the want of liberality and attention in those upon whom has fallen the power of supervision, or from any neglect or failing in those entrusted with the governance.

Following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878, the prison became known as Her Majesty's prison, Nottingham. In 1887, the establishment was relocated to a new building on Knox Road, Mousehold Heath. The castle site was then converted to a museum, with alterations including the removal of the cell block inside the keep.


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.

  • Norfolk Record Office, The Archive Centre, Martineau Lane, Norwich NR1 2DQ. Holdings include: Nominal registers of prisoners (1879-87); Indexes to nominal registers of prisoners (1879-98); Return of prisoners removed from Norwich Castle to other prisons before trial (1836-7); Additional records, including annual returns of prisoners conveyed to Norwich Castle (1881-1931); Registers of Officers (1882-1906).
  • 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.