Ancestry UK

City Gaol, Norwich, Norfolk

From 1412, a prison operated in two dungeons beneath Norwich's Town Hall on Guildhall Hill. In 1597, a new City Gaol was opened opposite the Guildhall, on the site of the former Lamb Inn. The old dungeons continued in use until at least 1771, however.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

GAOLER, Benjamin Fakenham, now his Widow.

Salary, none: she pays the sheriffs £40 a year.

Fees, Debtors, £0 : 6 : 8.
 Felons, 0 : 13 : 4

Transports,  5 : 5 : 0 each.

Licence, Beer and Wine.


Allowance, Debtors and Felons, a two-penny loaf each: in 1776, it was reduced to a penny loaf; in 1779, 12oz. of bread; in 1782, 14oz.

Garnish, £0 : 1 : 0.


Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors.Felons &c.
1774, Feb. 1,52,7.1776, Nov. 17,11,10.
1774, Dec. 10,17,5.1779, March 31,19,5.
1776, Feb. 5,31,17.1782, July 6,16,5.

CHAPLAIN, Rev. Mr. Buckle.

Duty, Prayers, once a fortnight; sermon one Tuesday in a month.

Salary, £20.

SURGEON, Mr. Matchett, now Mr. Keymer.

Salary, £5 : 5 : 0 for debtors and felons.

Only one court. Many rooms for master's-side debtors. One room for common-side debtors, who are freemen. There is none for those who are not free, but the felons day-room; which is a damp room under the other, and down 13 steps: in this I found in 1782, one or two court of conscience debtors. The felons dungeons, Norwich or night-rooms, are down eleven steps; one of them quite dark; the other almost so, The women's dungeon down ten steps, has a fire-place: but at my late visits they had another night-room, about 10½ feet by 5½, and but 5 feet high. Straw was only £1 : 1 : 0 a year, but now £1 : 10 : 0.—Coals two chaldron. The keeper's stable adjoining to the last room, would make the women a good day-room; for there is no proper separation, which is peculiarly necessary in those places where the assize is but once a year. The act for preserving the health of prisoners not hung up.

In 1779 there were many alterations. The court paved; and some old sheds, that were in it, taken down. Three night rooms or cells for felons, about three feet below the ground, eight feet square, planked all over. A bath, but not convenient: and over it two rooms for debtors. Over them two airy rooms for the sick (each 22 feet by 16, and near 12 feet high), with iron bedsteads, and bedding.

Gaol-delivery once a year: three prisoners were confined from eight to ten months before their trial; as two were committed November 6, 1778, and one woman August 22, 1778.

£. S. D.
For the commitment or coming into gaol of any prisoner for debt0  :  3  :  4
For chamber-rent where the gaoler finds bedding and linnen where a prisoner has a bed to himself or herself, by the week0  :  1  :  0
Where there are two in a bed not exceeding by the week each0  :  0  :  9
Where there are three in a bed not exceeding by the week each0  :  0  :  8
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  :  3  :  4

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, Edward Sharpe. Salary, 100. and 25l. per annum for a Turnkey.

Fees, for Debtors; see Table. For Felons, 13s. 4d. paid by the City. For the Conveyance of Transports, the Expence.

Garnish prohibited: But Debtors sometimes pay a gallon of beer on their entrance, which is called "The Welcome Pitcher;" and Felons, at coming in, a bushel of coals.

Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Millard. Salary, 30l.

Duty, Prayers and Sermon every other Sunday, alternately, here, and at the Bridewell.

Surgeon, Mr. Keymer. Salary, Eight Guineas, for Debtors and Felons.

Number of Prisoners. Debtors. Felons, & c.

Debtors.Felons &c.
1800, March 28th,64
1805, Sept. 4th,73
1810, Sept. 7th,43
And one Lunatick.

Allowance, to Debtors, one pound and half of best wheaten bread; and to Felons, two pounds, sent in loaves from the Baker's; which I tried, and found them to be of full weight.


So long since as 1407, a New Guildhall of this City was built; the arches under which, being destined for Prisoners, are 45 steps down from the entrance door, and were occupied in 1412.

The lower dungeon is about 36 feet by 21, furnished with barrack bedsteads, and strong iron rings, to which Prisoners were chained at night: The floor is of earth, and there is a sewer in it at one end. The upper dungeon is about 12 feet by 6, and has an iron grating toward the street; to which the Prisoners come for fresh air, and to solicit charity.

In 1597 an order was made, that these dungeons should cease to be used as Prisons after the 20th of October then next following; and that the Common Gaol should be kept in the house called The Lamb. This, at that period, was an Inn, and upon the site of it the City Gaol now stands. Notwithstanding the above order, however, it appears that the dungeons in question were used even so late as in the year 1701; a Prisoner, named Plum, having been confined there, until taken out for execution.

This City Gaol is erected opposite the Guildhall. The Gaoler's house fronts the street, and his back windows command a full view of every court-yard. The gravel-walk and garden are now made into a court-yard, a day-room, and three sleeping-cells, for Prisoners before trial, which alteration reduces the size of the Debtors' court to 50 feet by 15. Here is a pump; and it is paved with pebbles, and separated from the court of the Female Felons by open palisades only.

Master's-Side Debtors have twelve good-sized airy rooms, ten of which have fire places; and these are furnished by the Keeper with beds and bedding, at from two to five shillings per week: the price of each room is painted on the door. Here are also two spacious and well-ventilated infirmary rooms, of 22 feet by 17 each, and 11 feet 8 inches high; with fire-places and glazed windows, iron bedsteads, and bedding.

Common-Side Debtors had heretofore a room, or, more properly speaking, a cellar, ten steps below their court-yard, of 17 feet by 13 feet 6 inches, and 7 feet high. It was lighted and ventilated by a small iron-grated window, of 24 inches by 22, with straw laid on the damp brick-floor.

This room, or cellar, has since been humanely discontinued; and over it the Common-Side Debtors have now a good day-room, of 20 feet by 14, and 8 feet high. Also above it are a comfortable lodging-room, 19 feet by 14, and 8 feet 9 inches high; and a third room, 22 feet by 8½ high, with glazed-windows. The three last-mentioned rooms are all Free-Wards, in case the Debtor brings his own bed: But if the Keeper furnishes one, he is paid 1s. 6d. per week for a single bed; and if two sleep together, one shilling each.

Female Debtors have a sleeping-room up stairs, of 24 feet by 13; with a fire place, and very large glazed window, looking into the court-yard, which is common to all.

Painted on a Board, and hung up in this Gaol, is the following

To be taken by the Gaoler, as settled by order of the Justices at the Quarter Sessions, held the 15th day of January, 1790, and confirmed and allowed by Lord Loughborough, and Sir William Henry Ashurst, two of His Majesty's Judges.
s. d.
For the Commitment, or coming into Gaol of any Prisoner for Debt3  4.
For the Discharge of those in Execution3  5.
For the Discharge of those upon Outlawry3  4.
For the Discharge of those committed on Common Process3  0.

The Old Chapel, which was a room in front of the street, is now (1810) conveniently fitted up,and converted into a dwelling-house for the Keeper; and a New Chapel has been made at the upper-end of the court-yard, over a room called Potter's Cellar: it is 27 feet by 15, and 11 feet 8 inches high.

Prisoners before trial have a court-yard, 33 feet by 23; a day-room, 13 feet by 12, with a fire-place and glazed window; and three sleeping-cells, of g feet 6, by 7 feet 6, and 9 feet high, lighted and ventilated through the perforations of a cast iron plate, 26 inches by 24. These cells have boarded floors, iron bedsteads, straw in-sacking beds, two blankets, and a coverlet.

An open wood palisade separates the above court-yard from that of the Male Felons after conviction; which is about the same size, and has three sleeping-cells, about 8 feet square, and planked all over, to which the descent is by three steps below the ground: They are furnished similar to those already described, except that they have double doors; the outer one of wood, the inner, iron-grated; together with a double iron-grating as a window, of 21 inches by 18. At my visit, in 1805, a close wire-work was placed over this small window, and thereby light and ventilation were so excluded, that when the doors were shut, it was almost impenetrable obscurity, and inspired the gloomiest horror. These now, (in 1810,) are greatly improved by the Magistrates having humanely ordered the wire-work to be taken away. Near the above cells is a day-room, of 13 feet 6 by 11 feet, and 7 feet high, with a glazed window and fire-place. The sewers in both court-yards are conveniently placed, and water is laid on.

Male Felons were formerly confined in two dungeons, that go down eleven steps: one of these, 12 feet by 10, and 8 feet high, has a boarded floor, and is called "The Nine-Foot Hole;" the other, called Clay-Hole, from its having an earthen floor, is nearly of the same size; and both of them are sadly deprived of light and ventilation. From a very careful examination, I have reason to believe that these have not been occupied for many years: However, upon expressing my wishes to preclude the possibility, the Magistrates in 1810 assured me, that they should be inaccessibly bricked up.

Female Felons, heretofore, had a large dungeon, 38 feet long by 16 feet wide, and 9 feet four inches high, with a flagged-floor and fire-place, which I have already noticed as being named Potter's Cellar; and to which the descent is by twelve steps below the court-yard; also a sleeping-room, justly called "Little Ease," being 10 feet long, 5 feet 6 inches wide, and only 4 feet 2 inches high! with a small iron-grated window, of 15 inches square. Straw is now (1810) deposited in the former, and the latter is entirely done away. The Female Felons at present have a large day-room, with a fire-place and glazed window; adjoining to it is a comfortable sleeping-room, of 14 feet by 5 feet 6 inches, and 8 feet high, with bedding the same as the Men; and the doors of both these rooms open into the court-yard.

On my inspecting this Prison in 1805, the large room over the Potter's Cellar, (where straw for the Prisoners was deposited) seemed to me well calculated for a New Chapel, in which the sexes might be distinctly seated during Divine Service: And I have since had the satisfaction to see that my idea has been candidly adopted; so as at once to avoid the noise and inconvenience of the former place assigned for that sacred purpose, and to answer those ends of devotion, decency, and decorum, which are peculiarly suitable to a House of Prayer.

The Rules and Orders of the Prison are now very properly and conspicuously hung up in this more commodious Chapel.

Convicts, under sentence of Transportation, have not here the King's Allowance of 2s.6d. per week. But Prisoners, when discharged, have money given them, according to their distance from home.

The City allows the Debtors and Felons of this Gaol two chaldrons of coal yearly; which are issued to them on the 20th of November, and 20th of January.

A begging-box is sent round the town to solicit Donations for their benefit, which averages about one shilling per day; and also a basket to receive broken victuals. The person employed for this purpose is a Pauper from the Workhouse; who has one penny out of every shilling so collected, and also one shilling per week from the City.

Ten shillings are annually paid on New Year's Day, as the Legacy of Mr. Blackhead, of which a written Memorial is duly kept in the Gaol. The like sum is annually given by the Corporation, on the 29th May, 4th June, 220 September, 25th October, and 5th November; and also nine-pence to each Prisoner upon the Saturday before Shrove-tide, Easter, Whitsuntide, and Christmas. Every New Year's Day five shillings are paid by the parish of St. Stephen; and the same on the 10th of May, by the parish of St. John Sepulchre. The latter had been discontinued for more than twenty-one years; and both seem to be the Legacy of Mrs. Kempe. See Remarks on Norwich Castle.

Here is an excellent cold and warm bath, and a wash-house, with coppers, &c. The Act and Clauses are conspicuously hung up, and the Prison is kept clean.

In 1826, the prison moved to new premises at the end of Upper St Giles' Street, between what are now Unthank Road and Earlham Road. In 1828, the Norwich City Bridewell moved to part of the same site. The joint establishment was described in a report in 1832:

This new prison is now occupied. It contains eight classes in the gaol, and six classes in the house of correction. There are 114 sleeping-cells. The tread wheel labour has been introduced and its constant application is stated to have been productive of the most beneficial effects, both as to the conduct of the prisoners whilst confined in the gaol, as well as to their moral improvement after their discharge. Every debtor and other prisoner, not at hard labour, is allowed 14 lb. of white bread daily. Prisoners sentenced to hard labour for less than three months receive 2lbs. of bread daily; and those sentenced for longer periods receive 2½lbs. of bread, and one penny per day for milk.

Divine service is performed twice on Sundays. The chaplain frequently visits the prison, and provides every class with religious and instructive books.

By 1837, the two establishments were formally merged. In that year, The Inspectors of Prisons reported:

In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This prison is very conveniently placed in a healthy spot, detached from other buildings, yet almost adjoining the city. It was erected in 1826, at an expense of about 25,000l.

The boundary wall is quadrangular, and has the appearance of bastions, the angles being cut off or squared at their junction. Its circumference is 1,220 feet, and it encloses 1 A. 2 R. 34 P.

The principal front and gateway presents a massive and appropriate architectural elevation. The lodges on either side the entrance contain accommodation for turnkeys, searching room, hot and cold water baths, and reception cells. The disposition of the interior is a centre, with four detached radiating wings. The central building contains the Keeper's dwelling and the chapel; it comprises a basement, with kitchen, store-rooms and domestic offices. First floor, magistrates' room, two parlours, and office. Second floor, two chambers, and chapel, with fourteen divisions, for as many classes. Upper story, two chambers.

The sleeping cells for the prisoners are 8 feet 10 inches long; 6 feet wide; 8 feet 10 inches high. Four square towers or attics are raised at the extremity of each radiating wing, containing four cells each, for the reception of prisoners sentenced to solitary confinement. The floors of the cells are of stone, the doors of iron, and the light and air are admitted to them by wooden shutters which have three panes of glass.

Observations:—The prison is altogether well ventilated, the drainage effective, and quite free from any danger of accident by fire; its divisional arrangements are convenient, and from the balcony which runs round the Keeper's dwelling, a sufficiently commanding view of the whole prison is obtained.

In order to bring the tread-wheels and infirmaries under this inspection, some disadvantages were incurred; three of the yards and day-rooms are sunk 3 feet beneath the general level of the prison buildings; and they are almost uninhabitable from smoke whenever they have fires, and there is an appearance also of damp.

The construction of the cells, as in other prisons, affords no obstacle to the prisoners, while confined in them, communicating to each other.

The infirmaries are detached.

Dietary: Gaol.—Felons and misdemeanants, 2lbs. of wheaten bread daily. Debtors who cannot support themselves, i£lb. of bread daily.

Dietary: House of Correction, for any term, not hard labour, 1½ lb. of bread' daily; for three months, and hard labour, 2½ lbs, daily; for less than three months, hard labour 2 lbs. daily.

There is a regulation for which I am unable to find any satisfactory explanation, that every prisoner convicted at the Assizes or Quarter Sessions, however short their confinement, receives a pint of milk daily; while the prisoners under summary conviction, however long their term of imprisonment, are not allowed it. The bread is advertised for, and supplied by contracts half yearly. The present rate, by the score loaves, weighing 2 £lbs. each, at 4s. 5d.; 2 lbs. each, at 3s. 6½.; and 1½ lb. each, at 2s. 8½d. per score.

The prisoners on summary conviction are permitted, if they have the means, to purchase milk; and the untried receive their provisions, consisting of meat, &c. from their friends three times a week, and may have half-a-pint of beer daily. Debtors a quart of beer daily.

Clothing.—Prison dress of partycoloured woollen. The whole of the convicted prisoners, without distinction, wear the partycoloured dress, contrary to the provisions of the Gaol Act. Fuel.-—A bushel of coals is allowed for each day room, from the 1st of October, to the 1st of April.

Bedding.—Sedge mat, two blankets, and rug; the bedsteads are of iron, very massive, and the same oxidation on their surface is observable here as at the Castle.

Cleanliness.—The prison and prisoners clean. The only exception to the general cleanliness of the prison, is the cupboards in each day room, which are made the receptacles for an accumulation of broken provisions, and were in a filthy state at the period of inspection.

Health.—The Surgeon states, the prisoners are generally healthy. Occasionally symptomatic cases of scurvy occur.

There are two with incipient symptoms at present; it is attributable to the diet. It yields immediately to treatment. He sees every prisoner before he is classed. Has observed the oxidation of the iron on the bedsteads, which he attributes to there not being a sufficient number of perforations on the surface of the iron.

Moral and Religious Instructions.—The Chaplain performs two services on Sundays. He attends every Friday, and visits those sentenced to solitary confinement in their cells, and when any prisoners are dangerously ill, lie visits them daily. He also sees, on the Fridays, those who have been committed since his last visit, and examines them as to their former course of life and their degrees of knowledge. When there are boys, he puts them into a class and teaches them to read. He never attempts the instruction of adult prisoners. They ask for books and tracts, but generally for the purposes of communication which has been carried on by these means, and discovered. They often ask him for Village Dialogues, by the Rev. Rowland Hill, and such tracts as have a tendency to lighten the hours of imprisonment: books and tracts are admitted into the prison without his sanction. In some cases he has objected to certain of them, and prevented their distribution. Conceives his ministry would be much benefited by separation; for the intercourse the prisoners have with each other renders them worse than when they come in. Has found prisoners, after all their promises and expressions of good intentions and future conduct, generally relapse into crime. The debtors do not all attend Divine Service, but a majority do. Keeps a journal of his attendance and duties, but no character book.

Several charitable ladies visit the female prisoners during the week.

Classification.—As prescribed in the Gaol Act.

Labour.—The tread-wheel.

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. Number of Feet in Ascent per Day as per Hours of Employ­ment. Revolutions of the Wheel per Day. The daily Amount of Labour to be performed by every Prisoner. How recorded with precision. Application of its Power.
Throughout the Year. 10, the number decreas­ing with day's length. 16 The velocity, &c. of the wheel cannot be accurately given, as it does not work with any regularity. Raising water for the use of the prison.

There is no possibility of obtaining grist from the public to make the mill profitable. The taskmaster says, "the mill is not regarded as a heavy punishment; when I am not present, they stand and talk, and play all sorts of tricks." Many of the prisoners not sentenced to hard labour, beg to be allowed to go on the wheel, but are not permitted. There are wardsmen appointed, who receive an extra allowance of bread; and a prisoner, a felon, is employed about the Keeper's house, cleaning shoes, knives, &c., and has the run of the prison during the day. The females are employed in washing and mending the prisoners' clothes.

Punishments.—The usual punishment for prison offences is solitary confinement. The general offences are, fighting on the wheel, communicating with the other yards, &c. Upon examination, I discovered that the Keeper had, in a late instance, exceeded his authority, by inflicting a slight corporal punishment on one of the prisoners, without the sanction or knowledge of the Magistrates: on my reporting it to them the matter was directly inquired into.

Scourge: Handle whalebone, 2 feet and hall an inch long; with nine lashes of common whipcord, 2 feet long, with three single knots in each.

Irons used in conveying convicts, 61bs.; prisoners to sessions, 4lbs; 2oz.

Visits and Letters.—Untried prisoners are permitted to receive visits on Mondays; the convicted once every other week. No order from a Magistrate is required. There is no place in the prison specially set apart for this purpose. Letters going out, or coming in, are inspected.

Accounts, Expenditure, Books.—The Magistrates appoint the tradesmen who supply articles to the prison. The town treasurer, after the bills are allowed by the Magistrates, draws separate checks for them, and gives them to the Keeper, who pays them to the individuals.

General Discipline.—The discipline maintained is not of a very rigid character: communication between the prisoners male and female in their separate classes, and with persons beyond the walls, appears to take place to a considerable extent. Letters, tobacco and money are frequently attempted to be sent in along with the prisoners' linen. The prisoners sentenced to solitary confinement talk to each other in their cells. One of the turnkeys, however, says, that solitary confinement has a considerable effect; that those sentenced to it look upon Sunday, from their attending Divine Service, as the least solitary day; they are always glad when Sundays come. When the Clergyman visited them last, he made three or four of them cry, and if he was able to see them oftener than once a week, he thinks it would do good. He often finds them at their books in the day time.

The Matron describes the females as generally of a very abandoned class, and filthy in their habits. The are always anxious to be employed, in washing and mending, or in cleaning about the Keeper's house, which is occasionally permitted. She is certain they find the employment a great alleviation of confinement. Separate confinement, she thinks, would be of the greatest service, but she has noticed considerable depression in some young girls, and in timid women; the effect might be injurious without reading or other employment. The longest period of solitary confinement she has known has been one month; but it was not positively solitary, for communication can take place from one cell to another. The punishments for it have been very frequent, and if checked in the day time, they evade detection by talking at night.

Night charges, vagrants, and disorderlies are lodged here by the constables; and instances have occurred when they have been most irregularly left for four or five days, and the Keeper has been obliged to apply to the magistrates as to their disposal.

Debtors.— Three shillings a week is charged to debtors if they have a room to themselves; if two together, five shillings, with one set of bedding. If accommodated with a bed and sitting-room, linen, and coals, one guinea a week is charged.

The debtors are permitted to see two visitors at a time, except those from the Court of Requests, who are restricted to one. The debtors are dirty in their persons, and occasionally noisy.

Keeper.—Aged 37 years; appointed 1&22; succeeded his father: gives a bond of 6,000l. to the Sheriff, who has the power of appointing the Keeper of the Gaol, and the Mayor and Magistrates that of the House of Correction. Salary, 100l. per annum.

He likewise receives the following fees in addition to his salary:

s.  d.
For every prisoner committed during the day 1  2
Ditto ditto during the night 3  2
For each debtor committed 3  4
Ditto ditto discharged 3  5
Ditto misdemeanor or felon committed13  4

Chaplain.—Appointed 1800. He states there is a house adjoining St. Helen's Hospital, left by will to the Chaplain of the Gaol; and his appointment notifies that his salary is in lieu of all claim thereon. Is the Incumbent of St. Giles's, Norwich, where he employs a curate; also a minor canon of the cathedral. Resides adjacent to the prison. Salary, 100l. per annum.

Surgeon.—Appointed 1791. Salary, 50l. for attendance and medicines.

First Turnkey.—Age 29; appointed 9 July 1835; single; shoemaker. Salary, 27l. 10s.; ½lb. of bread daily.

Second Turnkey.—Age 25; appointed 25 January 1835; gardener. Salary, 27l. 10s.

Third Turnkey.—Age 23; appointed 18 October 1835; formerly servant in a lunatic asylum. Salary, 27l. 10s.

Matron.—Wife of the Keeper. Salary, 25l. a year.

The turnkeys sleep and eat their meals in the prison.

The prison closed in 1878 and the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist was subsequently erected on the site.


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  • Norfolk Record Office, The Archive Centre, Martineau Lane, Norwich NR1 2DQ. Holdings include: Sessional returns of prisoners (1702-1833); Copies of writs issued by Norwich Sheriff and Gaol delivery sentences (1834-5).
  • 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.


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