Ancestry UK

Borough Gaol, Oswestry, Shropshire

In 1782, a new town clerk's office, with a Borough Gaol beneath it, was erected at Bailey Head, Oswestry.

In 1818, the accommodation comprised two rooms holding up to eight inmates in total. The rooms were furnished with a long wooden frame, like barrack bedsteads raised above the floor,with straw mattresses and rugs; when this accommodation proved inadequate, persons in custody were lodged at the houses of the Constable or Gaoler. Felons seldom remained here for more than one night before their conveyance to the County Gaol at Shrewsbury.

The keeper received an allowance of 4d per day for felons, and 5d. per day for others, for food only. No money or clothing was allowed to the prisoners.

In about 1820, a yard was enclosed adjoining the prison to accommodate the prisoners in the daytime.

In 1826, the gaol moved to occupy part of the new Powis Market Hall building at Bailey Head, the front part of which had previously been the town's old Guildhall. Its construction cost about £300, partly defrayed by the county, on condition of their having the use of it as a lock-up house. It contained four lock-up cells, and two yards, but no employment was carried on.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

Although formerly used as a borough gaol, this small building appears destined in future to serve a more appropriate purpose, that of a lock-up house, under the control of the county magistrates. Prisoners were formerly detained here so long as eleven weeks, five weeks, or a month. It is not secure. The keeper receives the humble salary of 8s. weekly. He has been here about six years. His wife is not called matron, nor paid as such. He has no allowance of coals nor candles; in the winter, when a prisoner happens to be here, 1s. a-week is given for coals.

There are two yards; each yard contains two cells, and each yard has also a privy. The gaoler's apartment is in the centre. There is no pump. For the diet of each prisoner 4d. a-day is allowed. The gaoler buys what they desire. The allowance was formerly 5d. daily. No soap is provided for the prisoners; nor are any brushes nor mops furnished. For the washing of the bedding 8s. is annually given to the gaoler's wife. One prisoner was here on the day of my visit. During the year 1834, 24 prisoners were admitted here from the county, and 14 from the town. During the first seven months of the year 1836 no prisoner was admitted here; only some disorderly night charges occurred. There are two registers, one for the town, the other for the county. There are two sets of bedding. There is no chaplain nor surgeon, and no chapel. There has been no death for six years; three escapes have been made during that time.

The Inspectors report in 1840, painted a sorry picture of the establishment:

The whole is at present in a most neglected condition. The salary of the keeper was formerly 8s. a-week, but he affirms that he has not received even this pittance for the last eleven weeks previous to my visit. He has been nine years keeper of this gaol or lock-up house. He has also lost the benefit of conveying prisoners to the county gaol at Shrewsbury, which is now done by the new police. The reason assigned for the non-payment of the salary is, according to his own statement, that the town council cannot afford to pay it. There has been no whitewashing done here for some years; and there has been no proper allowance made to the keeper for coals, soap, and brushes, for the last two years. The bed-clothes are nearly worn out. No Divine service has been performed here during the last three years. I understand that the town council have applied to the county magistrates for assistance in supporting the gaol, and that the reply has been that assistance would be afforded if the town council would place the building in good repair. The town council have entertained an intention of applying for a grant of quarter sessions; but if they obtain this permission, and make use of the present building as a prison, it would be necessary for them to make large additions to it, as well as to engage a chaplain, and generally to incur a very different scale of prison expenditure. At present it is only fit for a lock-up house. From September 20th, 1837, to September 20th, 1839, 100 prisoners had been received from the county and town altogether. This enumeration, however, does not include the trifling night-charges. The keeper receives 6d. a day for the food of each prisoner: the whole of which sum he affirms that he lays out for them. On April 5th, 1839, I find that he received 18s. 6d. for the maintenance of the prisoners; and, again, on June 27th, 1839, I find that he received the same sum. According to the statement of the keeper each of these sums was paid to him by the county for the maintenance of prisoners during six months. There has been no escape, nor serious illness, nor death here, since my former Report. The greatest number at once here since January 1st, 1839, has been five. I found one bible, one prayer-book, and a few tracts. The keeper and his wife appear to do all within the reach of their humble means to maintain neatness. I found no prisoner in confinement. There are only four cells, two yards, (each containing a privy,) and no boundary wall. In each of the three cells is a wooden bedstead, with bedding. In the fourth cell there is a copper and grate, and no bedstead.

The prison had closed by 1871 when the building was demolished. A Congregational Church was subsequently built on the site.


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  • No individual records identified for this establishment — any information welcome.
  • 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.