Ancestry UK

Reading's Town Gaol

Little appears to be known about the early history of Reading's Town Gaol. In 1777, the prison reformer John Howard published a brief record of his visit to the establishment:


Three rooms in a public house (the Reading Arms) belonging to the town. The eldest Sergeant has generally the refusal of it. No court-yard : Felons allowance three pence a day. Keeper no Salary : Fees 4s. 4d. no Table.

1776, Nov. 1, Debtors 2.

The establishment's alternative description as a 'Compter' (or counter) indicates that it housed civil prisoners, especially debtors.

In similar reports over the following decades, the name of the public house and the number of rooms varied (two rooms in the The Reading Arms' in 1792; one room in the Five Maidens' Heads in 1808; two rooms in the Three Maidens' Heads in 1812). On each of those occasions, however, the prison was devoid of inmates.

The premises in question appear to have been what was also known as the Compter public house, located at the corner of Forbury and the Market Place.

James Neild's report in 1808 noted that the gaol was 'out of repair, and a new one building.' The Compter public house was demolished in June 1825 rebuilt on the same site.


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.

  • 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.