Ancestry UK

Town Gaol, Salt ash, Cornwall

The Salt ash Town Gaol occupied part of the old Guildhall, at the south side of Fore Street, on a corner of what was the town's ancient market place, now Alexandra Square.

In 1835 it was reported:

The Gaol consists of a room under the Town-hall, with three cells adjoining to it. The floors are of clay, and the cells are without apertures of any kind for the admission of air or light. The gaol is in every way unfitted for the confinement of prisoners, being damp, without ventilation, and without any means of affording either labour or exercise. The consequence has been, that in order to preserve the health of the prisoners confined in it, they have been irregularly permitted to walk out in the neighbouring churchyard, and occasionally have been conducted by the gaoler or constable to the public-house for the purpose of refreshment. In this receptacle, unfit for the custody of the worst offenders, a man convicted of an assault was, a few years since, confined for six weeks. Rather than suffer themselves to be instrumental in causing persons to be committed to this gaol, it was stated to us that the inhabitants of Saltash preferred suffering depredations upon their property to pass unpunished. It did not appear that at the period when the revenues of the borough were very considerable, any proposition had been made, either to put this gaol into a fit state or to build a new one.

An inspection report in 1849 noted:

Three rooms on the level of the street, one of which receives light from that thoroughfare, the other two being either entirely dark or dimly lighted from the first, constitute the whole of the prison of this borough, which, notwithstanding, possesses a recorder, and tries prisoners at quarter sessions. In these rooms or cells prisoners of either sex can be confined. One of these cells measures 10 feet by 7 feet 3 inches; another measures 10 feet by 6 feet, and the third measures 13 feet by 6 feet 6 inches. The cells, especially those placed within, are very close and unhealthy. Bedding is allowed to prisoners, consisting of a wrapper stuffed with straw and blankets, which are kept by the town serjeant, who acts as deputy-gaoler (the mayor being ex-officio the keeper of the gaol), in a room above, which was formerly used as a courtroom. No officer of any kind resides on the premises, or even within sight or hearing of the gaol. Two officers, called town serjeants, receive each an annual stipend of 4l 17s. for charging themselves with the custody of prisoners and carrying them their food, but they do not reside in such a situation as to be cognizant of anything taking place among the prisoners, nor of any sudden illness occurring to them.


Each prisoner while locked up is allowed 1½ lb. of broad and 6 oz. of meat per diem, the cost of which is repaid to the town Serjeants by the corporation, who also pay the town Serjeants about 30s. each for conveying prisoners to Bodmin.

This prison has been long since pointed out in the Reports of the Inspectors of Prisons as "quite dilapidated and neglected," and as "only fit to form a very indifferent lock-up house for prisoners for one night." In the year 1839, the borough having declared its inability to build a new goal without the assistance of the Government, which the town clerk was informed could not be rendered, the Secretary of State authorized an arrangement being made with the visiting justices of the county gaol of Bodmin for the maintenance therein of the borough prisoners, at the rate of 1s. per head daily; and the letter wherein that permission was conveyed (dated 27th January, 1840), concludes by informing the town clerk "that it will be far more convenient for the corporation of Saltash to commit all summary and other convictions, as well as all cases for trial, to Bodmin, as well as far more beneficial as regards the well-being of the prisoner. The present building would, in that case, be used merely as a lock-up-house, hut not as a place of confinement for prisoners before trial, nor as a house of correction for summary or other convictions.

The prison appears to have finally been closed in about 1853. The building was demolished in 1894. The site is now occupied by the Essa Club.


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