Ancestry UK

White Lion / Surrey County Gaol, Southwark, London

A County Gaol existed in Southwark by 1513. From 1580, it occupied premises known as the White Lion, on Angel Alley (later known as Angel Place) at the east side of Borough High Street, Southwark. Stow's Survey of London in 1598 nates that "the White Lion, a gaol so called, for that the same was a common hosterie for the receit of travellers, by that sign. This house was first used as a gaol within these forty years last, since the which time the prisoners were once removed thence to a house in Newtowne [Newington], where they remained for a short time, and were returned backe again to the aforesaid White Lion, there to remain as in the appointed gaol for the county of Surrey." In 1535, the White Lion was described as "a great tenement or inn with a tenement and a shop on either side and a barn, stables, etc."

In Elizabethan times, the prison received many Catholic recusants. By the early seventeenth century, conditions for White Lion inmates had become very poor. In 1638, George Coks, a Benedictine monk, who was imprisoned there, claimed his life in danger by close atmosphere of the prison.

In 1654, the county of Surrey paid Anne Rich just over £600 for the freehold of the White Lion, including the adjoining House of Correction and a garden, together with the White Lion Acre in St. George's Fields. Most of the property was then re-leased, with the prison and bridewell continuing in operation and William Arthur being paid £ 50 a year as keeper. In the prison at that time, the debtors' accommodation included a buttery, four chambers, and "two great Chambers" which were in need of repairs to the roof, a parlour, and a very small chapel. That for criminal prisoners comprised one large and one small room and a small yard for both men and women. However, the condition of the buildings continued to deteriorate. Finally, in 1721, it was decided to rebuild the prison and House of Correction, the work being completed in 1723. The prison then became known as the New Gaol.

The New Gaol site is shown on the 1746 map below.

Surrey County Gaol site, Southwark, 1746.

In 1772, the House of Correction, whose cramped premises were in a poor condition, was transferred to a new building at the White Lion Acre site.

In 1774, following the passing of a Act "for preserving the health of prisoners in gaol, and preventing the gaol distemper." Improvements were made to the county gaol premises including the provision of in its wards, the allocation of two rooms as sick rooms, and the provision of "three Dozen of Canvass Frocks of the cheapest Sort" for the inmates to wear.

Throughout the eighteenth century, most of the prisons inmates were felons though there were also a few debtors. Some of the Scots involved in the 1745 Jacobite rebellion were confined there prior to their execution on Kennington Common, as were some of the rioters who had destroyed property in Southwark during the Gordon Riots of 1780. Seven of the latter were executed on a gallows in St. George's Fields near the King's Bench Prison.

In 1791, it was decided to erect a new County Gaol and House of Correction at a site in Horsemonger Lane (now Harper Road), Southwark. The St George's Fields House of Correction was then closed. In 1799, the Angel Lane building, though in a poor condition, was purchased by the government to provide new premises for the Marshalsea Prison. However, it only began its new role in 1811.

New Surrey County Gaol site, Southwark, 1792.

In 1812, James Neild described the prison:

This noble building does honour to the County. It is situate in an open and airy part of Horsemonger-lane, in the Parish of St. Mary, Newington, in the County of Surrey. The boundary-wall encloses about three acres and a half of ground. The Sessions House adjoins it, to which there is a communication from the Prison; and a housekeeper is appointed to keep it clean, with a suitable Salary, and apartments for her use.

The Gaol, which is likewise the County Bridewell, was first inhabited on the 3d of August 1798, and has in front the Turnkey's Lodge: On the ground floor of which is a day-room; another room with a cold bath; and a third is the washhouse, with an oven, &c. Over these are four rooms, of 18 feet by 15, for the Turnkeys to sleep in; and at the top of all is a spacious lead-flat, where Criminals are executed.

After passing through the Lodge, an avenue, paved with Yorkshire stone, leads to the Keeper's house; which is in the centre of the Prison, and from which the several court-yards are inspected.

For Master's-Side Debtors there is a court-yard paved with flag-stone, 75 feet by 30, enclosed by handsome iron palisades, so that a thorough air is admitted; and arcades, paved in the same manner, 3I feet by 26, under which to walk in wet weather. Close to these is a day-room, 27 feet by 20, with a fire-place; and they have likewise sixteen sleeping-rooms, each 14 feet 6 inches by 9 feet 3, with an iron-grated and glazed window. For these they pay as per Table, which I found printed, and put up on the Master's-Side, for the inspection of all persons whatever.

Common-Side Debtors have also a court-yard, with arcades, a day-room, and twelve sleeping-rooms, the same as those on the Master's-Side: But they sleep in hammocks, and find their own bedding.

Women-Debtors have a court-yard, about 20 feet square; a day-room, 18 feet square; and four sleeping-rooms, of the same size as the Men's: with wooden bedsteads, to which they also find their own bedding, and pay nothing.

The Men-Felons are of four classes; each of which has a spacious court-yard, neatly paved with Yorkshire stone, and in size about 87 feet by 30, for the Prisoners to take air and exercise in fine weather; or, if it be otherwise, they walk under arcades paved with flag-stone, of about 48 feet by 27. Also a day-room for each class, 27 feet by 20, to dress their victuals in.

Each Felon has a cell, 8 feet 3 inches by 6 feet 9; with iron-grated window 4 feet by 2, a wooden inside shutter, a circular ventilator, of 18 inches diameter in the middle of each cell, a wooden inside door, and an iron-grated one to each. They are all furnished with an elm-plank bedstead, only 22 inches wide, a flock-bed, and pillow, two blankets and a rug: The bedding is shaken and rolled up, and the cells are cleaned every morning.

Here are likewise four day-rooms, with boarded floors, occasionally used for Convicts under sentence of death; each about 26 feet by 1 8, with a fire-place, a table and benches, and three windows, 6 feet by three, iron-barred and glazed. The Women-Felons have also a court-yard, about 70 feet by 30, with arcades, day-room, cells, furniture, and accommodations, the same as for the Men-Felons.

The lobbies of this Prison are all well ventilated, and 6 feet 3 inches wide. Pumps are fixed in all the court-yards; Thames-water is laid on; and at the top of the four corners of the Gaol is a reservoir, each containing about eight hundred gallons of water, supplied from a well by a forcing pump.

Here are four spacious airy rooms, each 25 feet by 16, set apart as Infirmaries, fitted up with flock-beds, blankets, pillows, and rugs; and adjoining to them are court-yards, 30 feet square, for convalescents to walk in: Also two rooms for nurses, another for the Surgeon, and a fourth with a warm bath.

The Chapel is a very neat structure, where the Prisoners are seated in their different classes; and all are required to attend Divine Service who receive the County allowance.

Whatever money is collected in Chapel, at what are called the Condemned Sermons, is paid into the hands of the Chaplain; and by him laid out for the benefit of the Prisoners, in coals, meat, and other necessaries, at his discretion.

It once was customary for the Executioner to demand, and, by some means or other, to procure six shillings and eightpence, from the Criminal, on his way to execution. This inhuman practice was very properly discontinued on the l6th of July, 1799.

Excellent Rules and Orders are made for the Government of this Gaol, which are fixed up in four different parts of it.

The Magistrates visit the Prison in regular monthly rotation : Their Remarks are entered in a book; and every time the Committee meets, the Surgeon also enters in his book the state of health in which he finds the Prisoners.

All of them are discharged in a morning, after breakfast; and have from one shilling to five shillings given them, according to their distance from home.

The Act for Preservation of Health, and the Clauses against Spirituous Liquors, are conspicuously hung up; and the whole Prison is remarkably clean.

Surrey County Gaol plan, Southwark, 1862.

Surrey County Gaol entrance, Southwark, London, c.1862. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1862, John Binny wrote a lengthy account of his visit to the prison:

We approach the Surrey Detentional Prison by a narrow lane, leading from the bustling thoroughfare of Stone's-end. It is inclosed within a dingy brick wall, which almost screens it from the public eye. We enter the gateway of the flat-roofed building at the entrance of the prison, on one side of which is the governor's office, and an apartment occupied by the gate-warder, and on the other is a staircase leading up to a gloomy chamber, containing the scaffold on which many a wretched criminal has been consigned to public execution. Emerging from the gateway, the governor's house, a three-storied building, stands right in front of us, on the other side of the courtyard, having a wing of the debtors' prison on each side, all of them built of brick. We observed several officers of the prison in their blue uniforms, with keys depending from their dark polished belts. The right wing of the prison contains sheriffs' debtors, who maintain themselves, or are supported by their relatives and friends; the left wing is set apart for county court debtors and those sheriffs' debtors who are unable to do so. In front of each there is a portion of ground, seventy-four feet by fourteen, laid with pavement, and covered with a low, flat, iron roof, where the debtors are frequently seen promenading or loitering beside the lofty iron railings which fence it, surmounted by formidable iron spikes. In the covered walk, before the right wing, the debtors had been evidently in better pecuniary circumstances, to judge from their exterior. Some of them looked like tradesmen, who had become embarrassed in their means. Others were like gay men about town, with moustache and fashionable dress, who also had once seen better days.

On the other side, the debtors appeared to belong generally to a poorer class of society, such as labourers, poor tradesmen, and others. Many of the debtors, particularly on the wing to the right, seemed to have the easy air of strangers loitering at a watering-place.

The court-yard is flanked on the left hand by the infirmary, a detached building, containing wards for debtors and criminals; and is bounded on the right by the sessions' house, the front of which faces Newington Causeway.

There is a carriage drive round the right wing of the debtors' prison to the criminal prison, the wings of which are nearly in the form of a hollow square behind it. There is a similar drive on the left side, leading past the infirmary to the female wards.

We enter an archway, opposite the sessions-house, leading to the male criminal prison, a large massive gate, fenced on the top with iron bars. On our left hand is a small room, occupied as an office by the chief warder, and on our right is a door leading into the reception ward.

Reception Ward.— We were introduced to the reception warder, who showed us over his department. The reception cells are situated behind the right wing of the debtors' prison, and are parallel to it, being separated by a narrow court. On entering one of them we found it to be eleven feet by seven feet' four inches, and nine feet two inches at the bottom, and ten feet at the top of the arch. It is lighted by a square window, four feet long and two feet high. There are two shelves in an inner corner, containing a tin can, a salt cellar, a spoon, towel, comb, and brush. The furniture further consists of a small deal table and a small stool. In the corner opposite there is a basin, supplied with plenty of water, at the pleasure of the prisoner, together with a piece of soap. The hammock is rolled up and attached to a hook on the side of the cell. The gas-jet has an iron cover to protect it. Each cell is floored with wood, and the walls are carefully whitewashed. A copy of the rules and regulations of the prison is suspended for the use of the prisoner, with a prayer for morning and another for evening, together with the Lord's Prayer. Notice is also given that complaints relative to the conduct of any of the officers may be made by the prisoner to the governor, or to any magistrate visiting the gaol. There is a handle in the cell communicating with the gong in the corridor, as in other prisons.

The cell is ventilated by an iron grating, near the floor, beside the door, through which a current of heated air is admitted. It ascends through another iron grating at the roof of the cell, communicating with the air-shaft on the top of the building. There is also a flap in the window for the admission of fresh air.

There are eight reception cells, all of them roofed with brick. The doors are, each of them, provided with a circular inspection plate, and a trap for introducing food, and also a smaller trap, with wire screen, through which the prisoner may have an interview with his friends. The corridor in the reception ward has not a groined roof, like the other corridors, but is spanned with a round arch. It is situated on our left hand, as we enter the prison.

We enter the Bath-room, which is about eighteen feet by eighteen. This apartment is on our right hand as we enter the male prison, and has a groined roof, supported in the centre by strong stone pillars, three feet square. There is an iron grating over hot-air pipes, extending across the room, beside the door, for the purpose of warmth and ventilation. Here we found two baths, five feet two inches long, two feet wide, and two feet deep, with separate doors. They are supplied with hot and cold water. There are standard measures here for ascertaining the height and weight of the prisoners, with a supply of prison clothing for their use. The reception warder stated, "When a prisoner is admitted here, and has not a proper suit of clothes, he is supplied with prison clothing, consisting of a blue vest, jacket, and trowsers, with shirt and stockings, in addition, should he require them. He is also furnished with two blankets, a pair of sheets, and a rug, as bedding."

There is a cistern here to supply the baths with hot water, with a furnace beneath. An assortment of leg irons is suspended on the wall. The reception warder conducted us into a small apartment on the basement, to which we descend by a flight of steps. Here there is a machine, patented by Jeakes, Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, to destroy vermin. We saw several bundles of clothes in process of fumigation.

The Kitchen, etc. We went to the kitchen, which is about twenty-seven feet square, and is provided with four boilers and a large dresser. There is a large table in the centre, for cutting up the meat, etc., and to contain the trays. The kitchen is floored with stone, and lighted by a skylight. We noticed a food carriage, laden with trays of soup, meat, and potatoes, ready to be served up for the prisoners' dinner. The soup was of excellent quality. In one of the large boilers the soup had been made ready. In another the butcher meat was prepared, and in a third the gruel was cooked for supper.

A small room off the kitchen is used as the warder's mess-room and scullery. It is furnished with a dresser, washing-trough, table, and forms, and is well lighted and ventilated.

On proceeding into the bread-room we found a great quantity of small loaves arranged on shelves around the room, six ounces and eight ounces in weight - the one for male and the other for female prisoners.

While we were present, a large quantity was brought into the prison by a baker, sent by the tradesman who contracts to supply the prison. A quantity of fresh butcher meat was hung on hooks around the wall.

The food trays are conveyed to the different corridors of the male prison by means of a hoisting machine.

Chapel.— We proceeded to the chapel, which is situated at the back of the prison, as seen in the ground plan. It is about thirty-nine feet wide, and thirty-four feet long. The pulpit is in an elevated position to the right, covered with red cloth, and beneath is a seat for the clerk. On the left is a lofty seat for the Governor, which gives him a commanding view of the auditory. Between the pulpit and the Governor's pew there is a communion-table, also covered with red cloth, the space within the inclosure around it being carpeted. On the wall over against it are inscribed the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and the Creed.

There are four long seats in front of the pulpit, separated by a wooden partition six feet in height, occupied by the debtors during the service. A number of seats in the area behind are set apart for misdemeanants and felons committed for re-examination or for trial, while the convicted prisoners sit in elevated separate boxes behind. The female prisoners occupy the gallery above, out of sight of the males in the area beneath.

The debtors generally enter the chapel first, and proceed to their seats in the interior. The prisoners under remand, etc., then advance to their seats in the centre, and the convicts enter last. Meantime the females are assembling in the gallery above.

The chapel service commences at half-past nine o'clock. On Sundays there are two services, one in the morning at half-past nine, and the other in the afternoon at two o'clock,

Exercising Grounds.— There are three paved exercising grounds within the hollow square of Horsemonger Lane Criminal Gaol. The larger one for the adult males is about one hundred and fourteen feet square, that of the juveniles is sixty feet by forty-two, and the female exercising ground is seventy-five feet by sixty, all situated, as seen in the ground plan. We observed a considerable number of prisoners airing in the adult yard, consisting of common felons and ragged mendicants and others, with three soldiers, charged with burglary, belonging to cavalry and infantry regiments. The general appearance of the greater number was very similar to those we saw in Clerkenwell Prison. They were for the most part in their own garb; some of them walked with the haughty air of men who had been wronged by being unjustly suspected of crime; others had a more modest demeanour, while some of the poor cadgers in their rags sneaked along with downcast eye. One of the warders observed to us, "These prisoners were mostly charged with felonies, and common offences." In the Juvenile Exercising Yard we found a small party of boys exercising, some of them charged with petty felonies, others with picking pockets, and one poor fair-haired lad with begging. He was dressed in a blue-prison misdemeanant's garb.

Visiting the Cells.— We found the corridors in Horsemonger Lane Jail to be very different from those in the other prisons. Here we had no lofty roof, and no airy galleries, but dingy low-set corridors, of about twelve feet high, and seven feet wide, around each of the three stories, spanning a row of cells on each side, a warder being often seated at the extreme angles by a small table, beside cheerfully-lighted windows overlooking his ward. These corridors had groined roofs, which gave them a more interesting appearance. The interior arrangements of the prison, and the general appearance of the exterior, as well as the manners of the officials, presented to us a more homely and provincial aspect than any of the other London prisons, and were very different from the Surrey House of Correction at Wandsworth.

The chief warder informed us that basement A contained prisoners under remand, and for trial at the Sessions and Central Criminal Court; corridor B, on the floor above, was occupied by prisoners incarcerated for want of sureties, and those who are summarily convicted of assaults, but not sentenced to hard labour. Penal servitude men are also detained here for a time after conviction, as at Newgate. Corridor C contains persons summarily convicted, or otherwise, when the cells beneath are full.

We entered a cell in corridor A, which is 9 feet 1 inch long, and 7 feet 6 inches vide, and 11 feet 1 inch at the top of the groined arch. It is furnished very similar to the reception cells, provided with wooden flooring, and ventilated in like manner. There are fifty-one cells in this corridor, forty-three of them being occupied; but there was no one confined in the dark cell.

The warder observed to us, "that detentional prisoners are allowed by the county to maintain themselves before their trial." The chief warder,then passing along the corridor, stated "that they are permitted to get a pint of beer if they choose." He particularly called our attention to this : "that it is an imperative condition that they must be maintained entirely at their own expense, or that of their friends, or they must be contented with the prison diet."

As we passed along the corridor, we observed several females, some respectable in appearance, others of a more questionable aspect, visiting several of the criminals and con versing with them through the wire screen, in the doors of their cells. We proceeded with the warder to one of the cells, and saw a quantity of provisions introduced along with some clean linen. The wife and mother of the prisoner stood alongside. The former was a quiet, modest-looking woman in middle life, and the latter an elderly-looking person who appeared to be very distressed for the misfortune of her son. The prisoner was a robust, decent-looking man, a carman, and was charged with stealing several firkins of butter.

We went up-stairs to corridor B, on the second story, and were introduced to the warder on duty. He informed us there were thirty-two cells here, three associated rooms, a padded room for lunatics, and a condemned cell for prisoners under sentence of death. We were shown into one of the associated rooms which is about the size of two cells, and is furnished similar to two of them. At present it is used as a dormitory. On going into another we found an old sharp-featured man confined for using threatening language. Having failed to produce a surety for his better conduct in future, he was imprisoned for three months. Another shabbily-dressed elderly man was committed for trial at the sessions for embezzling from his employer. A young good-looking man, a deserter, was also confined here beside them, who was waiting for a military escort. The first-named sharp-featured man had recently attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat, but was fortunately prevented. As we stood beside him, and looked into his quiet-looking countenance, we could not have dreamed he would have dared to do such a desperate deed.

The warder stated to us that, about a year ago, a man of about forty-five years of age, formerly an employé at a blind school in the metropolis, was imprisoned there for setting fire to a hay-rick and was committed for trial. On the day previous to trial, he hung himself up to a hook of the window by a handkerchief. One of the prisoners who slept in the room with him awoke and saw him suspended, and gave an outcry. The warder, who slept in the room adjoining, and the watchman on duty both ran to the cell. The watchman instantly cut him down. The medical officer was sent for, and arrived about ten minutes after; he was occupied from three o'clock in the morning to eleven o'clock in the forenoon, using means to restore animation. He was successful, and the wretched man was removed to the hospital, and taken, a day afterwards, to the assizes. He was acquitted on the ground of insanity, and sent to a lunatic asylum.

In answer to our interrogatories, the warder observed, "The prisoners in general spend their time reading books from the prison library. Those who cannot read, walk up and down their cell, and sometimes lie down and sleep. There is a shoemaker in an adjoining workshop who is generally busy mending shoes in the prison. He does it, instead of sitting idle, to pass his time more pleasantly."

In one of the cells we saw a man of colour lying on his bed, charged with stealing two pigs' flays, while in a state of destitution. The poor fellow lay covered with a chocolate coloured counterpane, with a blue handkerchief bound around his temples. He told us he belonged to Kingstown, Jamaica. He spoke English tolerably well, and was lately an able seaman on board a man-of-war, and had never been in prison before.

Meantime, a genteel, well-dressed young woman passed along the corridor for the purpose of visiting a young man of about nineteen, a clerk, charged with ravishing a girl between ten and twelve years of age. He had been paying his addresses to a sister of this girl, who lived at Brixton. The clerk was rather a smart-looking youth. He told us his mother resides at Gravesend, and protested his innocence of the infamous crime laid to his charge. He has since been convicted at the sessions, and sent to Wandsworth prison for twelve months.

On looking into another cell, we saw a prisoner sentenced to penal servitude, engaged reading by his table, having just finished his dinner. He was born in Canada, and came to this country with his father in early life, to secure certain property left by an uncle. He was a good-looking man, a costermonger, and complained he had been hunted by the police from pillar to post, and driven into misfortune. He had been fined four times in one week for selling his fruit in the Borough, and had been pointed out and marked by the officers as a convicted thief. He thought there were good men in the police which he had learned by experience; but there were others of different character, who acted a cruel and unjust part. This prisoner had tried to strangle himself in Wandsworth prison some time ago. He appeared now more resigned to his fate.

We went to the padded room, which was an ordinary cell with coir-packed canvas around the walls. It is floored with wood, and lighted from the passage.

We visited the condemned cell, which is about the size of four cells, supported in the centre with two pillars, and has a stone floor. It is furnished with two iron bedsteads and a washstand in one corner and a water-closet in another. An officer is constantly in attendance night and day when a murderer is confined.

"I have been eight years in this jail," said the warder, "and have only known one man incarcerated here who was executed. Dr. Smethurst was for a time confined in this cell, charged with poisoning Miss Banks. Youngman was also imprisoned here, who assassinated his mother, sweetheart, and brother, at Walworth, and was executed on 5th September, 1860. He was a sullen, resolute fellow, of about twenty-four years of age."

There are thirty-five cells in corridor C on the floor above, one of them being a condemned cell, similar in dimensions to that we visited. There was not a single prisoner incarcerated there at the time of our visit.

The chief warder observed to us— "The number of our prisoners varies very much from time to time. Last Saturday, for example, we had 152 in the jail, and to-day we have 138. On the 22nd of December last, we had only ninety, while in October they amounted to 206."

Each of the three corridors extending round the two sides, and a portion of the third side, forming the male branch of the square-shaped criminal prison, is about 427 feet in length.

The Infirmary.— We visited the Infirmary, a detached building on the left side of the court-yard, with iron-grated windows, and were introduced to the warder in charge. It consists of two wards; one for debtors, and another for criminals. There was no patient then in the debtor's ward, and there were only three persons in the criminal ward, one of whom is suffering from an abscess, and another, a fine-looking young man, from the amputation of one of his legs.

The portion of the Infirmary allotted to the criminals consists of four, and that to the debtors of two rooms. There is also a bath-room and a surgery in the building. Two of those occupied by criminals are large, and the other two are of smaller dimensions. "Each large room," said the warder "accommodates ten or twelve prisoners conveniently, and the small rooms contain four each," The large rooms are each of them furnished with iron bed. steads, a large dining-table, and forms which serve as seats. The rooms are all well ventilated, and the windows are protected without by strong iron bars.

The Female Prison

We enter the Female Prison by a small court-yard behind the right wing of the debtor's prison, proceeding through a gateway leading to the office of the chief warder and the reception cells.

Female Reception Ward.— There are nine reception cells here of the same dimensions as those in the male prison, and similarly furnished. They were then empty. In the passage there are two bells, one communicating with the wards for female debtors, and the other with the wards for female criminals.

On entering the matron's store-room we found it contained an ample assortment of clothing and bedding of various kinds, consisting of striped cotton shirts, grey calico chemises, flannel and linsey petticoats, blue-checked neckerchiefs, blue cotton gowns, chocolate-coloured worsted rugs, and sheets and blankets, etc., all carefully arranged.

We were shown into a bath-room, 18 feet by 15, where there were two zinc baths similar to those in the male branch of the prison, with slate partitions between them. Here we also saw a standard measure for taking the prisoners' height, and a cupboard containing the prisoners' own clothing, chiefly belonging to an inferior class charged with assault, stealing from the person, shoplifting, etc.

These reception cells are situated right and left of the long passage entering into the female prison.

The Laundry,— is about 21 feet square, and lighted by a large skylight. There are six drying horses here heated by a stove underground used likewise for heating the irons. A large ironing board extends along one of the sides of the apartment. There is also 3 mangle here and a cupboard containing clean clothing.

We passed from the laundry to the washing cells through a small room in which there is a steam boiler to heat the water for washing. There are five washing cells. In one of them two prisoners were engaged at the wooden troughs, one with a child by her side. These cells are 7 feet 2 inches wide, and 9 feet 9 inches long. The troughs are supplied with hot and cold water.

In another room there are two coppers for boiling the clothing, and a wringing machine similar to the one we saw in Holloway Prison. Opposite to this is another apartment where the unwashed clothing is contained. The matron stated, "We wash for the whole of the prisoners who require it, debtors as well as criminals. We have at present eight persons employed in the laundry, which is the general number. Sometimes we have more; we commence our work here at ten o'clock in the morning, and end at six in the evening."

The Teacher.— We were introduced to Miss Moseley, the teacher, who replied, in answer to our queries— "I teach the various females separately in the prison. Sometimes me have a considerable number able to read. The prisoners are seldom longer than three months under my care. I often find that some who did not know their letters when they entered the prison, are able to read the Testament by the time they leave, and learn to write besides. As a general rule, I find the young are the most docile scholars. I teach all the prisoners who are unable to read, however short their stay, and visit them in their cells for that purpose."

Visiting the Cells.– The matron informed us that "the female prison consists of four divisions - E, F, G, and H - the latter being the reception ward. The E division is appropriated for convicts only. Sometimes, however, I place prisoners for want of sureties and remanded prisoners in them. The F division is reserved for prisoners under remand, committed for trial, and confined for want of sureties; and E is set apart for prisoners summarily convicted of assaults and other misdemeanours."

The cells in the female prison are of the same dimensions as those in the male branch, and are similarly furnished. There is one dark cell for punishment floored with wood, which is seldom occupied.

At the time of our visit the five cells in division E were all occupied. We accompanied the matron to the F division, consisting of twenty-two cells, with three larger associated cells. There are three rooms here used as an infirmary. We entered one of them 14 feet 10 inches by 8 feet 4 inches, similar in dimensions to the other two. It has a wooden flooring, is lighted by two windows, and contains a fireplace. It is furnished with two iron bedsteads, a larger table than in the other cells, and is lighted by two windows.

The lying-in ward consists of three cells furnished with bedsteads, tables, chairs, etc. There is a cell used for persons in a foul condition, suffering under the itch and covered with vermin. "Some prisoners are in such a disgusting condition," said the matron, "that we have to cut their hair off, and others are covered with dreadful eruptions of the skin. Such parties are of different ages, from 13 to 60, but most of them are young. Many of the young girls are afflicted with horrid disease, and in a sad condition. We have such frequently remanded for a few days or weeks. There is a bath attached to the infirmary."

We were shown into an associated cell about the size of two ordinary cells. There are three of them in this division which are used for persons who require to be watched, such as prisoners suspected of attempting suicide, subject to fits, etc. We observed four hammocks rolled up and suspended on hooks against the wall, with a large strong beam of wood lying alongside, which is placed at night across the centre of the cell, and serves as a support to one of the sides of the hammocks. The flooring is of stone.

We visited several of the cells, but did not find any of the cases particularly deserving of notice.

The staff of the female prison consists of the matron, the schoolmistress, the laundry warder, infirmary warder, female debtors' warder, a general warder, and an assistant warder.

The prison was closed in August 1878, as part of the nationalisation of the prison system. The inner area of the site was cleared in 1880 and, in January 1884, an acre of it was opened by Mrs Gladstone as the Newington Gardens children's playground. For some years, the old prison gatehouse was used by the London County Council as a weights and measures office, but a new building for that purpose was erected at the site in 1892, when the rest of the prison buildings were demolished. In 1921, a new Quarter Sessions House for the County of London was opened at the north of the 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.

  • The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU. Holdings include Court of Bankruptcy: Gaolers' Returns(1865-9).
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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.