Ancestry UK

Borough Gaol, Southwold, Suffolk

Southwold's Royal Charter of 1489 allowed it to maintain a Borough Gaol, which from around 1711 occupied a site at the east side the Market Place.

In 1818, it could accommodate only two prisoners in one room. A new building was erected on the same site in 1819 at the cost of £570, comprising two cells, an upper chamber and a small airing yard.

The number of prisoners committed during 1831 was 2, during 1832 was 7, and in 1833 was 9. In 1835, the prisoners had neither employment nor a fixed allowance.

In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This prison is built upon land the property, of the Corporation, known as the Shambles. It is in the town, and was built in the year 1819, at a cost of 570l, which was defrayed by the Corporation. It is attached to other buildings, and has an airing-yard in the rear, with walls only 8 feet 2 inches in height.

The Keeper resides in the prison; he occupies two upper rooms, which were intended for female prisoners; on the ground-floor he has a parlour, and a kitchen below ground, where there is a stove, which warms the prisonersí day-room, by hot air conveyed through pipes.

The apartments for prisoners are a day-room and two cells for males, and an upper chamber for females, of the following dimensions:—

Day-room, 9 feet 6 inches by 10 feet, and 9 feet high.
First cell, 10 feet 7 inches by 6 feet, and 9 feet high.
Second cell, 6 feet 6 inches by 5 feet, and 9 feet high.
Femalesí room, 8 feet 6 inches by 8 feet 9 inches, and 9 feet high.

Diet.—The Magistrates, since the resolutions of the Lordsí Committee have been communicated to them, have restricted the prisoners to bread and water, allowing half a quartern loaf a day to each.


Accounts.—books are kept by the Keeper; he provides the food for the prisoners, and is repaid by the Corporation.

Magistrates.—The Magistrates have never visited the gaol since the Keeper has been in it, according to his statement.

Keeper.— Aged 38; bricklayer by trade; appointed by the Magistrates. Salary, 6l. 6s. a year, paid by the Chamberlain of the Corporation, at Easter; Half a chaldron of coals allowed him for the prisoners during the year.

Medical Attendance is provided if required.

Observations:—It is to be regretted, that when the Corporation resolved upon building this small prison, some attention had not been paid to the common requisites of such establishments. The airing-yard cannot be made use of, from its want of all security; the walls being but 8 feet 2 inches in height, and adjoining the public highway.

The cells are deficient in proper ventilation, and the prison buildings are interwoven, as it were, with others in the occupation of private individuals. One escape took place in July last: John Gillings, committed for two calendar months or pay a fine of five pounds, for an assault on a constable, got over the walls the third day of his detention, and was not afterwards heard of.

The salary of the gaoler, it appears, has been paid out of the poorís rates for the last two years; but this having been objected to, the payment has been resumed by the Corporation. The number of prisoners, during the year 1835, has been only three.

The prison was clean; but its insecurity and the impossibility of carrying on any corrective discipline beyond mere confinement, seems to require, as in the case of other boroughs similarly situated, that all prisoners should, after final committal, be sent to the County Gaol.

The prison appears to have ceased operation not long after the Inspectors; visit. It was then converted to a shop. The building, still used as retail premises survives as what is now 21-23 Market Place.


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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.