Ancestry UK

County Gaol and Bridewell / HMP Stafford, Stafford, Staffordshire

Prior to 1700, Stafford's county gaol stood near the site of the Wesleyan Chapel, between the then Chapel Street and Queen Street, in the "Broad Eye" area, its location indicated on the 1879 map below. The site now lies beneath Stafford's Guildhall market.

Former Stafford site, Stafford, c.1879.

The gaol was taken down in about 1700, after which the old tower, or gateway house, in Gaol Square was enlarged and used instead.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

GAOLER, William Scott, now Lyttleton Scott.


Fees, Debtors, £0 : 17 : 4. Felons, £0 : 15 : 10. Transports, £6 each.

Licence, Beer and Wine.


Allowance, Debtors, each per week 15d. bread, and 9d. cheese; and for the Felons, felons 3 Cwt. of coals a week from Michaelmas to May-day.

Garnish, Debtors, £0 : 2 : 6. Felons, £0 : 1 : 0.


Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors.Felons &c.
1773, Nov. 19,39,20.1779, May 15,40,14. Impressed 11..
1774, April 1,44,17.1782, Nov. 24,38,20. Deserter 1.
1775, Nov. 15,40,18.1810, June 23d,30,95.

CHAPLAIN, Rev. Mr. Unett.

Duty, Sunday, Wednesday, Friday; a sermon once in about two months.

Salary, augmented from £20 to £30.

SURGEON, Mr. Ward, now Mr. Richard Hughes.

Salary, £20. (See Remarks.)


THIS gaol is too small for the number of prisoners. The debtors court and free-ward are spacious. In the latter is a hand-ventilator for the men-felons dungeon which is under it; but being out of repair, has not been used for many years. Were the county to allow the small sum of a guinea a year, it might always be kept in order, as is done in Worcester castle. An alarm-bell in this crowded gaol would be very proper.—Only one day-room for men and women-felons, down 3 steps, 15 feet by 12, and 6 feet 3 inches high. The dungeon where the men-felons sleep is very close and offensive, having no window, and is about 2 feet below the passage. The felons court is also too small, and the gaoler keeps his poultry in it. There is only one fewer and that is quite exposed. It is pity that the stream just on the outside of the walls is not within them. I was pleased to see plenty of clean straw in the men's and women's dungeons; and found it was owing to the generous and exemplary practice of not farming it, but allowing the gaoler to order it whenever wanted, and the county paying for it themselves. The chapel is small, and at the top of the house. It is painful for prisoners loaded with irons to go up and down the stairs. The act for preserving the health of prisoners not hung up. No infirmary: no bath.

Mr. Hughes is apothecary to the county infirmary, which is near the gaol. He receives £8 of the salary of £20 allowed by the county; the remaining £12 is paid to the infirmary for drugs.

A TABLE of Fees settled at the General Quarter Sessions 18th day of April 1732.
£.  s.  d.
For entering the action Whereupon each prisoner is first brought into custody either on process capias latitate execution or writ of excom ad capiendum and discharging each prisoner by writ of supersedeas or otherwise0 : 13 : 4
For receiving and entering every declaration delivered against prisoners to be paid by the plaintiff in such action0 : 2 : 0
For a certificate for want of a declaration in order to sue out a writ of supersedeas0 : 3 : 6
For a copy of each warrant against each prisoner0 : 1 : 6
For the under keeper or turnkey upon every action or writ0 : 2 : 6
For the under keeper or turnkey upon discharging of each prisoner by supersedeas or otherwise0 : 1 : 6
Every prisoner that lies in the master's-side of the goal in a bed provided by the keeper of the gaol shall pay per week if a bed to himself0 : 2 : 0
If two prisoners or more lye together in one bed then between them all0 : 2 : 6
Every prisoner that lies in the upper rooms or garret in a bed and bedding found by the keeper of the gaol shall pay per week0 : 1 : 0
And if two prisoners lie together then0 : 1 : 6
Every prisoner that lies in the same side and finds his own linnen and bedsteads0 : 0 : 6
Every prisoner that lies in the county chamber shall pay nothing0 : 0 : 0
E Littleton Hum: Wyrly Fish Littleton R. Rider Jns. Dolphin.
We the Judges of Assize and Gaol Delivery of the Oxford Circuit have perused and do approve of the above written Table of Fees this ad day of August Anno Dom. 1732.

In 1788, John Howard wrote:

County Gaol at Stafford.—No alteration in this crowded prison. Only one small day-room for men and women. In the dungeon for male felons, I saw fifty-two chained down, hardly fourteen inches being allowed to each. The moisture from their breath ran down the walls. I need not intimate the heat and offensiveness of this dungeon. Last year, seven of the felons died in their dungeon of gaol fever, and the free-ward, or county-chamber, being directly over it, nine out of thirteen of the poor debtors died. No infirmary; no bath. Act for preserving the health of prisoners not hung up. Though this prison is bad and crowded, many things might be done by an attentive and humane gaoler for the convenience and health of his prisoners, consistently with his own security. One debtor's attempting to escape was not a sufficient reason why a window should be bricked up in the county-chamber, which before was too dark and close. A lofty and good room with a fire-place, over the women's dungeon, was kept during the sickness and is still retained for the gaoler's lumber. I am sorry that when this circumstance was publicly mentioned some gentlemen should so readily acquiesce in the gaoler's excuse that the room was not secure. It is a strong room: but even admitting it not so strong as the dungeon, it is sufficiently secure for some who are not the most atrocious criminals, and especially for those that are sick, or in dying circumstances. Allowance, two shillings, in fifteen penny loaves and 2lb. of cheese a-week. Such a quantity of cheese is improper in prisons. For the 9d. a-week here in milk, oatmeal, potatoes, or other vegetables, they might have a hot mess almost every day. The bread was good and of proper weight. Convicts have the 2s. 6d. a-week. Gaoler's salary £100 in lieu of the tap.* The county is now going to build a new gaol.

*Many of the windows of this prison are towards the street; and opposite to the prison gate there are three adjoining ale-houses. One of them having harboured a gang of which some were condemned and executed, Judge Buffer took away the licence, but it being now renewed, the house is said to be again the resort of bad company. The great and increasing number of ale-houses that I observe in my tours through this kingdom I cannot but lament; as it is one great and obvious reason why our prisons are so crowded both with debtors and felons.

In 1794, the Gaol Square building was replaced by a new prison, some 200 yards to the north, at the east side of what became known as Gaol Road. As well as the County Gaol, the new site incorporated a Bridewell, or House of Correction, replacing the previous separate establishment which had been located at the city's North Gate.

The new building was designed by William Blackburn, the leading prison architect of the period. The consisted of a central quadrangle with wings extending from each corner, two to the north and two to the south. The ground floor consisted of groin-vaulted arcades with stone piers, which provided workrooms and shelter from inclement weather. The upper floors of the building contained single sleeping cells.

In 1812, James Neild reported:

Gaoler, John Harris.

Salary, 250l. with three Turnkeys, at 45l. each per annum, paid by the County.

Fees, for Debtors, see Table. For Felons, is. 6d. each copy of Warrant. For Conveyance of Transports a Bill is made. Garnish abolished.

Chaplain, Rev. Henry Rathbone. Salary, 351.

Duty, Prayers every Wednesday; and Sermon every Sunday, Christmas Day, and Good Friday.

Surgeon, Mr. Hughes. Salary, 421.

Number of Prisoners,

Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors.Felons &c.
1801, Nov. 19th,18,83.1805, Oct. 30th,20,53.
1802, Nov. 1st,20,55.1810, June 23d,30,95.

Allowance, "Ordered, that the following be the Dietary of Convicted Prisoners, when in a course of Labour.

Every morning, for breakfast, each one ounce of oatmeal, one third of a pint of new milk, and one eighth of an ounce of salt, made into porridge with water. Three half pints to each.

Supper, every evening the same as the breakfast.

Dinner, Sunday, each half a pound of bacon, and ten ounces of beef, before cooked; and one pound of potatoes, or one pound of cabbage, stripped from the stalk, and fit for boiling.

Monday, soup, two ounces of Scotch barley, two ounces of peas, half a pound of potatoes, one ounce of onions, a quarter ounce of salt each, with the proportion of 20 middle-sized turnips, 10 carrots, 10 parsnips, a handful of parsley and thyme, and a spoonful of pepper, for forty. The potatoes to be boiled in a separate copper, put into the cups, and three half-pints of the soup poured on them.

Tuesday, two pounds of potatoes each. Wednesday, soup, as Monday. Thursday, meat, as Sunday. Friday, soup, as Monday. Saturday, potatoes, as Tuesday.

Each Prisoner one pound of bread every day, and one ounce of salt each every week, to eat with the meat and potatoe dinners.

N. B. Those who do not behave orderly, to have no Sunday dinner; and such as do not perform a given quantity of work, at the discretion of the Governor, to have a potatoe dinner on Thursday, instead of a meat one.

That such Prisoners as have the above Allowance, be not suffered to purchase any article of food whatever.

That the Debtors, and Felons, and other Prisoners, not in a course of labour, have each the following allowance of food, viz.

Monday, potatoes, each four pounds. Tuesday, two pounds of bread; half a pound of cheese. Wednesday, as Monday. Thursday, two pounds of bread. Friday, as Monday. Saturday, three pounds of bread, and half a pound of cheese.

In all cases the potatoes are considered in the rough, and full grown; a proportionate reduction must be made, when young potatoes are served. The sick to have no allowance of food, but what is ordered by the Surgeon.

(Signed.) HARROWBY.
George TALBOT."

Debtors, who receive the sixpences from their Plaintiffs, have no County allowance of food. Such Debtors as are poor, and have no work, have meat and vegetables on Sundays.


This Prison is surrounded by a boundary wall, inclosing three acres of ground. The entrance at the Turnkey's lodge, has, on the right hand, a room for the Turnkeys; on the left, a reception-room, for Prisoners to be examined as to their health, before they are admitted into the interior. Here are a warm and cold bath, with an oven for fumigating and purifying their clothes, which are taken from them, and the Prison uniform put on. Above are four reception-cells, 7 feet by 6, and 8 feet high; a store-room for the Prisoners' clothes, and two sleeping-rooms for the Turnkeys. Over these, upon the lead flat, is the place of execution.

In the centre, detached by a neat garden of 30 yards in length by 14, is the Gaoler's house, through the ball of which lies the passage to every part of the Prison.

On the ground floor is the apartment for the visiting Magistrates, the Gaoler's parlour and office, and a small room, used by the Debtors, to see their families and friends, no one being permitted to go into their day-room, or court-yard.

Behind the Keeper's house is the inner court, 65 feet by 40, which leads to the Men-debtors' day or mess-room, 30 feet by 26, fitted up with two fire-places, coppers, &c. for the purposes of frugal cookery; and on each side are eight small work-rooms, and two small spaces or slips, where, at stated times, the relations and friends of the Prisoners are allowed to see them. The Men Debtors have a spacious court, of 56 yards by 30, the greater part of which they are allowed to cultivate for their own use; and there are arcades for their accommodation in wet weather. Near this are fifty sleeping-cells, each of 9 feet by 8 feet 6 inches, with arched roofs, well ventilated, and divided by passages, or lobbies, 6 feet wide. To each cell there is an iron bedstead, a straw mat, three blankets, and a coverlet, allowed by the County.

Female Debtors have a separate court-yard, 90 feet by 24; a day-room, 24 feet by 15; and over it a sleeping-room of the same size. They have a like allowance of bedding as the Men, only that instead of iron, their bedsteads are of wood, with sacking bottoms.

For Criminal Prisoners there are fourteen separate courts; the smallest of which, assigned for thirteen Prisoners, is of 13 yards by 11; four are of 35 yards by 18; and the average of the rest, 30 yards by 10.

The Male Felons, before Trial, are divided into two classes, with each a separate court and day-room. They sleep in separate cells, of which there are twenty-six, of the same size with those for the Debtors. Irons are here used only on Prisoners under Sentence of Death, Transportation, old Offenders, or for refractory behaviour in Prison. The Female Felons, before trial, have also a separate court and day-room, and thirteen separate sleeping-cells.

Male Prisoners, after Conviction, are divided into two classes; each class has its separate court and day-room, and the cells are the same in size and number as those of the Felons before Trial. So likewise the Female Prisoners, after Conviction, are divided into two classes, with work-rooms and cells, the same in number and dimension as those previous to their Trial.

The Male House of Correction Prisoners form also a distinct class, and have a large day-room, which is used as their work-room, and 13 cells, exactly like those before described. The Female Convicts of the House of Correction are included in the second class of Female Prisoners, after Conviction. The cell of every Convicted Prisoner is fitted up with an iron bedstead, a straw mattress, two blankets, and a coverlet; and in size is 7 feet by 6, and 8 feet 6 inches high, with arched roofs and double doors, the outer one iron-grated, and the inner of wood. There are no sleeping-cells on the ground floor.

On the first story is a neat Chapel, properly partitioned and pewed off, to separate both the sexes, and the different classes confined. Close to which are four large day-rooms, for the several orders of Prisoners, and eighty-four sleeping-cells, divided by well-ventilated lobbies, 5 feet wide.

There are four dark solitary cells set apart for the refractory, and six for those under sentence of death.

The upper story has the same number of day-rooms, and sleeping-cells, together with two store-rooms.

Each class of Prisoners have a stone gallery, with iron railing, which leads to a door opening into their several divisions in the Chapel; where all the Prisoners are bound to attend Divine Service, or, otherwise, punished by an abridgement of their diet.

In the Keeper's house, on the second story, are two large rooms set apart for the Sick, and two store-rooms. The cells are the same throughout the Gaol, except that those for the Debtors have glass windows, and the others wooden shutters. Here is a room built over a large water engine; adjoining to which is a day-room for Vagrants, and over it a sleeping-room. Deserters, when upon their march, sleep occasionally on straw in the upper room.

The Gaol is well supplied with water, and a sewer is placed in every court-yard.

Transports have the King's allowance, of 2s. 6d. a week. All convicted Prisoners are obliged to work; and receive one sixth of their earnings.

There are about three acres of ground without the walls, cultivated with vegetables for the use of the Prison, by those who are sent to the House of Correction.

Many parts of this Gaol are sometimes very damp. The considerate Magistrates therefore humanely allow to the Men-Debtors two hundred weight of coals weekly, from the 1st of October to the 1st of April, and half the quantity per week during the rest of the year: But, if the number of Debtors exceed twenty, they are allowed the above quantity to each fire-place in the room. Female-Debtors are allowed one hundred weight per week all the year round. Felons, before trial, have one hundred weight and a half to each fire, from 1st October to 1st April; one hundred weight for the residue of the year; and convicted Prisoners have one hundred and a half weight weekly to each fire, from the first of October to the 1st of April only. The Sick, whilst in the Infirmary, have always such firing and food as the Surgeon thinks proper.

The Rules and Orders of this Prison, which are excellent, direct "that a Journal shall be kept by the CHAPLAIN and SURGEON, in books prepared for that purpose, stating the times of their attendance, and their observations when there:" But I was sorry to remark, at my visit in 1805, that no such minutes had been entered for ten years, and the like neglect prevailed in 1810.

So small a portion of the court-yards is paved, as to prevent this Gaol from ever being kept properly clean.

It appears that on the 17th of October 1796, there was a Balance of 171. 5s. remaining in the hands of the County Treasurer, out of a sum which had been subscribed for the benefit of the unfortunate Prisoners, at the time when a fever raged in the Old Gaol: on which day Mr. Wright, the late County Treasurer, bought 300l. in the Three per Cent. Consols, in the name of Mr. Hinckley, Clerk of the Peace. The Dividends thereon have been regularly received, and applied to the use of the Prisoners, under the direction of the Visiting Magistrates.

On the 14th of March 1793, it was ordered by the Magistrates, and confirmed by his Majesty's Judges of Assize, that the Fees to be paid by the Debtors in Stafford Gaol, should be as follows.

£.  s.  d.
For entering an Action wherein each Prisoner is brought into custody on any Writ or Process0 : 13 : 4
For every second or other Action0 : 13 : 4
For the Certificate of a Declaration not having been delivered, in order to sue out a Writ of Supersedeas0 : 13 : 4
The above demandable of the Prisoner.
For receiving and entering every Declaration against a Prisoner in custody0 : 13 : 4
For each Copy of a Warrant against a Prisoner0 : 13 : 4
These to be paid by the persons delivering the Declaration, or demanding the Copy of the Warrant.0 : 13 : 4
For attending on every Prisoner to give bail, or special bail, as on a Habeas Corpus, or on any other necessary occasion out of the Gaol, as directed by the statute, per mile0 : 13 : 4

That no greater or other Fee shall be taken by the Keeper of the Gaol, for or on the account of any Prisoner in his custody: And that all Fees hitherto demandable by law, or custom, by the said Keeper from the County, shall totally cease and determine.

That all the said Fees (except for the Keeper's attendance out of the Gaol) when paid by any Prisoner to the Keeper, shall be accounted for by him to the Publick Fund, in aid of the Debtor's maintenance.

That every Prisoner, who, during his confinement, shall have duly submitted to the Regulations, and who has not been guilty of swearing, drunkenness, or other disorderly conduct, shall receive a Certificate of good behaviour from a Visiting Justice, or from the Chaplain and Governor; which shall be a discharge from all Fees payable to the Keeper or Gaoler.

That the following Charges for lodging, bedding, &c. be allowed.

s.  d.
Every per week Person confined in the Sheriff's Ward, finding his own bedding, per week1 : 0
Every person, with bedding allowed by the County2 : 6
Every Person occupying a room in the Keeper's house shall pay per week2 : 6
If with bedding furnished by the Keeper4 : 0
The foregoing Rules and Regulations for the Government of the New Gaol, for the County of Stafford, were approved and confirmed; and the Chairman was requested to lay the same before the Judges at the next Assizes.
(Signed)  J. SPARROW, Chairman.
(Allowed by us,) J. WILSON. N. GROSE.

The following Order was also made and confirmed at the ensuing Assizes.

"That Debtors shall be permitted to send for, or have brought to them, at seasonable hours, any victuals or clothing: But, in respect to Liquor, no Prisoners shall be allowed either to send for, or to drink more than one pint of wine, or one quart of beer in one day, or twenty-four hours. And if any Prisoner shall be detected in making use of the name of any other Prisoner, for the purpose of obtaining any greater quantity of wine or beer, the Prisoner consenting to lend his name, and the Prisoner using it, shall be incapable of receiving a Certificate of good behaviour; and the Gaoler shall be required to remove them into the Sheriff's or Common Ward."

 Stafford, 1st August, 1793. Allowed by us, KENYON. N. GROSE."

In the Entrance Door of this Gaol are two apertures to receive Donations. Over the one is is painted

"For Poor DEBTORS."

Over the other,

"For the Encouragement of Penitence,
and orderly Behaviour, in

In 1821, it was reported:

This prison was built in 1793, and cost altogether £30,000; it was originally intended for 160 prisoners, but double that number has at one time been within its walls; indeed, since the beginning of the present year, the standing number has been from 250 to 290; and by the returns, the greatest number during the year 1820, was at one time 318.

The plan of this prison is very deficient in inspection, which inconvenience is much lamented by the present Governor, who has recently removed hither from Devizes.

The number of classes amounts to seventeen, viz, male debtors, two; felons before trial, three; felons before trial (boys) one; male convicts, three; boys, one; Bridewell prisoners, one; vagrants, one; female debtors, one; female felons before trial, one; female convicts, two; disorderly females, one.

There are seventeen airing-yards, fifteen day-rooms, 169 cells, four dark cells, three large rooms, wherein nearly fifty prisoners sleep, several work-shops, and an hospital ward. The number of prisoners in custody when visited, was 218.

All the prisoners, excepting those before trial, are employed in dressing flax, spinning, weaving cloth for prison clothing, rugs, blankets, &c.; knitting stockings, heading pins for the Birmingham manufacturers, shoemaking, tailoring, grinding corn, pumping water, &c. The earnings are entirely reserved till the time of their discharge. The males have one-eighth share of the produce of their labour; another eighth is divided between the task master and Governor,and the remaining three-quarters accrue to the County. By grinding corn they earn about 1s. 6d.per week; pin-heading 1s. 6d. per week; weaving and spinning 2s. 6d. weekly. Females have one-eighth portion of earnings, one-third accrues to the matron, and the remainder to the County. The females wash and cook for all prisoners, except debtors. The net produce of labour for the year 1819, was £474, equal to about half the expense of maintenance. No irons are used except in cases of refractory conduct. The officers of the prison are the Chaplain, Surgeon, Governor, three turnkeys, a matron, a master manufacturer, and a taskmaster. The Dietary, heretofore, was nearly the same as at the Mill bank Penitentiary, but has been lately reduced. The present diet for the working classes is, daily, 1 quart of gruel, 1lb. of potatoes, 1lb. of bread, which is fully sufficient. The men are in good health, and appear to be satisfied.

A system of solitary confinement , as practised at Devizes, has been commenced here.

The Chaplain (lately appointed) visits daily , and performs divine service on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The Surgeon frequently visits, and inspects every prisoner before he is passed to his class.

By 1823, for those on hard labour, the prison had a treadmill whose steps were seven inches high and rotated at 60 steps per minute. In a total of eight hours on the wheel, a prisoner would perform 11,550 feet of ascent. The mill ground corn for the consumption of the prison, for the adjacent lunatic asylum, and also for sale. The infirmary, previously in the body of the prison, was moved to a detached building in one of the yards. There was a school-room in the prison, where men and boys were daily, but separately, instructed; the females were instructed in their own departments, and the whole was conducted under the superintendence of the chaplain. Divine service was performed twice on Sunday, also in the morning of Wednesday, and in the afternoon of Friday, with occasional lectures. In the summer months the prisoners rose at 5.30 a.m. and at sunrise during the rest of the year. They were allowed half an hour for breakfast, an hour for dinner, and an hour (short days excepted) before they were locked up in the evening. The dietary consisted of two pints of gruel for breakfast, one pound of potatoes with salt for dinner, and a pound and three-quarters of bread. The men employed at the tread-mill had an additional allowance of a quarter of a pound of bread in the evening.

A report in 1824 noted:

This prison stands in an airy and elevated situation, at a short distance from the town of Stafford. The boundary-wall encloses a quadrangular plot of ground, about 400 feet in front, containing three acres. The buildings, which are of brick, project from each other at right angles, so as to form three middle or internal courts, which are by these means enclosed within high walls. The governor's house is opposite the entrance, having a neat enclosed garden in front. Behind, is the central court, which conducts to the principal departments of the prison: this court is only accessible to the prisoners when they are conveyed to or from the different classes. The matron's house is on the opposite side of this court. The other two courts, which are spacious, form part of the prisoners' airing-yards. The other airing-yards are placed on the outside of the main building, and are enclosed so as to leave a road or passage-way round the prison, between the boundary-wall and the airing-yards. There are no means of central inspection over the prison; but from this surrounding passage the governor and officers are enabled to inspect the prisoners while in the yards with great fatality, the external enclosure of the yards being formed of iron railing which has been lately put up, instead of the wooden paling which formed the original harrier. At the time of this visit, the prisoners were actively employed in covering the surface of the yards with broken stones, on the improved system of road-making.

The yards in the rear, occupied by the women, have a tolerable degree of inspection from the matron's house : they are now enclosed with brick-walls, next to the surrounding passage, to prevent communication with the male officers.

An octangular turnkey's lodge is placed in the rear passage, which affords inspection over the adjoining yards of the male prisoners. It is proposed to erect two additional lodges next to the surrounding passage, for turnkeys' residences, in order to render the external boundaries of the prison more secure.

The prison buildings, which are three stories high, comprise several double ranges of cells (each cell about 9 feet by 8 feet,) opening into a middle gallery, or passage: this arrangement prevents that perfect separation of the classes, which may be obtained by distinct buildings or subdivisions. The principal day-rooms are at the extremity of each passage, and consequently cannot be inspected without going to their respective entrances.

On one side of the governor's house is a good kitchen and offices, with separate yard; and on the other side is the taskmaster's residence, adjoining to which the debtors have a spacious airing-court, about 100 feet by 70, with arcades.

The chapel is over the matron's house,and the prisoners have access to it by a gallery round the central court. In the chapel the men and women cannot see each other, the front of the women's sittings being enclosed with cloth blinds.

Next to the surrounding passage are several work-shops, for untried prisoners, and also the hospital, with an airing-yard attached. The male prisoners weave cloth and linen, blankets, rugs, and ticken. In the dye-house a fulling-mill, worked by hand-cranks, employs four men at a time at hard labour. A cylinder wheel, of 16 feet diameter, is used for pumping water into a large tank; two men at a time working separately on the inside of the wheel. The convicted male felons are employed in solitary cells, beading pins. Other prisoners make shoes and clothes for the service of the prison. The necessary repairs of the buildings are also performed by the prisoners, and it is intended to employ them in the new erections which are in contemplation.

The house-of-correction prisoners are employed at two treadwheels, in a separate building, on the gaol side of the prison, but these prisoners are not at present well classed or inspected. The mill-house is attached, and also the bake-house: corn is ground here, and the bread baked is for the service of the prison, and for the county lunatic asylum. Twenty-two prisoners are usually employed at the tread-wheels.

The female prisoners are provided with constant employment, under the superintendence of the matron and a female assistant.

The house-of-correction women wash the prison linen and clothes. Some are occupied in the kitchen to prepare the food, and others work in their day-rooms, at spinning, knitting stockings, making and mending the prison clothing, &c. The amount of earnings, from Michaelmas 1822 to Michaelmas 1823, was £677. 5s. 1d., one-sixth of which is allowed to the prisoners.

The present classification is as follows:—

1. Untried felons (1st class.)
2. Ditto (2d class.)
3. Ditto (3d class.)
4. Convicts (1st class.)
5. Ditto . (2d class.)
6. Untried misdemeanants.
7. Tried ditto.
8. Ditto, for summary convictions.
9. Boys, tried and untried.
10. Debtors
11. Master debtors One and only.
12. Vagrants.
1. Tried felons.
2. Untried ditto.
3. Misdemeanants.
4. House-of-correction women tried.
5. Disorderly women.
6. Debtors.

In order to establish a more perfect division between the gaol and house of correction, it is proposed to make considerable alterations to the prison. The present mill-house and bakehouse are to be removed, and additional buildings are to be erected for the separate confinement of the house-of-correction prisoners. It is also intended to erect additional tread-wheels, for the employment of convicts sentenced to hard labour

By 1826, several improvements had been made for the better classification and convenience of the male and female prisoners. The debtors had provided with additional accommodation, and there were now three classes for juvenile offenders. The large airing-yards have been divided by party walls. A lodge for a turnkey was erected on the north side of the prison to allow better inspection of the adjacent courtyards. Hot and cold baths and a fumigating oven had been been installed, and additional cells made from several useless recesses in different parts of the prison. The prison then contained 19 day-rooms, 17 work-rooms, and 19 airing-yards of good dimensions. The number of separate sleeping cells was 293.

In 1831-3, a crescent-shaped wing was erected, three storeys in height and 290 feet long. It contained 114 cells and a series of 6 treadmills were built at the south of it.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

Construction.—This prison contains 22 classes, 19 day-rooms, 14 work-rooms and shops, and 22 airing-yards. It is said to be capable of holding 325 prisoners in separate cells, and to be capable of holding 546 when more than one sleeps in a cell.

Management.—The governor, taskmaster, head turnkey, matron, and female turnkey reside wholly within the walls. As regards the other officers, the four turnkeys (having families) take their meals at their own houses, but sleep in the prison; the assistant officer and porter sleep within the walls on the alternate nights; and the whole take their turns as night watchmen or guards.

Silence was enjoined about two years ago. Tobacco and snuff are forbidden. This prison, is conducted with care and judgment; and neatness and good order reign almost throughout. A considerable number of separate cells have been built near the tread-wheel yards; in those the prisoners sentenced to hard labour are confined. These last have no exercise except on Sundays, when they have the free use of the yard, keeping three feet asunder from each other, and always in the presence of an officer. On week-days they work at the tread-wheel.

The untried associate together (in the day time) in the different classes to which they belong, but they are not (as far as it is practicable) allowed to communicate with each other; they must not talk so as to be heard. They are kept separate at night.

The convicted felons generally are kept in separate cells, and when at work on the tread wheels they are not permitted to speak.

The existing rules of the prison (made in 1824) allow a portion of the convicts to take their meals together in the presence of a turnkey; the rest are confined separately during meal time. The prisoners summarily convicted take their meals together in rooms appropriated for this purpose in their different classes.

No communication is allowed with friends outside, either by visits or by letter, unless the prisoner has been in custody six months, and not then if he has misconducted himself.

A night patrol is alternately performed by the four turnkeys, miller and baker, assistant turnkey, and porter; each sits up one night in the seven. There is no patrol on the female side.

Labour.—There are tread-wheels for grinding corn for the prison use, and for the public, and for supplying the prison with water and cleansing the prison drains. Besides this hard labour, several other occupations are carried on, such as heading pins for pin manufacturers, making clog shoes, making, repairing, and washing prisonersí clothing;; fulling mill for cleaning blankets, rugs, carpets; breaking stones for repairing prison yards, making broad for the prisoners; carpenterís, bricklayerís, masonís, painterís, and locksmithís work; knitting stockings, &c.

The work is productive. The prisoners are paid on their discharge from prison a portion of the profit, not exceeding one-sixth; the county is benefitted by the remainder.

Very few untried prisoners are employed, as it is considered dangerous to place various tools in their possession. Some are employed in tailorís work, painting, masonís and bricklayerís work, in keeping the prison clean, and in whitewashing it.

Labour is here decidedly regarded as a punishment, and is not sought after. The boys are usually employed in pin-heading. Ten hours, daily is the period allotted to labour in the summer months; during the rest of the year it varies according to the length of the days.

Donations to discharged prisoners are made from the county fund; 2s. or 3s. is the lowest sum, and 5s. usually the highest given. The time and labour are usually the regulators of the amount The sums paid in 1836 amounted to £53. 14s. 9d.

Diet.—The weekly allowance for all prisoners is 28 ozs. bread, 1lb. of potatoes, 3 pints of gruel, and a sufficient quantity of salt in the gruel and with the potatoes.

Half an hour is allowed for breakfast, one hour at dinner, and half an hour at supper; at much times the convicts are confined in separate cells.

Escapes.—During 17 years of the keeperís residence here he has lost no debtor. Four escapes have happened within that period, three of men and one of a woman, but they were all retaken.

Suicide.—During 17 years one man has hung himself; he was charged with murder, and hanged himself in his cell the day before his trial.

Religious and other Instruction.—-The chaplain was absent at the time of my visit. He attends at the prison daily. He performs Divine service in the chapel twice on Sunday with a sermon; he also performs Divine service on Wednesday morning and Friday afternoon. He visits the sick, and gives instruction to the juvenile classes, as well as other prisoners. He also visits those who are confined in solitude, and affords them moral and religious instruction. He keeps a separate journal of the duties he performs, but not a character book. The prisoners character is noticed, however, more or less, in the different registers. Classes are formed for prisoners under the age of 17, and instruction is given to such adults as require it. Such instruction, however, must be necessarily scanty, without the aid of a regular schoolmaster.

The chaplain is attached in a similar capacity to the adjoining county lunatic asylum.

Care of the Sick, Disease, and Mortality.—I am indebted to the surgeon of this prison for very instructive and copious details as to its state of health. The surgeon was appointed to his office four years ago, and had previously assisted his father, the former surgeon, at various times during the six anterior years. He has the unlimited power of ordering extra food and extra exercise whenever he thinks it proper. An honorary physician is attached at present to the establishment, but he receives no salary. The surgeon examines all prisoners on their admission; he usually visits those prisoners who are sentenced to solitary confinement a day or two after they have been placed in their cells, and sometimes repeats his visit once during the week or fortnight in which they remain so confined. Two female prisoners have lain in here since January 1837, and two more are likely soon to be in the same situation, but no such case has terminated fatally, nor has any child died here during the four years in which he has held his office. No death occurred from the influenza which prevailed in the late spring. The surgeon has witnessed no case of scurvy during his four years of office. He has frequently had occasion to prescribe, for prisoners who have remained here long, the use of aromatics and of meat, because they often suffer from waterbrash and flatulence. He has known no other evil consequence to arise from a low diet except night-blindness, of which he has seen four or five instances here at once. The prison is remarkably damp during certain, changes of the weather; the passages are then very wet. The surgeon visits the prison every day, and sometimes twice daily. He keeps a copious journal, in which the name of every disease is entered, and every case sent to the infirmary is recorded; but he also gives medicine in many trifling cases of dyspepsia, &c., which do not appear in his journal.

The county provides trusses and calico, but nothing else whatever. The surgeon supplies all medicines.

The itch should be included in the surgeonís journal, with other disorders. The venereal disorders have much diminished in frequency of late years, Fever of late years has usually been of an inflammatory character, except in a few eases of vagrants. Rheumatism and bronchitis are not very common. Phthisis pulmonalis is not common. Scrofulous complaints, sore legs, broken shins, and trifling surgical cases occur frequently. About 40 years ago ague was extremely abundant in Stafford, but, in consequence of draining, it is now very rare. Whenever it appears within the prison it is imported. The surgeon sometimes sees prisoners suffering a soreness of the tongue and palate, accompanied by a remarkably clean state of the tongue. It is not attended by fever: there is no ulceration; and it is cured by borax. He thinks it depends on the vegetable character of the diet.

A well conducted prisoner acts as nurse, but it would be better in all cases that prisoners should be attended by paid officers of their own sex. A turnkey does attend as nurse when he can be spared from his other duties.

The most frequent cases of disorders which are not admitted into the infirmaries are dyspepsia, gonorrhoea, aching of the back and of the calves of the legs in the prisoners who tread the wheel, coughs, colds, and slight ulcers.

There is one insane prisoner confined here at present.

Solitary Confinement lasts 7 or 14 days, in a cell which may be called dark. Tho diet is as usual.

Whipping.—The ordinary number of lashes has been from one to two dozen. It is inflicted in the presence of the governor and the class to which the prisoner has belonged.

Offences and Punishments.—chief offences are petty thefts, fighting, disorderly conduct in various ways; talking, refusing to work on the tread-wheels, singing in the night-time, disobeying orders, refractory behaviour, and repeated offences against the rules, These offences are punished by confinement in light cells, dark cells, and solitary cells, for various periods; bread and water during only from one to three days; confinement to the whipping post for one hour.

In 1843, substantial additions were made to create extra cells for use of separate system, including what became A, B and C wings. Also spacious new chapel was also erected. New female cells were constructed in 1851. In 1864, the crescent-shaped wing was lengthened and raised and converted to have cells both sides of an open corridor.

Following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878, the site became HM Prison Stafford. In the 1890s, the treadmill was reconstructed.

HMP Stafford and County Asylum (upper centre), 1920s. © Peter Higginbotham

HMP Stafford officers at entrance, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

The prison used to house prisoners of war taken during Easter Rising in Dublin in April 1916. It was closed later that year and then mothballed for two decades. It re-opened in 1939, at the start of the Second World War.

In 1957, because of a shortage of Borstal places, one wing of the prison was allocated for the housing of about 100 boys waiting to go to Borstal reception centres. The wing in question had formerly been a young prisoners' training centre, where inmates under 21 received special treatment, but had not been used for some time. It was intended that the new inmates were to be under a regime as similar as possible to that at a Borstal.

In more recent years, HMP Stafford has operated as a Category 'C' Prison for male adults. Since 2014, it has been solely used for men convicted of sex offences.

The prison's administration block is the most substantial surviving remnant of William Blackburn's work within a working prison.


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. Holds: Stafford Gaol — Registers of prisoners (1841-45, 1866-70); Entry book of juvenile offenders (1863-78); Copy of distributed National Alphabetical Register of Habitual Criminals in England and Wales. Printed (1869-1876).
  • Staffordshire Record Office, Eastgate Street, Stafford, ST16 2LZ. Holdings include: Register for Bridewell (1792-1806); Register of felons (1793-1816); Register of admission and discharge for penal servitude prisoners (1896-1903); Register of House of Correction and index (1806-15); Return relating to prisoners in Stafford County Gaol and Wolverhampton Prison (1820); Nominal registers of admission and discharge for male and female prisoners (1878-89, 1888-1901); Nominal register of admission and discharge for female prisoners (1890-1905); Assize re-committal book (record of previous convictions) (1888-96); Photograph album of male and female prisoners upon discharge (1877-99).
  • 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.