Ancestry UK

Borough Gaol, Thetford, Norfolk

The Thetford Borough Gaol and Bridewell, or House of Correction, was in existence in 1774, when it was visited by John Howard. The gaol occupied premises at 4-6 Old Market Street, which were repaired and enlarged in 1781.

In 1784, John Howard wrote of the gaol:

Is also the town bridewell. The ground-floor for the keeper. On the first story, are four rooms for debtors; and two for delinquents. For felons, a dungeon down a ladder of 10 steps; 18 feet by 9½, and 9 feet high: a window 18 inches by 14: and an aperture about 2 feet square, lately opened into the passage.

At assize once a year, from sixteen to twenty prisoners brought hither from Norwich castle are confined in this dungeon four or five nights. Keeper no salary. Licence for beer.—At my last visit, here was an inscription: "This gaol was repaired and enlarged in the mayoralty of William Holmes, Esq. 1781." The new part consists of one large room and two over it. A court and pump. A table of fees, &c. is now hung up, but not signed.

1774, Dec. 9,Prisoner 1.1779, Sep. 24,Prisoner 1.
1776, Nov. 18,0.1782, July 6,0.
A TABLE of Fees to be taken in this Gaol.
£. S. D.
On the coming in of a debtor, no garnish to be paid.
If the debtor is furnished with a bed, to pay for it per week0  1  0
If two lie in one bed0  1  6
If he finds his own bed0  0  0
Searching file for warrant0  0  0
For delivery of any declaration against a debtor or any other proceeding0  1  0
For copy of every warrant0  1  0
To the gaoler's certificate for supersedeas0  1  0
On the discharge of every debtor if on one execution or mesne process0  6  8
If on two0 13  4
Turnkey0  0  0
Bed per week each felon0  0  9
If two lie in one bed0  1  6
For dismission of each felon or criminal prisoner, discharged either by a magistrate or by the court of assize or session0  0  0
Rules and Orders to be observed.

Each felon is allowed one penny per day at the expence of the town, and each debtor the same. clergyman to attend the felons while under sentence of death. Debtors and felons are to wash them selves every day, and are to be let into the yard where a trough is fixed with fresh water for that purpose. And they are to sweep and sprinkle their rooms every morning.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, John Penteny. Salary, 10l. Fees, Debtors, 6s.8d. Felons, 13s.4d.

Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Manning. Salary, 10l.

Duty, to attend the Condemned Convicts every day.

Surgeon, sent by the Mayor, as wanted.

Number of Prisoners,
1805, Aug. 31st, None. 1810, Sept. 17th, None.

Allowance, threepence a day, and a peck of coals per week each.


On the front of the building is the following Inscription:

"This Gaol was repaired, and enlarged, in the Mayoralty of WILLIAM HOLMES, esq. 1781."

In the above room all Male Prisoners are kept together, during the day. At night the Men Criminals sleep in a large Dungeon, nine steps down, to which a trap-door opens from the floor of the Keeper's kitchen; its dimensions 18 feet by 9, and 8 feet high, lighted and ventilated by a small iron-barred and grated window, looking toward the court-yard, or garden, and in size 20 inches by 14!

The court-yard, converted into a little garden-ground, is 42 feet by 35; with a pump in it, and a privy. The wall is hardly 10 feet high, and deemed insecure.

There are two sleeping-cells on the ground-floor; one of which looks to the Street, 9 feet long by 8 feet 6, and 8 feet high: it has a fag-stone floor, with a bench to sit upon; and the admission of light and air is through a circular iron-grating, 18 inches in diameter.

The other room adjoining, is of about the same size with the former; lighted in the same manner by a grating towards the garden. Straw only upon the floors to sleep on.

Women Prisoners are confined above stairs. Their day-room is 21 feet by 12, and 8 feet high; with a fire-place, and glazed window. Their sleeping-room, 13 feet 6 by 10 feet, and 8 feet high, has glazed windows and blinds.

A Table of Fees, Rules, and ORDERS, is hung up, but not being signed, I do not transcribe them.

The Gaol-Delivery for this County is held twice in the year; once at Norwich, and once a year at Thetford; to which, in the year 1805, the Gaoler informed me that forty-two Prisoners were removed from Norwich; three from Wyndham; four from Swaffham; and three from Aylesham: Total, 52.—And were all confined six nights in the Dungeon and two cells of Thetford Town-Gaol! In 1810 twenty-three Prisoners were removed from Norwich Castle; two from Wyndham; five from Swaffham; and one from Walsingham; and were all confined six nights in the Dungeon and two cells. The Gaoler told me it was more than twenty years since any Debtor had been detained here. Neither the Act nor Clauses hung up. The Prison clean.

The building was enlarged in 1816 by the addition of an extra storey.

In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This gaol is of considerable extent. It was raised a story in 1S16, in consequence of the old building being insufficient to contain the number of prisoners assembled from all parts of the county for trial at the assizes then held at Thetford, but since removed to Norwich. This prison is now only used for borough commitments, and months often elapse without its having an inmate. It is situated in a part of the town called the Old Market; is detached from other buildings, with a public thoroughfare on all sides. The main building fronts the street; it has no boundary wall; there is a small airing-yard behind, enclosed with a wall about 15 feet in height. The interior of the prison contains a number of ill-constructed apartments, among which is one 7 feet below ground, descended to by a trap door, imperfectly lighted and ventilated; it is 8 feet in height, 9 feet in breadth, and 18 feet in length. In all there are eight sleeping-rooms and cells, and three dayrooms. The Keeper's apartments consist of three bed-rooms on the first floor, a parlour and kitchen on the ground floor, and a kitchen and offices below ground.

Diet of the Prisoners.—Four-pence a day is allowed to the Keeper for the maintenance of each prisoner.

Bedding.—There are no bedsteads of any description. The bedding is of very inferior quality to that used in similar establishments, and was extremely dirty at the period of inspection. It consists of a mat made of sedge, two blankets and a rug.

Labour.—A small tread-wheel, for the employment of the prisoners, was erected about three years ago by private subscription among the inhabitants; it can be made available for grinding grist. There is very seldom any occasion for its use; no prisoner has been on it for six months past.

Surgeon.—There is no regular Surgeon, but medical assistance is always provided when requisite.

Chaplain.—There is no Chaplain, nor any provision for the moral or religious instruction of the prisoners. Bibles and Testaments may, however, be obtained, on application to the Keeper.

Keeper.—Aged 50 years; appointed by the Mayor and Corporation in 1829. He has a salary of 10l. a year. He is allowed a small quantity of coals for the prison use. He also receives for vagrants, who are occasionally sent there, 3d. a night each for their lodgings, and 3d. for a meal. He is a carpenter by trade, and his shop and yard, where he carries on his business, are at some distance from the prison. One room in the prison is occupied as a shoemaker's shop, by his brother-in-law, his son and an apprentice: the window of this apartment, without iron grating or blind, looks into the prisoners' airing-yard, and is only 5½ feet from the ground.

No register is kept of the prisoners, their offences or sentences, the Keeper simply inserts their names in a book, with his charge against the Corporation. He sends his bill in once a year, and generally three quarters more are allowed, to elapse before it is discharged. His bill for the last year, for maintenance of the prisoners and other expenses incurred,, amounted to 35l. 14s. 10d.

Observations:—The interior of the building appears in a state of neglect, from the want of occupancy. Only nine persons have been confined therein during the year 1835. The building is of such extent, and the rooms so numerous, as to put it out of the power of the Keeper to preserve it in a proper state of cleanliness. There is great difficulty of preventing communication with the prisoners from without, in consequence of there being no exterior wall, and a public thoroughfare running on all sides. In the airing-yard, and against the walls of the prison, the Keeper has built up a pig-stye, a nuisance which ought to be discontinued. The cells are most imperfectly ventilated, and but little calculated for any long-period of confinement. The entire arrangement of the building is inconvenient for the purposes of maintaining the discipline necessary in a prison. There is space enough for alteration, but it would be much more beneficial, and less expensive, if prisoners were only retained here till trial; and that the borough Magistrates should come to an arrangement, whereby they might be enabled to send them to undergo corrective discipline at the more efficient establishments of the county.

Former Borough Gaol, Thetford, 1980s.

The prison was closed in around 1857. The building was subsequently used as a police station. In the late 1900s, the property was converted into flats.


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