Ancestry UK

Borough Gaol and House of Correction, Tiverton, Devon

In 1846-7, a new Borough Gaol and House of Correction was erected on the east side of St Andrew's Street, Tiverton, replacing the existing Town Bridewell premises. The building, designed by Gideon Acland Boyce, had a police station at its front, with the gaol behind.

In 1849, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This prison is well constructed, and having been only a short time built, is in very good repair. It was first occupied in February, 1847, the cells having been certified, as fit for separate confinement early in that month. It faces the west, and has the airing-yards for females and debtors on that side; the men's airing-yards bemg placed on the eastern aspect. The main corridor contains 20 cells for male criminal prisoners, 10 being on the ground floor, and the remainder on a gallery of slate, which is approached by an iron staircase. From the gallery at the western extremity, a door leads to the chapel. The cells are furnished all alike, each containing a hammock and bedding, a table, a stool, and a corner-shelf. They are all provided with water-closets and washing places, with a good separate supply of water for the use of each cell. A copy of the Bible and a Prayer-book are placed m each cell. The cells are of the most approved construction, and of large size, and by day are sufficiently lighted; hut it is much to he lamented that they are not lighted in any manner at night, by which in the winter season much time is lost which might be profitably occupied, if they were provided, with that advantage. The ventilation of the cells is conducted on Mr. Haden's plan, and appears to he very perfect. Each cell is provided with an alarum to enable the prisoner to communicate with the officers of the prison.

The women's division, occupies the south wing of the building. In consists of a corridor, having cells situate on one side only; three cells and the matron's room being below, and two cells and a sick-room, or infirmary for females, in the gallery above. They are fitted up exactly on the same plan as those of the men in all respects, having, like them, hammocks instead of beds.

The chapel, which is approached by a door from the gallery of the men's division, has also a similar door leading from the women's side. It is constructed in separate divisions, of which there are 22 for males, and nine for females; and as much space is left vacant for debtors, of whom the numbers are small. The accommodation for criminals might be much extended, if it were found necessary. A passage on the west side leads to the apartments of the governor.

In the passage on the ground-floor, which leads from the entrance to the part occupied by male criminal prisoners, are situated, on the right, a store-room, a dispensary, and a room for the meetings of the magistrates; and on the left, two reception-cells for males, and a room for a turnkey.

In the basement, besides, the warming apparatus, coal stores, kitchens, and cellars, there are four cells, one dark for punishment, and the remaining three for vagrants committed for short periods. These are fitted up in all respects like the cells described above. There is also a bath in the basement, in which the male prisoners are washed on admission but this is not used, as it might be, for the periodical ablution of prisoners, none being again washed, except those who are under long sentences of imprisonment.

The debtors' division, like that of the females, is a one-sided corridor, having three boarded rooms for debtors in a gallery above, and one room and a day-room below. One of these upper rooms and the day-toom have fire-places. The debtors' division has a door communicating with the passage of the governor's bed-room floor, which would require to be strengthened, if criminals were confined there. This accommodation is so much beyond what is required for the small number of debtors committed, that it is probable that all the eastern division, comprising 20 cells, might be spared for other purposes; and as the new prison of Plymouth will render it no longer necessary to bring the prisoners from that borough to Tiverton, these 20 cells might be leased to the Government for the probationary confinement of transports: but, in that case, it would be necessary for the cells to be lighted with gas, and for the staff of the prison to be increased by the appointment of a schoolmaster, and two more warders. The present turnkey is also the scoolmaster.

I have to add to the above description of the building, that every part of it was extremely clean.

The only kind of labour performed in the prison, by male prisoners, is the stone-breaking, already alluded to, and that is not remunerative. There is no treadmill. The prisoners walk to the Court at the time of the quarter sessions; which is very objectionable, as admitting of communication with strangers, as well as from exposing the untried prisoners to the gaze of the people, which it is one of the objects of the separate system to avoid. It would be much better that they should be conveyed in a van.

The drainage of the prison is very good, and the courts and airing-yard are consequently very dry.

The prison is well supplied with good water, by three pumps, in different parts.

The prison clothing is very defective, untried prisoners being obliged to wear their own clothes. This practice is very objectionable, as the clothes, the decent condition of which is so necessary to enable discharged prisoners to obtain employment, are generally worn out before their discharge. In this manner, by a false economy, is one of the doors shut against the return of the prisoner to honest habits. Convicted prisoners are clothed by the borough; the vagrants in blue, the rest in fustian. Clothes are allowed, in some cases, to prisoners on their discharge; but it would be much better that their own were preserved, which would not hold out any temptation to vagrants to come into the prison for the purpose of being clothed. Discharged prisoners are allowed 1s. to support them on the day of their discharge. Those from Plymouth, having so far to go to reach their home, are allowed 5s.

The dietary is upon a very bad principle, being the same for all terms of confinement. Diet, and being on a liberal scale, holds out no small temptation to vagrants and others to come into prison for short terms. It consists, by the week, of 10½lbs. of bread, 1 lb. of meat, 10½lbs. of potatoes, 7 pints of soup made with 3oz. of meat to a pint, and 14 pints of coffee or tea, with milk and sugar. During the late scarcity of potatoes, 3½lbs. of bread have been substituted for them, and the use of potatoes has not yet been resumed. To obviate the objection of the diet being unnecessarily high for short-sentenced prisoners, the magistrates, on committing prisoners for terms not excecding three weeks, are in the habit of prescribing a reduction of their diet, according to their judgment. This is an irregular mode of effecting some graduation of the diet, which ought to be the result of a fixed scale, sanctioned by the Secretary of State. The governor is allowed 6d. per day for supplying the full diet to each prisoner, and gives credit to the borough for the quantity of bread withheld from the exceptional cases by order of the magistrates. This is a very had system, and has been long exploded in most prisons.

The surgeon attends daily and sees all sick prisoners, as wml as those in solitary confincment. He sees all the prisoners two or three times a-week, but does not ask them any questions, unless they complain of illness. He, however, sees all prisoners on their reception, and records their then state of health. He also keeps a journal and a prescription book, in which he enters in a full and intelligible manner, as required by law, all medicines given to the prisoners. The infirmary for females is very sufficient; but there is no sick-room devoted to male prisoners.

The chaplain attends three times a-week, reading prayers on each of those days; and also preaching a sermon on Sundays, Christmas-day, and Good Friday. He likewise visits the prison occasionally to converse with prisoners. It has already been said, that the turnkey gives part of his time to the duty of a schoolmaster. He instructs the prisoners about an hour in the evening, and also occasionally in the day-time.

The punishments are few, and seldam severe. The staff of the prison comprises three resident officers, the governor, matron, and turnkey: and the chaplain and surgeon.

The former prison site is shown on the 1889 map below.

Former Borough Gaol and House of Correction site, Tiverton, c.1889.

After the prison was closed in 1878, a public swimming bath was constructed in the south-eastern yard. Only the front police stationsection now survives, converted to residential use.


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  • Devon Heritage Centre, Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Sowton Exeter EX2 7NL. Has a bundle of correspondence including returns to the Home Office of names and numbers of prisoners (1829-79).
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  • 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.