Ancestry UK

City Gaol and Debtors' Prison, Bath, Somerset

Prior to 1773, Bath's City Gaol and Debtors' Prison was in the tower of the fomer St Mary's Church, by Nortgate, on what is now Bridge Street. At that time, it housed only minor offenders, while felons wre placed in the county gaols at Ilchester and Shepton Mallett. The old tower had t be demolished to make way to allow construction of the new Pulteney Bridge across the River Avon to Bathwick, which was opened in 1774. The new gaol, erected on on Grove Street, Bathwick, was designed by Thomas Warr Attwood. Its foundation stone was laid on 7 May 1772 and the building was completed by the end of 1773. It consisted of a three-storey front block above a full-height basement, with two wings running back from either end of the front range. Its architectural style is similar to that of other large townhouses built in Bath at that time.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

The ascent to this prison, built in a meadow which is sometimes overflowed, is by a fine flight of stone steps. On the ground-floor is the keeper's kitchen, &c. and four rooms for petty offenders. Above are three stories; five rooms on each: one or two of them used by the keeper: the rest for debtors; one bed in a room, in which if two prisoners sleep, they pay two shillings a week each; if one has it to himself, he pays four shillings a week. Two rooms on the second story are free wards, one for men, the other for women; on the upper floor is their work-shop. There is a small court with offensive sewers. Keeper, a sheriff's officer: no salary: fees, if from the court of requests, 3s. 6d. Debtors for large sums, 7s. 8d. no table. Licence for for beer. Allowance, to debtors, none (they are liberally supplied by voluntary donations); to offenders, 2d.a day. Clauses against spirituous liquors, and the act for preserving the health of prisoners, not hung up.

1774, Aug. 6,16,2.1779, Feb. 10,10,2.
1775, Dec. 12,14,1.1782, Feb. 28, 3,5.
1776, Dec. 16,11,0.
Deserters 3.

Former City Gaol and Debtors' Prison, Grove Street, Bath

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, George Griffin, who is also a Sheriff's Officer; which no Keeper of a Prison should be. He must frequently be from home; and his business is incompatible with the Duty of a Gaoler.

Salary 30l. Fees 7s. 8d. No Table. Conveyance of Prisoners to the County Gaol at Ilchester, one shilling per mile.

Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Marshall, lately appointed.

Salary 20l.

Duty, no stated time of attendance, or arrangement of service. At my visit here, in Sept. 1 806, it was more than two months since divine service had been last performed.

Surgeon, Mr. Kitson, also lately appointed.

Salary 20l.

Number of Prisoners,

Debtors.Felons &c.Petty Offenders.Deserters.
1800, March 30th,1240
1801, Dec. 22d,23100
1803, Oct. 5th,1041
1806, Sept. 19th,2162

Allowance to Debtors, none whatever.

Felons and Criminal Prisoners, sixpence, or fourpence per day in bread, as it is dear or cheap; it is sent from the Baker in two-penny loaves: Weight in Sept. 1806, eleven ounces each.


This Prison, situate in Grove-street, is unfortunately built on very low ground. The ascent to it is by a fine flight of stone steps. On the entrance-floor are the Keeper s parlour, kitchen, and two bed-rooms. Above are three stories, and on each five good-sized rooms; two of which are used by the Keeper: the rest are for Debtors; one bed in a room, for which the Prisoner pays 3s. 6d. per week.

Two rooms on the second-story are free-wards; one for Men, the other for Women; to which the Corporation allows straw laid on the floor.

No employment is furnished by the city. Coals are sometimes allowed to the Prison: But here is no Chapel. Divine service (when performed at all) is in a front-room, of 17 feet by 14; one half of which is taken up by a large barrack bedstead.* Previous to my visit in 1801, there had been little or no religious duty for many years; and yet, at one of my visits, there were 31 Prisoners in the Gaol.

The police of this splendid and matchless city appears to be well-regulated in every respect, except as to its Prison. The Act for the Preservation of Health is not hung up; but on a painted board is inscribed, "No strong Liquors admitted, under the Penalty of Ten Pounds, or three Months Imprisonment."

For Petty Offenders, here is, seventeen steps down, a dark damp day-room, about 14 feet square, with a fire-place; and three damp sleeping-cells, one of which is 14 feet square, and 9 feet high; the two others y feet square: One of them has no light nor ventilation, but what it receives from an aperture in the door, 9 inches by 6: The doors are boarded, and have loose straw to sleep on.

These cells are frequently crammed with vagrants; and there is a flagged court, 52 feet long and l6 feet wide, used in common, both for Prisoners of the latter description, and for debtors, through which lies the passage to the court-yard, where felons are confined. This court was formerly overflowed by water, the marks of which, at least, till lately, were visible on the walls; but since the canal has been cut, the ground is dry.

In the centre there are 12 cells, which the Corporation have very properly built upon arches: They consist of a double range, six in each, of about 8 feet square, and as many high; light, well-ventilated, and to every one there is a fire-place, and a small stone-sink as an urinal in one corner. The floors are of boards, with loose straw to sleep on. The doors of the cells open into stone galleries, 42 feet long, and 3 feet 9 inches wide, guarded by an iron railing, and with a sewer at each end. No room set apart for an Infirmary. No Bath, nor County clothing. No mops, brooms, pails, soap or towels, for personal or prison cleanliness. No Rules and Orders. Mrs. Dickenson, who resides at Hath, has sent annually, for the last seven years, at Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide, one pound and a half of mutton or beef, a half-quartern loaf and potatoes, to every Prisoner in this Gaol.

Debtors are sent hither from the Court of Requests for the City of Bath, and Liberties thereof; the parish of Walcot; the several parishes and places in the Hundreds of Bath-forum and Wellow; the Liberties of Hampton, Claverton, Easton and Amrill, all in the County of Somerset: which Court takes cognizance of all debts not exceeding ten pounds. The imprisonment for debts exceeding five pounds is 200 days.

* Barrack-beds, or bedsteads, were low stages of boards, raised from the floor, and sloping from the wall towards the middle of the room, as in the barracks for soldiers.

A report in 1827 noted:

This prison is for debtors, and individuals committed for want of sureties, and for vagrants and deserters till they are sent to their ultimate destination,and also for those who are detained a few days for further examination before the city magistrates. It contains six sleeping-cells, two day-rooms,and two yards, for prisoners committed for want of sureties; five rooms used for vagrants and deserters; four sleeping-rooms for the superior class of debtors; one large room, containing several beds, for common debtors, and one day-room for the same description of prisoners; one room for female prisoners of the same description. There are also two rooms for the sick, which are occasionally used for superior debtors.

No alteration has been made in the construction of this prison of late years. At this time there were in confinement, Male debtors 7; For want of sureties 6; Total 13.

The prison appeared tolerably clean and airy. The debtors' apartments are very good. The keeper procures horsehair for the prisoners to pick, by which they earn a little money. The only allowance of food is 1½lb. of bread per day; but the prisoners generally have some friends in the city who can supply them with additional food.

The prison was closed in 1842 and replaced by a new building erected in 1841-3 on what is now Caledonian Road, Twerton. It was designed by George Phillips Manners, its frontage very much in the the elegant style of other Bath buildings of the day. It was first occupied on 31 August 1842. It comprised a three-storey building housing the governor's quarters and administrative functions, and a rear block, also of three storeys, with 127 cells.

Former City Gaol and Debtors' Prison, Twerton, Bath

In 1845, the Inspectors of Prisons presented a lengthy report on the prison, an abridged version of which is included below:

The present prison is distant about a mile and a half from the city of Bath, and stands in the parish of Twerton, upon an elevated plot of ground to the left of the Bristol lower road, and between that road and the Great Western Railway, which passes close under the southern external wall. The site occupies about two acres of ground.

The entire edifice, inclusive of the boundary wall, which is 17 feet high from the set off, is constructed of Bath stone. The approach to the gaol is by a private road, the entrance being on the north side through a fore-court. The prison itself consists of two main buildings, one forming a front, the other a back building, and each communicating with the other by means of passages on either floor. The front building has three chief divisions, namely, the keeper's house on the east side, the male debtors' prison on the west, and the chapel in the centre. The back building is that in which the cells are situated; at its eastern extremity provision has been made for the reception of female debtors.

The front building is approached by a flight of steps, leading to the entrance hall in the centre on the ground floor. A front room on the right hand, originally used as the visiting room of the debtors' prison, and with which it has still a door of communication, is appropriated as a Board-room for the magistrates. At the back are two reception cells for male prisoners.

The debtors' prison lies beyond these, and is approached by a passage from the entrance hall. It contains two day-rooms on the ground floor, a kitchen beyond, and three sleeping rooms above. Contiguous to it is an exercising yard, which is divided from the fore-court by a wall, through which there is a door of communication. Formerly, there were four sleeping rooms; but one adjoining to the chapel, and opening into it, has been assigned to the chaplain as his private room.

On the left of the entrance hall are the door porter's room, a store room, and a visiting room; the last being a small closed room, divided by iron railings into three compartments, for the prisoner, the visitor, and the officer respectively. The governor's house is beyond these, and there is an approach to it from the entrance hall, as likewise from the fore-court, by means of a door through the wall which separates the fore-court from the governor's garden. It contains six rooms, a kitchen, and other offices. The chapel is above the entrance hall and the rooms which flank it, and is fitted with 115 compartments, so that the prisoners may sit separately, excluded from the sight of each other. The chapel seats front the reading desk, and are divided into two main compartments by means of a narrow passage down the centre, in the middle of which sits an officer in a raised seat. The seats on one side are constructed upon a different principle from those on the other; they open at the back instead of the side, so that although a loss of space, equivalent to the width of the door, is occasioned between each double row, the advantage is gained of being able to bring in or withdraw any particular prisoner without disturbing others in the row in which he sits. On one side of the reading desk, on the ground floor, are nine additional separate stalls, and on the other an open pew for general purposes. The clerk sits in a line with the chaplain; the governor and other officers behind, on the same level, in pews extending right and left, and commanding a full view of the prisoners. Underneath the sloped chapel seats, and on a level with the chapel floor, are some small rooms; one used as a dispensary, the others for keeping the prisoners' clothes. Near these rooms is a door opening from the keeper's bed-room, and used by him as a nightway into the gaol. The Bath City Gaol and position of the chaplain's room has been already described. On the basement floor are a bath-room for male prisoners, a fumigating closet, and some store-rooms for coals, potatoes, &c. The approach to these is by a staircase from the entrance hall. The same floor contains three dark cells for male prisoners, the entrance to them being from the yard on the south side.

Passage between the Front and Back Buildings.— The entrance at either end is through iron gates across the passage. That approached from the entrance hall is an open railing; the other, which gives access to the back building, being, on the contrary, screened. On either side of this passage is a sunk court, accessible from the kitchen and offices on the basement. The passage has windows overlooking these courts.

Back Building.— This building, which properly constitutes the prison, is three stories high, 180 feet in length, and 45 feet in breadth inside. On the basement it has doors opening into the yards on the south side, and at the west and east ends. Above the end doors are windows to the top; and further light is admitted through sky-lights in the roof. The separate cells are arranged along the north and south sides of the building. They measure 13 feet by 7 feet, and are 9 feet high: they were certified in 1843. Those on the upper floors are approached from projecting galleries three feet wide, to which there are stair-cases and cross communications. A corridor, 16 feet wide, and open the whole height of the building, is thus left in the centre. This gives to the whole interior a light, airy, and even cheerful appearance. Across this breadth, a carriage for the conveyance of provisions runs along the railings of the projecting galleries, the same as at Pentonville; but there is not, as there, a windlass for raising the provisions from the kitchen. This might be easily managed, and would be a great convenience, as involving economy both of time and labour on the part of the officers. The corridor is divided into two unequal parts by a wall across from the bottom to the top, and through this there is a door of communication on each floor. The larger division, 129 feet long inside, is appropriated to male, the smaller, 51 feet long, to female prisoners, this being at the east end. The males' department comprises 82 separate cells, namely, 26 on the ground floor, and 28 on each of the two upper ones, which are severally connected with the chapel by means of the two passages over the entrance passage in the centre. On the ground-floor, two cells have been thrown into one for the turnkeys' mess room; on the first floor is a room for the schoolmaster; and on the floor above, three cells, opening one into the other, are used as an infirmary. The kitchen and scullery are situated on the basement floor, where likewise are meat and store rooms, as well as the warming and ventilating apparatus, the approach being by a stair-case on the ground-floor, in a line across from the entrance.

Connected with the males' prison, are 13 separate airing yards, which extend along the whole of the south side of the building, with the exception of an open space in the centre, through which, as already stated, is the entrance to the dark cells on the basement. Some of these yards are consequently immediately under the windows of the females' prison on that side. I do not think, however, that they can be thence overlooked. These yards are separated from the main building, with which they run parallel, by a narrow covered causeway into which they open, and from whence they can be inspected, but only singly, through inspection holes in the doors. At this end the yards are covered by a short projecting roof above, which serves to protect the prisoners in bad weather. At the opposite extremity they terminate by an open iron railing, through which also they can be inspected two or three together. They have a southern aspect. Intervening between two of these yards, is a pump for supplying the prison with water, which is worked by two handles on opposite sides of a wall. Formerly there was no such division, and two prisoners worked the pump in association, Between the southern extremity of the exercising yards and the boundary wall is a wide open space, partly covered with a green sward. At the east end of the yard, near the furthermost airing yard, and the wall of the female debtors' yard, there is a carriage way through the boundary wall, so as to admit of coals, stones, and other heavy articles being brought into the prison. It is closed by a pair of heavy gates. Escape by that outlet would be far from impossible on such occasions to the prisoners in the stone yards, or those employed as cleaners, &c., unless very great vigilance were exercised. On the west side there are 14 separate sheds for prisoners to break stones in; some of them, however, are used as coal sheds, &c. They are open in the front, and opposite to them is a small building for the use of the inspecting officer. The back of these sheds rests against the wall of the male debtors' prison, through which there is a door of communication, as from the latter to the fore court. Nearly at right angles with the stone-breaking yards, and in a line with each other, along the end of the corridor and the exercising yards, that is, right and left of the door-way, are five small workshops used for different purposes. The furthermost of these buildings, and the first stone shed, stand in an oblique direction, at an angle that admits of the prisoners at work in them seeing each other, and exchanging signals. I ascertained this by experiment; but understood that a glazed window was about to placed before the iron bars in front of the work-shop, so as to remedy the defect. In an angle of the building, on the basement, near the sunk court on this side, is a blacksmith's shop, the chimney flue of which passes into the main air shaft.

The females' department comprises 35 separate cells, namely, 11 on the ground-floor, and 12 on each of the two floors above. On the ground-floor there is a bath-room. Projecting from the exterior of the females' portion of the corridor, at the south-east angle, a small building has been erected since the prison was first built, consisting of a day-room and an adjoining bedroom on the ground-floor for female debtors, of a day-room and night-rooms on the floor above for the female turnkeys, and of an infirmary on the upper floor for the female prisoners generally. An exercising yard, separated by a wall on either side from the male and female criminal prisoners' exercising yards respectively, but having a door of communication with each, is attached to the female debtors' ward. The criminal prisoners' yard contains six separate exercising yards, constructed in the same manner, and having the same aspect as those on the males' side. The present exercising yards for females have been reconstructed since the prison was first built, as they then had an east in lieu of a south aspect, and this was justly deemed defect. The wash-house and laundry are situated in this yard in an angle, formed by a portion of the governor's house and the wall of the sunk court. The wash-house, which occupies the basement, is divided into three separate compartments; these being provided with doors, so that the prisoners can be locked in. The laundry is above, but has no such divisions. On the basement floor are two dark cells for refractory female prisoners. This yard adjoins the governor's garden, from which it is separated by a wall, but there is a door of communication near the wash-house from the one to the other, and consequently a passage by the garden to the forecourt, through the governor's entrance, in the side of the wall there. Facing the western and eastern sides of the back or cell building, a small tower, serving as a ventilator for the respective ends of the corridor, has been constructed in the wall.

It has been elsewhere mentioned that there is an entrance from the males' into the females' corridor, by a door on each of the three floors. But another, a separate entrance, has been constructed since the prison was first built; it being found, as might naturally have been anticipated, that evils ensued from taking the female prisoners through the males' prison. Hence, an opening was made in the wall of the passage connecting the front and back buildings, at the left hand corner near the iron gate of the corridor, and a projecting covered passage, level with that passage, formed over the sunk area on that side and the females' exercising yard, and so along the whole of the north side of the females' prison to the entrance at the end. This gallery is lighted from the windows overlooking the sunk court and the exercising yard referred to. It is not necessary to traverse the whole of this gallery in order to obtain access to the corridor, inasmuch as the bath-room, which is situated within a few yards of the new entrance, and between the corridor and the gallery, has a door opening into each.

The prison is the property of the corporation of Bath, and is devoted exclusively to the reception of the city and borough prisoners. The cost of the new building was £21,753. 18s. 8d.

The back or cell building is warmed and ventilated by Silvester's method, the apparatus Temperature. being situated on the basement floor; but the temperature has been hitherto found so unequal, that the apparatus must be considered defective. On the 26th November, 1842, the visiting justices' book records that the prison temperature varied from 58° to 67°.

The cells are fitted and furnished in pretty much the same manner as at Pentonville. The windows, with a few exceptions, the cause of which is elsewhere mentioned, are fixed, and there is a handle inside for sounding the alarum, for communicating with the officers. There is a water-closet, and also a washing-trough, to both of which the water is laid on. The cells on the upper floors alone have hammocks, and the great majority of these having, unfortunately, been made too short by the contractor, cannot be slung without additional hooks of various lengths. The bed-frames on the lower floor are of wood, and fixed, the centre forming a leaf, which is turned up against the wall in the day-time, and fastened thereto by a padlock. Many of the hasps, however, were deficient of padlocks. These bed frames were brought from the old prison; they are somewhat cumbrous. The bed is rolled up, and placed upon the shelf fixed in the corner. At the time of inspection, some were tied round with a belt or strap, but many had no fastening at all. It might be advisable to affix a small buckle to the end and middle of the mattrass, as a substitute for the strap, as this might possibly suggest the means of suicide to a prisoner so disposed. The cells have a stool and table. One cell on the males' side is used when needed as a shoemaker's shop, and one on the females' side has a mangle in it. Few of the cells on the males' side had a neat and tidy appearance, whilst several not then in use by prisoners were filled with stores or lumber. There is a want of sufficient store-rooms, as shown by this circumstance.

The minor articles of furniture in the cells were, with few exceptions, in a very defective state; the brushes being almost all worn to the stump, the combs little more than fragments, and the iron spoons denuded of all tin. The keeper explained this by observing that these different articles had been brought from the old building, where they had been long in use, but he doubted not they would shortly be replaced. Many were all but useless for their respective purposes

This prison has the great advantage over that at Shrewsbury of being entirely adapted to the separate system. Nevertheless, the discipline as actually enforced, and the details of management, exhibit various defects which require to be noticed, because they must have a tendency to impair the efficacy of that system. The most serious of these defects is the want of systematic cell labour, and employments for the different grades of prisoners, and the consequent employment of such of the male prisoners as can be put to it, at stone-breaking in the yard. This and oakum picking are the only regular branches of labour provided for male convicted prisoners; those for females being oakum picking and washing. For the untried there is no employment, unless indeed they choose to pick oakum in preference to remaining idle. Convicted prisoners, whether sentenced to hard labour or not, are set to break stones; this employment cannot therefore be considered hard labour; or, if it be, it is obvious that it is unduly allotted.

The spirit of the separate system is violated by the prisoners being in the stone yards. They are separated, it is true, by compartments, but the sheds are open in front, and communications may easily take place from remissness on the part of the officer; that they do take place cannot reasonably be doubted. Moreover, the stones are carried about the yard in wheel-barrows by the prisoners, who have thus ample opportunities of at least seeing each other.

As employments for the untried, and prisoners not sentenced to hard labour, stocking-knitting and net-making might be beneficially introduced; and it is to be hoped that the stone-breaking will, ere long, be superseded by labour of a more suitable kind. In connection with the same subject it is necessary to point out the evils arising from the want of gas in the cells, owing to which the prisoners pass each day, in the winter season from 13 to 15 hours, in unprofitable darkness, thereby fostering slothful habits, the indulgence of which must inevitably tend to render them again inmates of a prison. The Visiting Justices have already represented to the Gaol Committee the propriety of the introduction of artificial light into the cells of the prison; and the Committee have entered upon the consideration of the subject, but postponed their final determination.

The incidental employments for the males are the pump, when water is required, mechanics' work about the prison, when alterations or repairs are needed, or assisting in the smiths' shop. On these occasions they are under the direction of the resident engineer, who superintends the warming apparatus, and has charge of the smith's shop. The stone-breaking sheds, the work-shops, the smiths' shop, the females' exercising yards, were all constructed by the male prisoners. These, and similar employments, necessarily bring the prisoners into contact, so that the separate system becomes for the time suspended. The lighter employments for females are laundry work and sewing. The prisoners of either sex are employed as cleaners about the prison, and have consequently opportunities of communicating, whatever may be alleged to the contrary.

On the day of the last inspection, one of the male felons was in his cell, employed in filing bundles of newspapers for the chaplain; who explained that he had given the prisoner this occupation, because he would have otherwise been idle. Another felon, a man of good education, was employed in writing up some prison account-books, and in ruling the schoolmasters' report book, the first two leaves of which contained in pencil the names of prisoners, with an account of their conduct and progress. It was most improper that any prisoner should have had the opportunity of seeing these entries. A third man, employed as a general cleaner, had in his cell a pair of shoes belonging to one of the officers, which it was his task to clean, and shoe-brushes were there for the purpose. His other cleaning implements were likewise kept in his cell. Amongst his other duties was that of cleaning the prison lamps, and both his clothes and cell smelt very strongly of lamp oil. This prisoner had access to the officer's mess-room, which he cleans; at the time of inspection the door was open, and a copy of the last number of the Weekly Dispatch (belonging to one of the officers) lying on the table. The Prisons Act of 1839 prescribes that no prisoner shall be employed in the service of any officer of the prison; the cases above cited were clearly infractions of this law.

A female prisoner in the laundry was employed in getting up linen, the greater part of which belonged to the governor and his family. The governor stated that it formed an understanding at the time of his engagement that he should have this privilege.

The whole of the males' separate airing yards, and also the separate divisions of the pump, exhibited unquestionable signs of laxity of discipline or imperfect inspection. The walls at the entrance end, and also the backs of the doors, were covered with inscriptions of various kinds, the work of the prisoners. The inscriptions were either carved, scratched, or written, as well with pieces of lead as with black lead pencils, though how the prisoners could have obtained the latter seems unaccountable. Among the inscriptions were the names of numerous transports, with the periods of their sentences; likewise, in several instances, obscene figures and expressions.

Punishment for this offence had been long discontinued, because of the difficulty of bringing it home to a prisoner in the defaced state of the walls. The only effectual way of putting an end to this demoralizing practice, short of an entire reconstruction of the yards upon the radiating plan, with a central inspection place, would be to obliterate completely from the walls all trace of the inscriptions, increase the number of inspecting officers, and examine the yards daily, both when the prisoners entered and left them.

Another objectionable practice prevailing in this prison, and which cannot be too soon amended, is that the waste paper supplied to prisoners consists of old newspapers, printed books, hand-bills, &c. Many of the scraps in the cells at the time of inspection contained matter unfit for a prisoner's perusal; as political and religious controversies, accounts of murders, robberies, and the like. The rule that no books shall be passed into the prison but such as have the chaplain's approval, becomes, under these countervailing circumstances, almost nugatory.

No distinction is made in the case of juvenile prisoners; they are placed in separate cells, and undergo in all respects precisely the same discipline as adults.

The prisoners, in going to and returning from chapel, walk in single file, the distance between two prisoners being more or less, according to the state of numbers, though it is stated to be never less than fifteen paces. The males go first. The prisoners can see and recognize each other clearly, since they wear no peak-cap, and can readily communicate, if they choose to brave punishment. It is said, however, that they rarely do so.

Previously to the food being brought up, and also to the chapel hours, a bell is rung as a signal for those prisoners not in their cells to return to them.

The following is the routine in regard to prisoners as prescribed by the visiting justices in April, 1844, viz.:—

Time.Labour.Cessation.Cause of Cessation.
From 6 to 8½. .  . .
From 8½ to 9. .½Breakfast.
From 9 to 11¾. .  . .
From 11¾ to 1. .Chapel.
From 1 to 2. .1Dinner.
From 2 to 64. .  . .
From 6 to 7. .1Supper.
From 7 to 8. .1Lock-up.

"Class-teaching time to be taken from that allotted to labour; and for this the magistrates are of opinion that one hour is quite sufficient.

"The same prisoners are not to be employed at out-door labour, before and after dinner; and those so employed are not to have other exercise.

"No convicted prisoner is to receive instruction from the schoolmaster in a class.

"No fresh work requiring communication between the prisoners, to be commenced without the sanction of the visiting justices."

The words marked in italics in the last paragraph prove at once, that some at least of the employments of the prisoners are at variance with the spirit of a separate prison.

From the time of labour an hour has to be deducted for exercise, as regards those not employed in the stone-sheds.

In August, 1844, the visiting justices further ordered, in compliance with a resolution passed at the General Quarter Sessions, the following rules relative to class-teaching, viz.:—

" 1st. The prisoners committed for 14 days or less not to be allowed to attend class under the schoolmaster; but if taught by him, it must be in their cells.

" 2nd. No more than eight prisoners to attend at any one time in a class under the schoolmaster. No class to be held longer than one hour; and no prisoner to attend more than one class daily.

" 3rd. During the last week, and when the imprisonment is for a longer period than a month, during the last fortnight at least of the prisoner's confinement in gaol, he shall not be allowed to attend the schoolmaster's class.

"4th. No prisoners shall be placed in adjacent boxes in chapel during class-time.

The prevailing offence in this prison is stated to be talking when in chapel, owing to the facilities afforded by the thinness of the partition boards. Marking the tin cans was formerly a prevalent offence, but is now less so. The punishments for prison offences consist of confinement in dark cells, and stoppage of portions of diet.

For some time after the opening of this prison, the state of numbers frequently required the placing of three prisoners in a cell, and moveable beds were accordingly provided for the purpose. This, of course, took such cells for the time out of the category of separate cells, as in the similar case of the Shrewsbury gaol, and similar allowance must be made accordingly in any estimate of results. It is gratifying to be able to state, that latterly this infringement of the separate system has not been needed in the Bath gaol.

A misuse of this prison, as such, takes place almost weekly by some of the cells being put in requisition as police cells, because of the insufficiency of the police cells in Bath.

The convicted prisoners wear a parti-coloured dress, the misdemeanants a dark red, or a grey one. There is no special dress for the untried, so that when they require clothing, they are dressed in a misdemeanant's suit. This is contrary to the law.

The male turnkeys wear a uniform. They are, at present, seven in number, comprising a night watchman, who occupies one of the untenanted cells in the corridor, but an octangular box, to be placed in the corridor, is being prepared for his use. Three of the officers are stationed in the corridor during the day, one in the stone-yard, and one in the kitchen, who is assisted by a prisoner; the sixth being stationed in the porter's lodge. There is but one female turnkey. The male turnkeys are two less than in 1844, the number of prisoners having diminished. The present keeper and matron were appointed in April, 1839.

It is due to the keeper, who appears to be a zealous and an efficient officer, to say that at the time of inspection he had been absent two days in London with prisoners, otherwise Bath City Gaol and probably the minor instances of laxity which have been indicated might not have manifested themselves. The females' prison was much better ordered, the matron being present. The number of prisoners in custody on the last day of inspection, was 51.

No particular order of classification is observed in this prison in regard to the prisoners in separate cells, though generally the untried are placed on the ground floor, and prisoners under very short sentences on the uppermost landing. It is, indeed, one of the peculiar advantages of the separate system to dispense altogether with classification according to the nature of offences, which mode is after all a fallacious one, for a prisoner in confinement for a trifling offence may have been previously convicted of a serious one.

It is highly satisfactory to find that the annual number of committals to this gaol has gradually diminished since it was first occupied; and that the returns for the year 1845 exhibit, as compared with those for 1843, a decrease of 227 prisoners; the recommittals too, Decrease in yearly having decreased from 357 to 147.

The keeper states that, during the first year, there were a great many former inmates of the old prison in custody, but that the old offenders have since sensibly diminished, and if they have relapsed have gone elsewhere; and he is disposed to attribute this in a great measure to the effects of the separate system, which he represents to be extremely irksome to those offenders who have had experience of the latitude afforded by the system of association. They have frequently manifested to him great repugnance at the idea of being again subjected to the new discipline, though not here carried out with much stringency.

The several officers of the gaol who have had experience in the old building — these being the keeper, matron, surgeon, and principal turnkey — all concur in stating that there is no comparison to be instituted between the separate and the associated system of discipline, so great is the superiority of the former, even as hitherto imperfectly carried out in the present gaol. The chaplain is also no less deeply impressed with this conviction, from his visits to other prisons where the system of association prevails. The keeper states that, in the old prison, riots were of frequent occurrence, and that on one occasion a number of untried prisoners, who were associated in the same day-room, becoming insubordinate, barricaded themselves in the room by placing the table against the door, and were only subdued by the interposition of the police and the threat of violence being employed against them. It is needless to observe that such an occurrence could not take place in any well-conducted prison upon the separate plan.

But there is still another and a no less serious cause of interference with the efficacy of the separate system of discipline in this prison which requires to be adverted to, and that is the practice in regard to the conveyance of prisoners to and from the gaol and the sessions house, and the provision made at the latter place for the reception of the prisoners brought up for trial. The prison van is not divided, as it should be, into separate compartments, but constructed upon the objectionable principle of the old metropolitan prison vans, without any division whatsoever, so that the prisoners conveyed in it sit in close contact with each other, and can therefore converse without restraint; nor is one class of prisoners only conveyed in it at a time, but, on the contrary, all classes and both sexes are placed therein indiscriminately. They have, it is true, an officer of the prison or a policeman with them, but this can only operate as a very imperfect check in restraining improper conversation, more especially as regards untried prisoners. When the latter are taken to the sessions house for trial, they are placed all together in the same room; that appropriated for the purpose being a large kitchen on the ground floor, the males on one side, the females on the other, and a slight partial screen alone serving for the separation of the two sexes. The room is described as having but one entrance, and the staircase to the court-house above as being so situated as to admit of the prisoners seeing each other on their way up and down. The evils incident to these arrangements are, obviously, both great and manifold.

The van is the property of the governor of the prison, who contracts for the conveyance of the prisoners at the rate of 48l. per annum. He states that he derives no profit from the contract, as he has a man to pay and a horse to keep. The van in its present state is adapted to hold a dozen prisoners, but it is said that more than that number are frequently crowded into it.

No debtors have been committed to this prison since the 9th August, 1844, the date of the passing of the Act 7 and 8 Vic., cap. 96, inasmuch as it is privileged to receive only debtors in execution from Courts of Request for sums not exceeding l0l. It is probable, however, that under the Act of the 8 and 9 Vict, cap. 127, debtors may in future be confined here. There being no use for the debtors' prison at the time of this inspection, one of the day-rooms on the males' side was temporarily used as a carpenter's shop.

There have been no escapes; but an attempt at escape was made by a prisoner endeavouring to cut through an iron bar of the window of his cell.

There have been three attempts at suicide since the prison was occupied. Two of the prisoners who made the attempts were females, one being a desperate and incorrigible character, represented to be always in a state of irritation and excitement from the effects of habitual intemperance . Before coming to prison she had threatened to destroy herself whilst there, and had already attempted to do so two or three times during a previous imprisonment in Gloucester county gaol. On the present occasion she sought to hang herself to one of the hammock staples. The other female attempted self-destruction twice; on the first occasion by thrusting the handle of a spoon down her throat; on the second, by strangulation with her handkerchief. She had previously made an attempt upon her life whilst at the station-house. The male prisoner, an old man of 60, attempted self-destruction, by means of strangulation, on the day only preceding that of his discharge. There was no other assignable motive for the Act than that he was in a state of destitution.

Each prisoner who does not work in the stone sheds is allowed daily an hour's exercise, which he takes the first thing in the morning. This, in winter, seems an objectionable practice; the sudden transition from a warm cell to the raw morning atmosphere being calculated to prove baneful. Nor is any provision made for extra clothing for the female prisoners when taking exercise in cold weather. A few coarse shawls would be desirable for their use. Occasionally, the medical officer orders extra exercise in special cases. He states that, hitherto, the annual average number of such cases has not exceeded nine, and that the causes have been that the prisoners when first admitted are subject to slight headache and confined bowels, owing to their want of active employment and the mental depression which they at first suffer. He is decidedly of opinion that, with proper bodily labour and mental occupation, combined with reasonable exercise, the separate system is not only safe but salutary. Diarrhoea, and its opposite, constipation, have been hitherto the prevalent complaints. The former has been much checked by the use of rice, as an occasional substitute for oatmeal gruel.

The medical officer visits the prison daily, or sends an authorized substitute, and visits the sick. When the prisoners are few in number, he sees each one daily; but, under any circumstances, never less than twice a-week, when he goes round to every cell. He examines all prisoners, both on admission and discharge.

Every prisoner is bathed upon admission, and, subsequently, once a-month. The practice of weighing prisoners has not yet been introduced into this prison.

The chaplain, who formerly held the same office in the service of the Great Western separate cells. Railway Company, for the religious instruction of the labourers employed upon their works, was appointed in February, 1843, soon after the prison opened, but did not enter upon his functions until the 1st of July following, in consequence of the legal contest between the town council and the magistrates as to the right of appointment. During this suspension the former chaplain of the old prison continued to officiate. The chaplain has no other clerical duty, and lives within a mile of the prison. The average period of his attendance is about four hours daily.

His routine of duty is as follows:—At 12 o'clock each week-day he reads prayers to the Chaplain's routine prisoners in the chapel, adding thereto, four times a-week, exposition of the scriptures. Each of duty. day after chapel he sees all prisoners who have been admitted the day before, or are about to be discharged. He visits daily all sick prisoners and those in solitary confinement. As a rule, he visits and catechises every prisoner not less than twice a-week, many oftener. On Sundays he performs two full services and delivers a sermon. The Holy Sacrament has not yet been administered in the prison; it is, indeed, only recently that a communion table has been placed in the chapel. There seemed no satisfactory reason why the chapel service should be at so late an hour as 12 o'clock; 9 o'clock would be much more appropriate.

There is a schoolmaster and also a schoolmistress, both of whom are under the chaplain's directions. Writing on slates is taught, in addition to reading. The mode of tuition is in class in the chapel, and separately in the cells. Once a-week the chaplain assembles the prisoners in chapel, and examines them as to their school progress, delivering to them at the same time a short religious exposition. He justly laments that the prisoners are compelled to pass so much of their time in darkness in the winter season, and consequently in idleness, owing to the want of artificial light, and thinks that a course of evening tuition would be a great advantage.

The schoolmaster attends daily from half-past 8 to 5 o'clock; the schoolmistress four hours.

There are at present none but religious books in use in the prison, but the chaplain has recommended the Kildare-street library to the gaol committee.

The governor, and not the chaplain, inspects the prisoners' letters.

The chaplain thinks that the general ignorance of the prisoners sent to this gaol is not so great as formerly. At one time it was truly deplorable. He follows out the after-course of discharged prisoners as well as he can, but has no systematic plan of acquiring information respecting them. He has heard of some satisfactory cases of reformation, and cites, amongst others, that of a former prisoner who is now a confidential servant at a charitable institution in London.

There exists in Bath a society for affording pecuniary relief to discharged prisoners who are destitute , but it does not undertake to find them employment, the assurance of which forms so essential an auxiliary to any system of gaol discipline.

There is likewise a charitable asylum for the reception of destitute females, and into this the chaplain has procured the admission of about 20 discharged female prisoners. He is much aided in his efforts by a committee of visiting ladies, the members of which visit the females' prison in turn, and give instruction to the prisoners.

There is no special course of instruction for juvenile offenders as contradistinguished from adults, which is much to be regretted. The only distinction is, that the schoolmaster visits them, by direction of the chaplain, a little more frequently in their cells.

Should gas be introduced into the prison, the chaplain expresses himself desirous of giving occasional lectures to the prisoners on useful subjects, calculated to arrest their attention and exercise their mental faculties, as natural history, astronomy, optics, &c.

The prison was closed in 1878 following the nationalisation of the prison system. The rear block was later occupied by the Walters Engineering company but was demolished in 1991. The front block is now owned by the Guinness Housing Association.

The front block of the old Grove Street prison also still stands, now converted to flats.


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.

  • Bath and North East Somerset Record Office, Guildhall, High Street, Bath BA1 5AW. Holdings include: Commitments in Felony (1799-1860 — warrants signed by Justices' ordering detention in House of Correction of those accused of felonies while awaiting trial at Quarter Sessions); Commitments to House of Correction (1836-59).
  • 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.