Ancestry UK

Borough Gaol and Bridewell, Boston, Lincolnshire

By 1776, a Borough Gaol and Bridewell, or House of Correction, was in operation in the Market Place, Boston, Lincolnshire.

In 1784, John Howard described the gaol:

This is also the bridewell. Two damp offensive rooms about 14 feet square, and over them two rooms for women (one the bedroom 9 feet 3 inches by 6 feet 4 inches, with only an aperture in the door 7 inches by 5); and two rooms adjoining for debtors. No court: no water. Clauses against spirituous liquors not hung up. Salary, as gaoler, £10; as keeper, £5. Fees, 2s. 6d.

1779, Oct. 11,Debtors 0,Felons &c. 2
1782, Feb. 2,0,0.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, William Vaux; a Gunsmith by trade, and his workshop adjoins the Felons' Gaol.

Salary, for both, 31l. Fees, on discharge, 2s. 6d.

Surgeon, when wanted, is ordered by the Mayor.

Number of Prisoners,

Debtor.Criminals, Men.Woman.
1802, Aug. 25th,131

Allowance, to Debtors, none. To Criminal Prisoners, four-pence per day.


This wretched Gaol seems to have been made under the arches of some old monastery.

For Felons here are, on the ground-floor, two damp offensive rooms, 14 feet square, with iron-grated windows, the bars of which are sufficiently set apart for a prisoner to put his head through, and they were conversing with their friends in the street. The Keeper told me they had liquors brought to them at all hours in the night, so that his life was in danger from their frequent intoxication. Their two rooms have wooden bedsteads, two blankets, and a rug each, and an offensive sewer in one corner. Over these are two other rooms, for Female Criminals, one of which is a bed-room of 9 feet 3 by 6 feet 4, dark, and without ventilation, the aperture, which was formerly in the door, having been stopped up: the other has an iron grated window, through which the Woman Prisoner, young and dressy, was nod ding to and conversing with her admirers in the street.

Close adjoining to the above are two rooms for Debtors, who are sent hither from the Court of Requests for the Borough of Boston, Skirbeck-Quarter, and the parishes of Boston and Skirbeck. Here is no clear ventilation. The Debtor whom I met with in August 1802, complained of excessive heat: he appeared as in the last stage of a consumption; and, being a medical man, said it was owing to the want of air. Hard-fated captive! His debt was one guinea: his commitment, for forty days, which were nearly expired when I came hither.

Here is no court-yard; no water accessible: The Keeper fetches it as wanted, for his own use, from the street adjoining. The Gaol did not look as if it had ever been white-washed; nor could its filthy state be a matter of surprise, when its communication with the street was considered.

The irons here used are excessively heavy, owing, as the Gaoler informed me, to the insecurity of his prison. Neither the Act nor the Clauses hung up.

In 1818, the prison was relocated to new premises on St John's Road, Boston. It contained 15 Sleeping Cells, 6 Day-rooms, a chapel, and 5 airing yards.

In 1838, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This prison stands on ground the property of the corporation, known as the Dock Pasture. It is detached from other buildings, and is the most insecure place of confinement I have met with for prisoners under criminal charges, it being even without the protection of a boundary wall. It is a plain elevation of three stories, with the apartments for prisoners ranged on each side of central passages. On the ground floor are seven day-rooms, with airing-yard attached. First floor, chapel, and seven sleeping-cells, with arched roofs and brick floors. Second floor, seven cells, four with lath and plaster ceilings; from these upper rooms many attempts at escape have been made.

The drainage appears to be defective, the privies are offensively exposed in the centre of the yards, and the buildings are not fire-proof.

Diet.—The keeper is allowed sixpence a-day for the maintenance of the prisoners. He states, that if the price of provisions be low, there is a trifling profit to himself in providing the following diet.

Bread, 8 lbs. weekly.

Breakfast and supper, 1 pint of gruel.

Dinner, Sundays and Thursdays. ½ lb. of meat weighed after cooking, without bone, and 1 lb. of potatoes; Monday and Friday, 1 pint of soup, with onions and vegetables; Tuesday and Wednesday, 1 pint of gruel, and 1 lb. of potatoes.

Clothing..—No regular clothing.

Bedding.—Iron bedsteads, hemp mattress, 3 blankets and rug. The prisoners sleep two and three in a bed.

Fuel.—A peck of coals, from Michaelmas to Lady-day, is the daily allowance for each day-room.

Health.—The surgeon attends only when required by illness and at corporal punishments.

Moral and Religious Instruction.—The chaplain performs one service on the Sunday afternoon. besides making occasional visits. The prisoners are supplied with Testaments. The keeper states in evidence, "That a dissenting minister attends on Thursdays without being requested to do so by the prisoners, and has brought others with him; he distributes tracts, and addresses the prisoners; the tracts are those of the Religious Tract Society; the prisoners have not evinced any disposition to attend to him: the mayor gave me a verbal order to admit him whenever he requested it." The chaplain states, "No application of the sort was made to me."

Labour.—The tread-wheel for the males and females moves with the same velocity, and is on the same shaft. Before the tread-wheel for the males is a contrivance for keeping the prisoners at labour, which is a novelty to me. A pit or trough of water, about 3 feet deep, extends the whole length of the wheel to prevent prisoners jumping off. The keeper states, "That they have frequently in sport knocked one another off the wheel into this dyke, and that some under the pretext of exhaustion have dropped themselves into it."

Months Employed Number of Working Hours per Day Number of Prisoners the Wheel will hold at one time. Height of each Step. The ordinary Velocity of the Wheels per Minute. The ordinary Proportion of Prisoners on Wheels to the total number employed. Number of Feet in Ascent per Day as per Hours of Employ­ment. Revolutions of the Wheel per Day. The daily Amount of Labour to be performed by every Prisoner. How recorded with precision. Application of its Power.
The same throughout the Year. 5* 14 7½ inches. 3 Revol­utions per Minute. If 12 prisoners two-thirds on and one-third off, and a like proportion for a greater or less number 68,250 450 No particular amount beyond the time employed. No particular mode adopted; the prisoners are employed ten minutes at a time. None but labour.
* But only on the wheel 2 hours and 30 minutes, every alternate ten minutes being allowed for rest.

Punishments and Offences.—Whipping is inflicted by the keeper, who receives a fee of 5s. on each occasion. The greatest number of lashes ever given were six dozen, but generally less. The surgeon and chief constable are invariably present.

Scourge.—Handle of hard wood, with nine lashes of small whipcord.

Irons.—For the refractory; 12½ lbs.; transports, 5 lbs.
Prisoners in solitary confinement receive 2 lbs. of bread only.

Visits.—order of a magistrate.

General Discipline.—The town of Boston not having received a grant of quarter-sessions, this prison, since the passing of the Municipal Act, has been neglected, and the marks of it were very apparent on the day of inspection. The drains and privies were in want of cleansing, the pumps were so out of order as to be useless, and no magistrate had visited for months. Books and newspapers were in the day-rooms. The prisoners ordinarily confined here are debtors from a local Court of Requests, those summarily convicted, and under examination. The insecurity of the building cannot be better illustrated than by the eight escape attempts between 1832 and 1837, and the five successful escapes over the same period.

Keeper.—Age 49; appointed 1820; salary 62l.; 18l. in lieu of fees; 5l. for lime-whiting the gaol; coals, candles, soap, and garden.

Chaplain.—Appointed 1825; salary 20l.

Surgeon.—Appointed 1836; salary 15l. for attendance and medicines.

From 1837, the prison also served as a County House of Correction, enabling the closure of the town's Skirbeck Quarter establishment.

The prison closed in 1851.


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.

  • Lincolnshire Archives, St. Rumbold Street, Lincoln LN2 5AB. Holdings include: Gaolers' returns of prisoners (1827-34); Boston Borough Quarter Sessions records (include some returns of prisoners in Boston Gaol) (1807-1830).
  • 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.