Ancestry UK

Town Gaol and Bridewell, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

In 1829, Cambridge's old Town Gaol on Downing Place was replaced by a new Borough Gaol and Bridewell, or House of Correction, located at the south-east side of Parker's Piece.

A report in 1835 recorded:

The Gaol contains eight yards, eight day-rooms, and one small yard with a solitary cell; the greatest number of prisoners in the gaol within the last year was 47.

The prisoners who work are allowed 2½lbs. of the best bread, and a pint of table beer a day; they have salt and warm water with their bread, but no other food, except on Saturday, when cheese and onions are allowed. The untried prisoners, who do not work, have 1½lb. of bread a day, but no beer; they have in addition whatever they can procure from their friends. Formerly they were allowed 3 lbs. of brown bread, but they prefer 2¼lb. of white; indeed, their allowance is nearly 2¾lb.: this diet has been found sufficient. Prisoners have lived thus for two years without injury to their health, and have left the prison in better health than they enjoyed when they entered it; the prisoners work on the tread-mill; there are not at all times a sufficient number to keep the mill constantly going; they work 20 minute at the mill, and then rest 10; and the time spent in this way is from October to March, 9 hours; and from March to October, 10 hours a day. The females are employed in washing and mending; their diet is the same as that of the men, with the addition of tea twice a day, and sometimes a little flour. The gaoler said he thought that the prisoners go out of the gaol better characters than they come in; that the women were in general better than the men, and that their health is improved in the gaol. The classification of the prisoners is varied according to circumstances; the female debtors are always kept separate; young prisoners are in general separated from old offenders. The prisoners are provided with Bibles, Prayer-books and tracts. The chaplain is in the gaol on Sunday from 11 o'clock till it is nearly dusk, except at dinner time: there are two services on Sunday; the chaplain frequently comes on other days, and he performs Divine service every Wednesday afternoon. The gaoler has an inspection of every cell and day-room. There have been instances of men getting from one yard to another; refractory prisoners are sometimes put into solitary confinement, but never for a longer period than three days. The magistrates very frequently visit the gaol; the gaoler, who has held his office 13 years, said, that a fortnight had never to his knowledge passed without a visit from some magistrate. The surgeon of the gaol (who is an alderman and a magistrate) receives 50l. a year for medicine and surgical attendance at the gaol; he also attends on the vagrants, who are sent by the magistrates to a place called the Spinning-house: he has held his office for 10 years.

The gaol was closed following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878.


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  • Prison Oracle - resources those involved in present-day UK prisons.
  • GOV.UK - UK Government's information on sentencing, probation and support for families.