Ancestry UK

City and County Gaol, Chester, Cheshire

The Chester City and County Gaol was located on Northgate. In 1779, John Howard reported on its poor conditions:

This gaol, called the North-gate prison, rebuilt in 1722, has many convenient apartments for debtors. The felons day-room is spacious: but to their dungeon, or, night-room (which is 14 feet by 8) the descent is now by 18 steps: for at my visit in 1779, I found that the room was very injudiciously, (not to say cruelly) sunk some feet. In it is a barrack-bedstead. No light, nor any communication with the external air, but by two leaden pipes of about an inch diameter laid in from the gate-way. The prisoners in March 1774, complained of excessive heat. The women-felons lie upstairs, in a room called the upper dungeon, which has no window, only an aperture in the door (14 inches by 7) into one of the debtors rooms. No bedding or straw. The court[yard] is common to debtors and felons: but the former have the privilege of walking in the keeper's garden.

Mr. Price is chaplain to the blue-coat school ; and officiates in little St. John's chapel belonging to the school A navigation parts that from the prison-yard ; and a footbridge, made for the purpose, gives these prisoners an opportunity of attending divine service when it is performed; that is, prayers twice a week, and sermon once a month. Few prisoners in city or town gaols have such a privilege.

In November 1775, several prisoners were ill in bed of the cold which then generally prevailed; yet the surgeon had not, for three weeks, either seen them himself, or sent his assistant. No infirmary: nor any convenience for the proper separation of the sexes (which impropriety the late keeper mentioned).

As was usual prior to the nineteenth century, gaoler's made their income from fees paid by the inmates. The tariff at the Northgate prison included the following:

Upon any arrest for any person that shall be brought and committed to the said prison0   5  10
For every execution charged upon the prisoner0   4   2
Upon every commitment by the mayor for a misdemeanor if a freeman0   2   4
If a foreigner0   4   0
For the blue room to a gentleman committed prisoner, per week0   5   0
For lodging every night in a feather bed0   0   4
In a flock or chaff bed0   0   2
Chamber-rent per week the prisoner finding his own bedding0   1   0
For every felon committed to prison the keeper's fees for irons and continuance0   2   6
For attending the court with every prisoner0   1   0
For every felon committed per week0   0   0
For a copy of every commitment0   1   0
To the turnkey on discharge0   0   6

The prison closed in 1807 and its function transferred to the new City Gaol and Bridewell on what is now City Walls Road. The old building was demolished not long afterwards.


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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.