Ancestry UK

City and County Gaol, Chester, Cheshire

The new Chester City Gaol and Bridewell were opened in 1807 on adjacent sites on what is now City Walls Road, replacing the existing City and County Gaol on Northgate and the old Town Bridewell. Each of the two sections could accommodate thirty inmates. From the 1820s, the two were usually treatd as a single institution.

A description of the establishment was give in 1812 by James Neild:

The horrid Gaol at the North-Gate, which so long disgraced this very ancient and respectable City, having been pulled down, and the New one I am about to describe being got ready, Prisoners were removed to it on the 15th of February 1807.

These two Prisons are situate in a field betwixt the Infirmary and Stanley-Place. The boundary-wail, 1 7 feet 6 inches high, is of an oblong square, running from West to East, and incloses three quarters of an acre of ground.

The entrance to the City Gaol is West of the City walls : The front commands an extensive prospect of the Cambrian hills, and likewise enjoys the salutary breezes of the River Dee, which runs about 300 yards distant from the Prison.

There are four pilasters, two on each side of the door of entrance, projecting about two feet; and at the top of the building, on a stone tablet, is inscribed, " City Gaol." This part of the structure is of stone; the remainder of brick. An inspecting walk, 9 feet wide, runs close to the boundary-wall, and encircles the court-yards. A passage, or lobby, five feet wide, and 89 feet long, leads through the whole building; on each side of which are cells and rooms, both for the Prisoners, and to accommodate their respective Keepers, whose apartments are judiciously placed in the centre, commanding a view of the several court-yards.

In the part appropriated for the City Gaol, there are, on the ground-floor, four sleeping-cells for Criminals, 12 feet by 7 feet 6 each, and 10 feet high, with a glazed and grated window, 3 feet square; and furnished with an iron bedstead, a straw-mattress, straw-bed, two blankets and a coverlet, as at Chester Castle. Here are also two day-rooms, one for Male, the other for Female-Felons; each 19 feet by 12 feet 6, and 10 feet high, furnished with tables, shelves, and seats, and opening into their respective court-yards, of 43 feet long by 34 : at the extremity of which is a wooden paling, 6 feet 6 inches high, inclining inwards, so as to prevent any access to the boundary-wall.

For Debtors in common, male and female, here is one large day-room, 18 feet by 14, with a fire-place, tables, shelves, &c. and opening into their court-yard, of 43 feet long by 34; in which there is a pump of good spring-water, and a workroom, 19 feet by 12, supplied with fire-places, shelves, &c.

On the chamber-story are two airy bed-rooms, 16 feet by 12, with boarded floors, glazed-windows, and fire-places. Each has three iron-bedsteads; and a strawmattress, straw-in-sacking bed, two blankets, and a coverlet, are allowed by the City. But, if a Debtor furnish his own bed, the Gaoler charges him one shilling per week for this indulgence!

Here are two well-furnished rooms for Debtors, who can afford to pay four shillings per week for a single bed, or two shillings each, if two sleep together. Also four small rooms of the same dimensions as those of the cells below : One of them, having a fire-place and grate in it, is set apart for the Infirmary, and the other three are assigned to Female Felons.

In the centre, and between the two Prisons, is the Chapel; to which the ascent is by two flights of steps, one leading out of the City Gaol, and the other out of the Bridewell : It is a large room, 36 feet long by 24, and 18 feet 6 inches high. On the Gaol-Side of it are two ranges of seats, one for Male, the other for Female-Felons, having the entrance-door betwixt them : the like seats also are on the Bridewell-Side, with the door of entrance; and the Debtors, placed between, are opposite the pulpit.

In the middle of the before-mentioned lonij passage, on the ground-floor, is a door that comnmnicates with the Bridewell, which forms the East end of the Building; and in the number and size of rooms, cells, and court-yards, both on the ground-floor and above stairs, it is exactly similar to the City Gaol. Over the Bridewell door of entrance is a flat space, for the execution of Criminals under Capital sentence from the County or City Gaols.

The sewers in the different court-yards are judiciously placed, and not offensive. Soft water is laid on to the Prison by Pipes from the City, and spring-water from the pump in the Debtors' Court. The Visiting Magistrates allow such extra nourishment for the sick as the Surgeon judges proper.

Allowance, to Debtors, none, except on petition to the Sheriffs; and then, one pound of bread per day. To Felons, and other Criminals, in Gaol and Bridewell, seven pounds of bread weekly, sent from the Baker's, in loaves of 3½lbs. each.

Alterations and additions were later made to the buildings as noted by this description from 1850.

The City Gaol and House of Correction, situated in Trinity parish, is comprised in one building, which was erected in 1807, the whole of which is surrounded by a brick-wall of an oblong form, slightly cut off at the angles. At the western extremity is the gaol, and the house of correction is at the other end. They consist of two stories, comprising forty-five male and twenty-five female cells, ten wards, ten airing-yards, and eighteen rooms. In the centre is the chapel, having communications with both prisons. Since the building was first erected, several additions and alterations have been made, partly occasioned by at of of parliament, requiring the classification of prisoners, and partly to render the prison more secure. The drop is occasionally fixed over the western door for the execution of condemned criminals. Thomas Haswell, governor; Rev. I.F.G. Hewson, chaplain; Philip Duckers, turnkey; Sarah Miller, matron; John Jones, schoolmaster.

The prison closed in 1872. The site was subsequently take over by the Queen's School.


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.

  • Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, Cheshire Record Office, Duke Street, Chester, Cheshire CH1 1RL. Holdings (1808-72)include: Registers of prisoners; Prisoners' property; Prisoners' visitors and letters; Officers' daily report books; Matrons' report books; Surgeons' report and case books; Chaplains' records including character books; Report book of visiting magistrates; Records of provisions and supplies; General and labour accounts; Letters and papers; Printed regulations; Circulars; Prayer book.
  • 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.