Ancestry UK

Town Gaol and Bridewell, Dover, Kent

Prior to 1746, Dover had a number of gaols, mainly housed in the town's ancient fortified gate-houses. These included the prison for Freemen the Butchery Gate, where Mill Lane meets Townwall Street. This was enlarged in the 1720s but, due to discontent among the workmen because of the low wages they were being paid by the Dover Corporation, it was shoddily constructed and within a few years was in need of replacement.

1746, the Corporation bought a house in Queen Street for conversion into a prison, with its entrance on what became known as Gaol Lane. The pay scales being offered to the builders again led to disgruntlement with resulting sub-standard workmanship.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

One room of it is the bridewell. The gaol is two rooms on the ground-floor (12 feet by 9½), and for debtors two above. No fire places. All close and offensive; but at my last visits it was much cleaner, and quieter; and no company were drinking there, as the present keeper has no licence. The court not secure. Allowance, four pence a day. Keeper's salary, £10 and a chaldron of coals: fees, 8s. 2d. no table.

Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors.Felons &c.
1775, July 25,1,2.1779, April 17,1,1.
1776, Feb. 17,3,4.1782, Dec. 6,1,3.
1776, May 25,2,3.   

The gaol was partially rebuilt in 1795, with its entrance being moved to Market Square.

In 1812, James Neild reported on his visits to the establishment:

Gaoler, William Harris; now John Mitchell. Salary, 40l. a chaldron of coals, and a suit of apparel.

Fees, on Commitment, 8s. 2d. On Discharge, 1s. 6d. No Table.

Garnish, (not yet abolished) one shilling.

Chaplain, none; nor any religious attentions.

Surgeon, Mr. King, who makes a Bill.

Number of Prisoners,

 Debtors,Felons, &c Debtors.Felons, &.
1801, Sept. l9th,13.1808, Aug. 12th,00.
1804, Sept, 24th,12.1809, July 12th,01.
1806, Aug. 6th,5.1810, July 11th,08.

This Prison is in a close part of the Town, and has one room for the Bridewell. The Gaol consists of two rooms on the ground-floor, 12 feet by 6 feet 9 each. The iron-grated windows look into a small court-yard; but the Prisoners have not the use of it. Both the rooms are not only close, in point of situation, but rendered offensive also, by sewers placed in the corner.

Felons,&c. are supplied with wooden bedsteads, loose straw, two blankets, and a rug. For Debtors and Misdemeanors here are three rooms above stairs; to which, if the Gaoler Furnishes bed and bedding, the charge to the Prisoner is 7s. per week.

The Corporation allow yearly four gallons of vinegar, to fumigate the Gaol; 12 lbs. of whitening, and 6 lbs. of soap, together with mops, brooms, and pails for cleaning the Prison; and straw, whenever the Gaoler requires it. It gave me great pleasure to be informed that the Corporation are going to build a new Gaol.

At my visit in September 1801, Isabella Mode, a Woman who had been here three years, under sentence of transportation, had a young child born in the Prison, of which she asserted that Harris, the late Keeper, was the Father. He is since dead. This hapless Female had an allowance of ten-pence a day during her detention, and one shilling on a Sunday, for the maintenance of herself and Infant.

The Act for preservation of Health, and Clauses against Spirituous Liquors, not hung up. No Rules and Orders. No employment.

In May 1820, the eleven-man crew of the smuggling galley Lively were temporarily housed in the prison when a mob of their sympathisers armed with hammers, pick-axes and crow bars, attacked the building damaging it beyond repair and freeing all the prisoners. Conveniently, plans for a new and larger prison were already being considered and the design, by town's surveyor, Richard Elsam, was adapted for use on the Queen Street site. The entrance building, on Queen Street, had a rather grand façade, with niches for statues, and surmounted by a classical pediment. On the roof was a metal rod from which four fish hung, designed — it was said — to rotate when prisoners were on the treadmill. The main building had a radial layout with three wings connected to a central hub, where the gaolers were stationed. The plans included accommodation for accused and convicted felons, debtors, and petty offenders.

In 1835, it was reported that:

The Gaol, though not built above 12 or 13 years ago, seems to be deficient in many Gaol, important particulars. The sleeping cells and passages are too small and close, and there are not sufficient means of ventilation; some of the cells are intended for six or eight persons, who are disposed of by putting one bed over another. There are two day-rooms for male prisoners, leading out of small yards, and a day-room and sleeping cells for females. There is a tread-wheel, but there are no means of convening it to any use. There are usually from 20 to 25 prisoners in confinement, so that little or no classification can be expected. The untried and convicted prisoners are not always kept separate; the gaoler uses his discretion as to the persons to be placed in each of the rooms. There are two small cells used as a bridewell, for vagrants or prisoners in a dirty or unhealthy state: there is also a room used as an hospital for invalids. There is a room appropriated for persons arrested by writs out of the court of record: the persons in execution from the court of requests are placed with the felons. There seems to be little or no means of enlarging the gaol, as the public thoroughfares nearly surround it. Complaint was made of the prison arrangements by a person, who was in the year 1822 imprisoned in default of paying a fine, imposed on him for an assault. He stated that he was obliged to sleep with a person who had been sentenced to death, in a small cell, in which were six other felons, and that the bed-clothing was in a disgusting and unhealthy state, lie wrote to the mayor while in prison, but received no answer, and he said that he was unable to get a personal communication in the prison with any of the justices, lie said that he had seen some of the justices in the prison once, but. they were there, not for the purpose of visiting, but consulting upon some alterations, and lie did not wish to interrupt them. The gaoler denied that the bed-clothing was unclean, but said that the rest of this statement was true, he stated that there were no particular times for the justices to visit the gaol, but that there was never a month without some justice calling, though there might probably be a fortnight. He said that the justices, on visiting, did not generally go into the prisoners' wards, but merely called at his house to ask if ne had any complaints or representations to make. It was also made a matter of complaint by the person above-mentioned, that he was not allowed to work at his trade in the gaol, although a convicted felon was employed in the gaoler's kitchen to work for the latter's family, for which he received some remuneration. The gaoler stated that he had authority for employing any of the prisoners who were sentenced to hard labour, but that the person complaining was not so sentenced, and that he wished to work, not for the gaoler's, but for his own benefit. There did not appear to be much foundation for complaint on the part of this individual on tins subject. I had no means of learning from any of the magistrates what discretion is allowed to the gaoler as to the employment of prisoners. No clergyman ever attends the gaol. The gaoler has a salary of 80l.: there is an assistant-gaoler, whose duties were mentioned in section 22; he has a salary of 20l. Both the salaries unpaid out of the rate mentioned in the preceding section.

In 1835, the prison moved to the former Maison Dieu building on Dover High Street, becoming known as the Town and Cinque Ports Gaol. The Queen Street site was later occupied by a polce station and market hall.


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.

  • Kent History and Library Centre, James Whatman Way, Maidstone, Kent ME14 1LQ Holdings include: Certificates of conviction, warrants to convey prisoners from gaol for transportation, remissions of death sentence (1791-1833); Certificates of conviction, lists of convicts in Dover gaol and of prisoners tried; warrants for delivery of convicts (1834-6); Correspondence and affidavits regarding individual criminal cases, including petitions of prisoners (1822-36).
  • 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.