Ancestry UK

Gaol for Romney Marsh, Dymchurch, Kent

In 1797, a Town Gaol and Bridewell was erected at Dymchurch, on what is now New Hall Close, Dymchurch.

In 1812, James Neild reported on the establishment:

Gaoler, Thomas Bourne, Sergeant at Mace, and lives distant from the Prison. Salary, none. Fees, 6s. 8d. Surgeon, Mr. Walter; who makes a Bill. September 10th, 1807, One Prisoner. Allowance to Prisoners, sixpence a day.

This Gaol adjoins to the New-Hall, and was built in 1797. It consists of two rooms; one of which, called "The Gaol," is 15 feet by 10, and 8 feet high, with a boarded floor; a table and shelf for provisions. No fire-place. The sewer is in one corner.

The other room is named "The Bridewell," of 11 feet by 10, and 6 feet 3 inches high. Both these have an iron double-grated window, looking into a small court paved with flag-stone, of 16 feet 4 inches by 10 feet 6. The rooms have double wooden doors, strongly clamped with iron. Straw and blankets on the floors to sleep on. No water, but what is sent in by the Keeper.

A report in 1832 noted:

This prison contains four sleeping-rooms, two day-rooms, a work-room, and an airing-yard. A hand-mill has been put up, for breaking beans, &c. The weekly cost of food for each prisoner is 2s. 11d.: clothing and bedding are provided by the corporation. Eleven prisoners were committed during the last year.

In 1845, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This prison consists of four cells and two airing-yards. The keeper generally uses cue of the cells as a store-room for preserving the prison effects, as well as for the safe keeping of property belonging to himself; another cell is occupied as a bed-room by the gaoler's family; so that there are but two cells adjoining one of the airing-yards available for the confinement of prisoners. The other airing-yard is only a narrow passage, and could not detain a prisoner in safe custody for an instant, if he wished to escape; it is, therefore, but seldom used, as are the two cells contiguous to it, which are put to the other purposes Just mentioned.

I At the period of our inspection we found three prisoners for trial in custody, viz., H. K. (a Pole), charged with killing two ducks; J. C., charged with horse-stealing; both prisoners had been five weeks in confinement; and T. M., charged with illegally selling a gun, had been two weeks in custody. The cell occupied by the Pole was dark, damp, and imperfectly ventilated; the atmosphere was consequently disagreeably close and unwholesome. This poor man had been seized with ague during his incarceration in this miserable apartment; a disease, with which he asserted, he had never been previously afflicted. Moreover, he was lying, with scanty bedding, upon the floor, and had been kept there for five weeks, the entire period of his imprisonment. The keeper excused himself for this highly censurable neglect, by stating that, the bedstead had been sent to be repaired, and had not been returned; but it appeared that all the repairs that were necessary could not have occupied a workman more than a few hours; besides, we discovered that there was a very good iron bedstead in the prison disengaged, and which only required to be brought from the store-room and screwed up, The keeper consequently has not the shadow of an excuse to offer for his negligence; and we think the visiting justices cannot be freed from blame for allowing tho irregularity; whilst the surgeon, who is said to have attended pretty regularly twice a-week upon the prisoner, is not less censurable. We are surprised to find that any medical gentleman should have stood quietly by, and have undertaken the treatment of a case of the gravity of intermittent fever, under such Unfavourable circumstances, without ordering forthwith the adoption of every available means for bettering his patient's condition, particularly as the success of his practice must have been in no small degree dependant upon the comfort of the invalid. It is said that the prisoner in question, upon his first commitment, was disorderly, that he tore his bedding, &c.; if so, he should have been punished as the law directs, but not by withholding the slightest aid and means of comfort when assailed by a severe disease.

The 18th rule of the 4 Geo. IV., c.64, s.10, enacts "That every prisoner shall be provided with suitable bedding; and every male prisoner with a separate bed, hammock, or cot, either in a separate cell, or in a cell with not less than two other male prisoners." Notwithstanding that enactment, however, we found the two men confined in the other cell were kept there day and night, and occupied the same bed, at least they had slept together for several nights previous to our inspection. The keeper frankly admitted that he was aware the practice was an infringement of the Gaol Act; but that, as he was short of blankets, he could not help himself. We submit that the justices ought to supply a sufficiency of bedding, and every other requisite for the prison under their jurisdiction, that there shall not be even the colour of an excuse for infringements of the statutes on any such grounds. The airing-yard is covered over with iron bars, about 15 feet from the ground, and the doors of the two cells communicating with it are left, open the whole day, so that the prisoners have the opportunity of unlimited intercourse. The Rev. William Pullen, the rector of Dymchurch, generally calls at the prison two or three limes a-week, to converse with the prisoners, and to read prayers. There being no surgeon in Dymchurch, Mr. Charles Fagg, surgeon, residing at Hythe, 5 miles off, attends at the prison when there are cases of sickness, and occasionally looks in at other times, when he is in the neighbourhood. Soap, towels, and clean, linen are supplied to the prisoners every Sunday; but we cannot report anything favourable as to the cleanliness and general order of the prison. This gaol is merely used for the confinement, of prisoners until trial, when they are sent to St. Augustine's, near Canterbury, to undergo their sentences, wether with hard labour or otherwise. The number of prisoners committed to this gaol in the course of tho year 1842, was 5 males; in 1843, there were 6 males; and the number during last year was 3 males and 2 female. For information respecting the ages, state of instruction, offences, and sentences, &c. of these prisoners we refer to the following Return.

A Return of the Number of Prisoners committed to the Gaol at Dymchurch, in the Liberty of Romney Marsh, in the course of the Year ending Michaelmas 1842, 1843, and 1844.
NameAge.Could Read or Write.Offence or Charge.Sentence, or how disposed of.How long in Custody in this Gaol.If in Prison before, and how often.
P.H.45Neither read nor write.Stealing a skidpan.1 month's imprisonment and hard labour.1 monthNot before.
S.H.38Can road and write. Wilfully neglecting his children. 3 calendar month's hard labour.13 weeksOnce before.
T.C.23DittoCharged with stealing a quantity of pulse.1 month's imprisonment.1 monthNot before.
J.S.29Neither read nor write.Charged with stealing six pounds of hay.14 days' imprisonment.54 days"
J.P.20Can read and write imperfectly.
H.S.44DittoWilfully neglecting her children. Removed to St. Augustine's, near Canterbury—6 months' hard labour. 1 monthOnce before.
C.C.30Neither read nor write.Charged with stealing one wallet, value 6d.6 months with hard labour—removed to Canterbury.10 daysNot before.
R.S.55Read and write imperfectly.Stealing one oak plank.2 months' hard labour—removed to Canterbury.3 days"
J.W.16DittoStealing nine pills.7 days' imprisonment7 days"
H.O.26Read and write well.Stealing two live tame ducks. 1 month and hard labour—removed to Canterbury. 9 weeks"
J.B.20DittoStealing two loaves, one pair slippers, and one rummer.4 weeks and hard labour—removed to Canterbury.8 weeks"
T.B.24Read and write.Stealing three sheep.Tried and acquitted.11 weeks"
S.Q.27DittoStealing one silk handkerchief, value 2s.1 month hard labour—removed to Canterbury.7 days"
G.W.24Read and write well.Stealing one pig, value 12s.3 months' hard labour—removed to Canterbury.11 weeks"
J.C.29Neither read nor write.Running away from service.1 month hard labour—removed to Canterbury.3 daysOnce before.

The prison closed in 1866. Today, the hall houses a museum displaying many interesting relics and antiques, and the old gaol.


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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.