Ancestry UK

City Gaol and Bridewell, Gloucester, Gloucestershire

Before effectively being merged in 1783, Gloucester's Town Gaol and Bridewell, or House of Correction operated at separate sites. From at least 1613, the bridewell occupied the city's East Gate. In 1727, a bridewell was incorporated into the new workhouse, which occupied the former New Bear inn at the corner of Castle Lane and Quay Street. By the 1775, the East Gate bridewell had fallen into disrepair and offenders were instead being sent to the city gaol, which the occupied the North Gate as reported by John Howard in 1784:

GAOLER,William Jeynes, afterwards his Widow.
Salary,none: she paid £4 : 14: 0 a year to the sheriffs.
Fees,Debtors, £0 : 9 : 8.
 Felons,    0 :12 :10.
Transports,£6 each.
Allowance,Debtors, three shillings a week.
 Felons, three-pennyworth of bread a day each.
Garnish,£0 : 3: 4.
Number,Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors,Felons &c.
1773,Nov. 24,3,4.1779,June 1,1,1.
1775,Dec. 5,7,7.1782,Apr. 27,Prisoners in county-gaol.
1776,Sep. 6,2,2.1783,Sep. 30,
1776,Dec. 15,2,6. 
SURGEON,none; but on applying to the mayor.

This gaol, the North-gate, is too small. Debtors, felons, and petty offenders, who cannot pay for beds, all together in the Main; but women separated at night. No court; debtors have the privilege of walking upon the leads. The act for preserving the health of prisoners not hung up. The city pays debtors in common, three shillings a week: they have not received, for nineteen years past, the sixteen shillings formerly paid by the corporation. On the 13th of December, prisoners have ten shillings worth of bread from an estate in Hemsted near this city. It is sent in two-penny loaves. No memorial of it in the gaol. There are some rules, dated 1694, in which the sums for garnish are specified; but as they are not signed, I did not copy them. The gaoler also kept the city bridewell at the East-gate: but that being taken down, offenders are committed to this gaol. The above was the state of this prison in 1779; but at my visit in April 1782, it was taken down, an act of parliament having passed in 1781, for building a new gaol, "in some convenient and healthy situation: as it will tend greatly to the safety and health of persons confined therein." In September 1783 the new gaol was nearly finished, but not occupied. This is built on too small a scale, the walls and rooms are low, there cannot be a proper separation of the sexes, or of debtors and felons; and the sewers will be offensive.

The new gaol referred to by Howard was on Southgate Street, with the bridewell adjoining it. The establishment was the subject of a report in 1812 by James Neild:

Keeper, William Dunn; now John Russell. Salary, 31l. 10s.

Fees, Debtors and Felons, 13s. 4d. Conveyance of Transports, 6l. each.

Garnish abolished.

Chaplain, none.

Surgeon, Mr. Wilton, who makes a Bill.

Number of Prisoners,Debtors,Felons, &c.
1802, Nov. 20th,30
1806, Sept. 3d,51 Woman Convict.
Also a Boy, for leaving his work.

Allowance, for Debtors in common, three shillings per week, paid by the City, and divided among them, be the number great or small. If only one Debtor, he has the whole. To certificated Paupers, sixpence a day each in bread. Felons, &c. have sixpence daily.

This Gaol, which is likewise the City Bridewell, was first occupied 24th Nov. I784, and is situate in South-gate Street.

The Keeper's apartments front the street, and his kitchen commands a view of the court-yard, which is flagged, and of an oval shape, 36 feet by 24 feet 6; supplied with two sewers and two pumps; and this is the only court-yard for Prisoners of all descriptions.

The Master's-Side Debtors have a day-room up stairs, and one bed-room, for which they pay 2s. per week each.

The Poor or Common-Side Debtors have what is called the Straw-Room; which is a free-ward, over the Felons' day-room, and of the same size, with a fireplace and glazed window.

The ground-floor contains a day-room, 12 feet square, for the Felons; and three sleeping-cells, furnished with barrack bedsteads, loose straw, and a rug to sleep on, lighted and ventilated by iron-gratings over the doors. Also a condemned cell, about 6 feet 3 inches square, totally dark, except what light can reach it through an iron-grated aperture in the door, 9 inches wide by 8. Deserters are sometimes confined here.

The Bridewell- Room is above stairs, 15 feet by 12; and has a fire-place, glass window, sky-light, a barrack-bed, and the whipping-post. The place of execution is at the end of the Gaol.

On the 13th of December annually, the Prisoners here have ten shillings worth of bread given them, arising from an estate in Hemstead, near the City of Gloucester. It is sent in twopenny loaves; but no Memorial of them is recorded in the Gaol.

A Table of the Chamber Rent, and Fees, belonging to the Gaol and Prison for the City of Gloucester, and County of the same City.
No. 2. The Debtors' Rooms, for each man, two shillings per week.
No. 3. The Straw Debtors' Rooms, nothing to be paid.
         FEES.£.  s.  d.
For every Debtor discharged by liberate from the Sheriff 0 13  4
Every Prisoner discharged by liberate from a Justice of the Peace, 0 13  4
Every certificate of Debtor, signed by the Gaoler, 0   6  8
Every copy of Warrant, 0   3  4

There were several escapes from the prison. In 1799, a woman named Mary Steward made a hole under the window of her first-floor room and used strips of sheets she had sewn together to lower herself to the ground. In 1817, four male prisoners in a ground floor cell dug through the floor deep enoug to make a hole through the foundations. Two of them escaped, but were quickly recaptured.

In 1836, the recently formed Inspectors of Prisons reported on the gaol:

Construction.—The dimensions are so confined, that any attempt at classification is nearly impossible. It is more or less damp throughout; in one part of the prison there is a constant dampness on the floor, which the Keeper believes is incapable of remedy. A bad smell proceeds from the privy in one of the yards during wet weather, and contaminates the whole yard.

The Dark Cells (one for men and one for women) are unventilated, more or less damp, and utterly unfit for use; the Women's Dark Cell, in particular, has no access of air whatever, except that Which enters through the crevices of the door; and this door of the Women's Dark Cell is only five or six feet removed from the door of the Debtors' Room, so that conversation is perfectly easy.

The Debtors, for Avant of room, use the Gaoler's Kitchen as a Day Room.

The Condemned Cell is badly ventilated, and damp. It is 6 feet 10 inches long, 5 feet 10 inches wide, and 8 feet 11 inches high.

This Condemned Cell, however, has only been used once in 10 years, except for refractory prisoners. In the Dark Cells, previously mentioned, it is proper, also, to remark, that prisoners are only confined for one hour; a duration of punishment not very likely to prove efficient, and only adopted in order to obviate the injurious effects likely to arise from a longer stay in an unsuitable place. The Cells of the Convicts are damp; they appear to sleep two in a cell. The Day Room of the Convicts is dark, damp and ill-ventilated. The females sleep all in. one room; two women sleep together on a large wooden bedstead, but with separate bedding. Sometimes, when the prison is crowded, the matron is obliged to place four women together in one of these beds. I believe that the Keeper does all in his power to correct the inconveniences inseparable from the actual state of the prison.

Management.—The Untried associate without limit. The Convicted are not separated by day, but at night are placed in separate cells, as far as room will permit. When the Prison is very full, it becomes necessary even to mix together the Tried and the Untried.

The Keeper, Matron and Turnkey reside in the Gaol. A Chaplain and Surgeon are attached to the establishment. Silence is not enforced here, but quiet is maintained.

The usual prison offences are, fighting, swearing, attempts to escape. Locking up and chains are resorted to, when they try to escape.

In cases of whipping, the lashes are 10 to 25, with cat-o'-nine-tails, in presence of the Surgeon, Keeper, Turnkey, and prisoners.

Diet.—The allowance for all the prisoners, including the Debtors, if they apply for it, consists of one loaf of bread daily, and 1d. This loaf weighs a little more than two pounds and two ounces. The Debtors and the Untried may also receive provisions from their friends outside, but no fermented liquors. This mode of dieting the prisoners is open to several objections; the allowance of money obstructs good order within the walls, and facilitates communication from without; add to which, that, taken altogether, the whole allowance seems insufficient, as far as regards the quality; a less quantity of bread might more judiciously be combined with a little meat, or other articles of food, occasionally interposed.

A jacket, trowsers, waistcoat, shirt and wooden shoes are allowed to the Male prisoners. The Women receive no clothing unless they come in totally destitute. The Debtors also are not provided with clothes unless they are in extreme want, which rarely happens. The Bedding consists of two blankets, two sheets and a coverlid, for all parties.

Labour.—There is a Tread-wheel, which is employed during the whole year. It is worked during six hours every clay, namely, from nine o'clock to one, and from two o'clock to four. It will hold nine prisoners at once. The height of each step is 12 inches, and 50 steps are usually performed in a minute. The labour is not productive.

Washing and cleansing are the other employments pursued here. The Untried are only occupied in cleansing their yards.

Religious and other instruction.—Divine Service is performed once on Sunday. On Wednesday a Sermon is delivered. The Chaplain attends readily whenever he is sent for. He occasionally instructs the prisoners; and a small society of benevolent ladies is engaged in teaching the female portion. The Matron also sometimes assists in teaching those of her own sex. There is a good supply of religious books. The Chaplain keeps a journal: he has a very small living in the neighbourhood.

Care of the Sick, Disease and Mortality.—There is a Sick Room for the Male Prisoners, another for the Females, and a third for the Debtors. The Surgeon makes a daily visit, and a more frequent one if circumstances demand it. No death occurred in the last year, and only three deaths have happened during the last five years, amongst a daily average of 25 inmates. The itch appears to be the most common complaint. The prisoners complain of frequent colds. No insane person is at present in confinement here.

Fourteen cases were received into the Infirmaries from 11th October 1833 to 13th October 1834. The greatest number of sick at one time was three, and one died during that year.

Surgeon (including Medicines)25
Male Turnkey45
The Keeper pays out of his salary his Son, who acts as an Assistant and Clerk.
>The cost of prison diet per day per head is, 4d.

Three prisoners were hanged outside the Southgate Street prison. The first, in 1785, was Samuel Griffiths, for committing a robbery at the New Inn. Next, in 1801, was William Clarke, for a highway robbery. The last, in 1818, was Joseph Richards, for obtaining money by threats.

The prison closed in October 1858.From that date, all city prisoners were placed at the Gloucester County Gaol on Barrack Square.


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.

  • Gloucestershire Archives, Clarence Row, Alvin Street, Gloucester GL1 3DW. Holdings include: Register of prisoners committed for trial at Quarter Sessions and Assizes (1810-35). Register of prisoners committed to house of correction (1816-1818); Prisoners committed for debt (1810-52); List of prisoners confined in City Gaol (1820); Weekly returns of vagrants and other prisoners in House of Correction (1821-2); Register of misdemeanours (1847-55).
  • 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.