Ancestry UK

Borough Gaol and Bridewell, Grantham, Lincolnshire

When Grantham's Guildhall, at the corner of the High Street and Old Shop Lane (now Guildhall Street), was rebuilt in 1787, it incorporated a courtroom , a Borough Gaol and Bridewell, or House of Correction, together with accommodation for the gaoler.

In 1812, James Neild described the establishment:

Gaoler, William Cooper, Keeper of the Town-Hall, who officiates by a Deputy, Edward Elston, Fees, 6s. 8d.

No Chaplain, nor any religious attentions.

Surgeon, when one is wanted; he is sent by the Town.

Number of Prisoners, 3d Sept, 1809, Two.

Allowance, to Felons, 8d. per day; to Petty Offenders, 4d.


This Prison is situated in Old Shop Lane, and has apartments in the chamber story, for the Keeper, whose windows command the only court-yard. It is for all description of Prisoners, and about 30 feet square, with-a sewer and a dust-pen. No pump. The water is fetched from the court-house, which adjoins.

On the ground-floor here is a day-room, about 12 feet square, a glazed window, and a fire-place, to which the Town finds coals in the Winter: there is a hemp block in it, but no employment furnished. The seven sleeping-cells are all on the ground floor, and open into the court-yard; they have boarded floors, with loose straw, and two rugs each for bedding.

There is a door in the wall of this count, which opens into the yard of the court-house; in which, and under arcades, there are three sleeping-cells and a small day-room: But the sight of the Prisoners being disagreeable to the Gentlemen, they have not been used these eight years, and at my visit were filled with lumber. Neither Act nor Clauses hung up. The whole Prison very dirty.

In 1823, the prison was rebuilt, as described by this report from 1824:

This is a small prison, serving for Grantham, and thirteen neighbouring villages. In the course of the last year, the former building was pulled down, and a new one has been erected, containing two courts, with three cells opening into each court, for male prisoners, and the same accommodation for females. A suitable apartment has also been erected for male vagrants, and another for females, each opening into a yard apart from the rest of the prison.

No change has taken place in the management or discipline of the prison, excepting that its improved construction enables the governor more effectually to separate the prisoners.

The sessions having recently been held, there is at present only one prisoner in confinement. He is sentenced to six months imprisonment, and is employed in making wooden skewers.

The vicar of Grantham occasionally attends for the instruction of the prisoners: no other means are adopted for their moral and religious improvement. No employment has been introduced by authority into this gaol, but prisoners who have trades are allowed to work at the same.

The governor states that he has not used irons for the last ten years.

The number of commitments has been:—

In the year 1822:—For felony, 4; for bastardy, 2; for assaults, 2.

In the year 1823:—For felony, 2; for bastardy, 3.

In 1824, to March 21st:—For felony, 5.

In 1838, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

The prison stands at the back of the town-hall. It consists of four day-rooms and 12 cells Borough Gaol, upon a ground plan, with four airing yards. The following are the dimensions:— Cells, 8 ft. by 6 ft. 10 in. Airing yards, 52 ft. by 33 ft. The cells are arched, and the floors are of Yorkshire paving. The windows from the turnkey's house, look conveniently into each yard for the purpose of inspection. There are small patches of garden ground in the centre of the yards. The prison, where detached from other buildings, is inclosed by a boundary wall, With courses of loose bricks on the top. There is no pump, nor the means of procuring water within the walls; the prisoners have to fetch it from a well on the keeper's premises.

Bedding.—Three rugs and straw; the latter changed two or three times during the year.


Fuel.—In moderate weather, 14 lbs. of coals daily; when severe, 21 lbs.

Cleanliness.—The prison and prisoners clean; they wash their own linen, and are allowed each lb. of soap weekly.

Diet.—The prisoners provide themselves; for this purpose the corporation allow them 6d. a-day before trial, and 4d. when convicted. They cook their victuals in the day-rooms.

Health.—The surgeon attends when required, and makes his charge for medicines and attendance. He keeps no book.

Moral and Religious Instruction.—Bibles and prayer-books are provided for the prisoners, but whether able to read them, or not, appears to be a matter of no concern. Divine worship is never celebrated here. One prisoner, for an attempt at an infamous offence, is undergoing an imprisonment of two years.

Offences and Punishments.—Refractory prisoners and disorderlies are occasionally subjected to a most improper and illegal punishment, called "the bull ring," handcuffing them to a ring fixed in the wall. One of the turnkeys says that, "There were two gipsies here very refractory; they were put the first night to the bull ring. The other punishment is confinement in a dark cell: whipping has never been resorted to."

Visits.—visits and letters at the discretion of the keeper.

Labour.—There is a small tread-wheel, which is overlooked by the wife of one of the turnkeys from a window. The prisoners are a quarter of an hour on and off; at every quarter she strikes a bell to give them notice; they then come down and walk about the yard, talking together until their next turn. Females are occasionally put on the wheel.

Months Employed Number of Working Hours per Day Number of Prisoners the Wheel will hold at one time. Height of each Step. The ordinary Velocity of the Wheels per Minute. The ordinary Proport­ion of Prisoners off the Wheel to the Total. Number of Feet in Ascent per Day as per Hours of Employ­ment. Revol­utions of the Wheel per Day. Daily Amount of Labour to be Per­formed by every Prisoner. How recorded with precision. Applic­ation of its Power.
12 8 5 6 inches. Twice round and a half. 2 15,016 .. 1600 By the ringing of a bell every quarter of an hour. None.

Accounts, Expenditure, Books.—The system of accounts appears to be very imperfect. The expenditure of the prison comprises also that of the town-hall. The bills are sent in quarterly to the town treasurer. The keeper is allowed £12 a-year to furnish coals for the gaol, town-hall, and offices. The turnkey of the house of correction provides coals for that part of the prison, and sends in his bill to the town-council.

Discipline.—Upon going through this prison early in the morning, I found, in one dayroom, the convicted prisoners regaling themselves with a large breakfast of meat, vegetables, and tea. In the cell occupied by a prisoner convicted of an attempt at an unnatural offence, were several pipes and tobacco, various books, and tailoring work. It was quite evident that this prisoner was indulged to a great extent by the officers. The turnkey, upon my requesting an explanation, said, that the surgeon had ordered him tobacco; upon applying to the surgeon, this appeared not to be true. Upon inquiring of the keeper of what offence this prisoner had been convicted, who was undergoing a sentence of two years' imprisonment, he could not tell, and referred to the turnkey. An old register was at last produced, going back as far as 1817, by which it appeared that he had been sentenced at the October sessions, 1836, for an assault upon a boy, with intent to commit an unnatural offence. The old register was arranged under the following heads: Number—name—when committed—by whom—to what place— for what offence—where, and how, disposed of—observations. The following loose method has been substituted:—Committed the 4th of September, by Joseph Wyles, Esq., for one month's imprisonment and hard labour, in default of payment of a fine of 1lfor assaulting Thomas Howell, a watchman, and several others." The discipline of the prison, and the degree of instruction of the prisoners, is wholly neglected to be taken. The officers state,— "The prisoners care nothing for the tread-wheel in the prison: sometimes they get the week's provisions all at once. They like the prison a great deal better than the house of correction at Falkingham. They get better food here than out." The turnkeys are employed in the borough police, and, during their frequent absence while patrolling the town, the important object of inspection over the prisoners is unattended to. The labour of the tread-wheel, from this cause, is a mere farce. The indispensable necessity for providing for the moral and religious instruction of the prisoners has been intimated to the municipal authorities. I also recommend (he substitution of a precise diet, in lieu of the money allowance; the keeping of a regular register of the prisoners, and an improved system of accounts; that while the men are on the wheel they should be under the constant inspection of a male officer; and that the officers of the House of Correction should be enjoined to be more vigilant in the execution of their duties.

Attached to the prison is a vagrant house, under charge of the turnkey of the House of Correction. He receives 3d. a head for feeding and attending to them. It consists of two sleeping rooms, and a yard for males and females. The vagrants are provided with a night's lodging, and receive a penny loaf in the evening, and another in the morning, when they are conducted beyond the limits of the borough.

Keeper.—Aged 52; appointed 1836; farmer, salary £52, resides in the prison.

Surgeon.—Appointed 1836; no salary; scuds in his bill for medicine and attendance.

Turnkey to the Gaol.—Age 44; pensioner Royal Artillery; appointed 1836; wages 14s. a week; resides in prison.

Turnkey to the House of Correction.—Age 55; pensioner 58th regiment; wages 14s. a week; resides in prison.

In 1869, the Guildhall was relocated to a new building on St Peter's Hill, which included cells to accommodate about thirty prisoners.

Following the nationalisation of the prison system, the prison was closed in 1878.


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