Ancestry UK

Borough Gaol and Bridewell, Harwich, Essex

The Harwich Town Gaol and Bridewell, or House of Correction, each occupied part of the Town Hall building on Church Street, Harwich.

In 1784, John Howard wrote that the gaol comprised:

Two rooms towards the street; no chimneys: a back room called the dark gaol, and another with a fire-place. No court: no water: no sewer. Allowance, three halfpence a day. Keeper's salary, £2: 8: 0. Fees, 6s. 8d. no table.

1778, April 18, No prisoners.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

HARWICH. The Town Gaol.

Gaoler, Samuel Martin. Salary, 2l. 8s. Fees, Debtors, 6s. 8d. Surgeon, if wanted, sent from the Town. Number of Prisoners, 1805, Sept. l8th. None, 1810, Sept. 23d, One. Allowance, Debtors sixpence a day. Felons, four-pence; now (1810) one shilling per day to Prisoners of all descriptions. No Debtor had been confined here since my visit in 1805.

This Gaol is under the Town Hall.

Here are two Dungeons, to which the descent is down ten steps; the one l6 feet by 9, and 7 feet high; the other 16 feet by 10, and of the same height: They have an iron-grated window each, towards the street, but no fire-place: floors damp, with straw scantily laid on them; and tubs, instead of sewers.

On the ground floor are two rooms, with double iron-grated windows to the front; each of them 17 feet by 9, and 9 feet high, with a fire-place. They have also inner windows, nearly 4 feet square, and straw is laid on the floors.

Behind these rooms is a third, of 35 feet by 10 feet 8, and 8 feet high, with a wooden bedstead, and a large fire-place. Tubs, instead of sewers, are emptied when half full; for which the Keeper is allowed six-pence a time. Three Deserters, who were confined here for as many months, had been released about three weeks before I came; and to them the allowance given was nine-pence a day.

The Keeper's house has a large room, which he supplies with bedding, &c. at 8s. per week, to such as can pay. In 1803, Capt. William Reid, committed for embezzling stores, was confined here two months, tried at Chelmsford, and transported. No water accessible: it is brought, when wanted, by the Keeper.

HARWICH. Bridewell.

Keeper, Thomas Freeman, the Bell-man, or Town Crier. Salary, none. Fees, 1s. both at coming in, and going out.

Number of Prisoners, 1805, Sept. 18, One. 1810, Sept. 23, One.

Allowance, six-pence per day; and whatever they can earn.

On the ground floor is a large room, 5 feet by 10, and 7 feet 4 inches high, with a double iron-barred and glazed window. Above stairs, two rooms, each holding two wooden bedsteads, with loose straw only to sleep on. No fire-place. No sewer, but tubs. No water accessible; but brought, when wanted, by the Keeper. The employment is picking of oakum, and making nets; but the Prisoner being a Shoe-maker, was working at his own trade. The straw he had to sleep on was worn to dust.

In 1839, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

The Gaol.—The keeper’s house which stood in the rear of the gaol has been taken down, and the keeper now resides in two of the three rooms formerly occupied by prisoners. The third room, still used as a gaol, is on the ground floor, 16 feet 10 inches long, 9 feet 4 inches wide, and 9 feet high. It has a window looking into the high street, 3 feet by 3 feet 6 inches. It is barred but not glazed, and affords the means of communication with persons outside. Prohibited articles may thus be introduced; and on one occasion, some years back, when a party of smugglers were in confinement, it was found necessary to station a sentinel at the window, to prevent their communicating with persons in the streets. There is a. wooden bedstead in the room. At the period of our inspection there was no prisoner in confinement, and it was stated to be the practice to commit prisoners to the Bridewell in preference, for the sake of security and privacy.

Bridewell.—The Bridewell is a distinct building in the rear of the gaol. The keeper is the bellman of the town, and resides here. There are four rooms allotted to prisoners:—

On the ground floor, an apartment 15 feet 10 inches long, 9 feet 3 inches wide, 7 feet 7 inches high. It has one window looking into the yard, 4 feet by 2 feet

On the first floor, a room 13 feet long, 9 feet 8 inches wide, and 7 feet 6 inches high.

On the second floor, a room 15 feet 7 inches long. 11 feet 10 inches wide, and 7 feet high; and another 13 feet long, 9 feet 10 inches wide, and 6 feet 9 inches high.

Most of the rooms are furnished with wooden bedsteads, some of which have holes at the bottom for fastening the feet of the prisoners when deemed necessary as a punishment.

We found in the lower room a man with a boy of about nine years of age; and in one of the upper rooms a female prisoner with a child. They had been fined £5 and sentenced to imprisonment for a month in default of payment. They were unemployed.

Gaol and Bridewell.—There is no moral and religious instruction.

Whenever any prisoner requires medical assistance, the surgeon of the parish is sent for; but cases of this kind are stated to occur very rarely.

The friends of prisoners are not permitted to see them unless by a written order from a magistrate.

The use of tobacco is not prohibited, and a moderate quantity of beer is allowed.

Each prisoner sleeps on straw, and is allowed a rug blanket.

Water, soap, and a towed are only supplied to prisoners when they ask for them.

The prisoners never go into the open air for exercise.

There is no female attendant, for the female prisoners.

The prison is dirty throughout, as is also the bedding.

The prisoners when noisy are fastened by their feet in the stocks, which are stated to be at the end of some of the beds.

A window of an adjoining house looks into the yard, and is so near to the windows of the Bridewell as to admit of communication with the prisoners. The keeper has detected from these windows persons calling out to the prisoners in their apartments.

We earnestly recommend the abolition of this Gaol and Bridewell, and the erection of a few cells for the purposes of the borough

A decade after the Inspectors' recommendation, the prison and bridewell were both closed in about 1848.


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.

  • No individual records identified for this establishment — any information welcome.
  • 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.