Ancestry UK

City Gaol and Bridewell, Hereford, Herefordshire

From at least the sixteenth century, Hereford had City Gaol and Bridewell located in its Bye Street Gate (now the site of The Kerry pub).

Bye Street Gate, Hereford.

In the early seventeenth century, the gaol had a rather dubious reputation. Over a nine-month period in 1624-5, twelve of the inmates died. A jury decided that nine died by God's visitation, one poisoned herself, one was drowned in the river Wye, and one 'did casually fall out of the gallery of the Boothhall'.

In 1691, the gaoler, William Huck, was described as 'a common lewd person, a swearer, curser, liar, drunkard ... a common hunter of whore-houses' etc. who 'murthered one Mary Barnard, a prisoner, that was under his care ... by knocking her on the head with the gaol keys.'

In 1784, John Howard reported:

Hereford City Gaol, is one of the gates. The debtors rooms commodious; and they have a little court. The lower room for felons too close: allowance to them, 2d. a day. The gaol clean, but out of repair. Clauses against spirituous liquors not hung up. Keeper a widow: salary none: fees, 6s. 8d. no table.

1776, Sep. 9,Debtors 3.Felons 0.
1779, May 17,4.0.
1782, April 26,0.0.
Deserter 1.

In 1812, James Neild recorded his visits to the prison:

Gaoler, John Thomas. Salary, 13l.
Fees, 6s. 8d. No Table. Garnish, not abolished, 2s. 6d.

Surgeon, none: when wanted, he is sent by the Mayor.

Number of Prisoners,

 Debtors.Felons, &c.
1802, Nov. 10th, 04.
1803, Aug. 28th,12,
and 1 Lunatick.

This Gaol is the Bye-street Gate, in which one room is called the Bridewell. It has a small court, with a sewer in it, and the whipping-post.

For Common-Side Debtors here is a free ward, to which the Corporation allow straw. They have a little court, about 15 feet square, with a sewer; audit is well supplied with water.

Master's-Side Debtors have two rooms in the Keeper's house, for which they pay 2s. 6d. per week each, single bed; or, if two sleep together, 1s. 6d. each.

For Felons here are two small court-yards, about 15 feet square, with a sewer in each, and well supplied with water. In one of the courts, down eleven steps, are two horrid dungeons, totally dark. The keeper, indeed, says they are never used; yet, though they did not appear to have had any inhabitant in them for many years, I should have been better pleased at seeing them bricked up.

The Felons have also three close offensive sleeping-rooms, which I found scattered over with loose straw on the floor, dirty, and worn to dust. Here is likewise one room, justly denominated The Black-Hole, which, if not impenetrably dark, has no light nor ventilation, save what is faintly admitted through a small aperture in the door. It is supplied with a barrack bedstead and loose straw; and in this wretched sink-hole was found a poor deranged Man, in the most filthy and pitiable state that it is possible to conceive.

Upon my telling the Keeper, that in case he did not immediately remove the straw and filth out of the several courts, I would apply to the Magistrates, I had the pleasure of finding the old straw burnt, and the court-yards cleaned the next day.

Debtors committed to this Gaol are by process issuing out of the Mayor's Court. One shilling is given to each Prisoner at every Quarter Session by the Chamberlain. Neither the Act for preserving Health, nor Clauses against Spirituous Liquors, hung up. The whole Prison is very dirty. The commitments to it, in 1802, were one hundred and thirty-six.

A letter from Hereford, dated l8th Feb. 1808, informed me that this Gaol was undergoing great alterations; and indeed it very much wanted improvement.

In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported on the prison:

Construction.—This Gaol is detached from other buildings, but it has no boundary wall. The outer (or street) door has a grating; when the wooden shutter is withdrawn from the back of this grating, which appears to be no unusual occurrence, the passenger who stands on the steps of the door can see the prisoners in the yard. Whenever the street-door is opened, this observation becomes on both sides more easy. The Female Yard so immediately joins the Male Yard, and the gates are so placed, that conversation becomes easy, either over the intermediate wall, or through the gates.

The accommodations are so scanty, that the Debtors come into the Gaoler's. Kitchen to dress their food; they also make use of the Gaoler's privy; and, indeed, escape from the wall against which this privy rests, and above which it only rises a few feet, would not be difficult, and has been practised.

The windows of the female Sleeping Cells look into the Male Yard. The Debtors have an extremely small yard, only 30 feet 10 inches long, and 7 feet 5 inches wide; from this yard they look on the Female and Male Yards.

The windows in this Prison have a great defect, they can only be opened from without.

The Receiving Room is used as a Dark Cell; but when the external shutter is put up, it is ill ventilated.

The Prison appeared to me damp; but the Keeper believes it to be dry. It does not seem a secure one, as eight prisoners have escaped since the year 1827; one was alone, seven escaped together. The Debtors' part seems most insecure.

Management.—The defects which are so visible both in the plan and system of this Gaol are not to be mixed up with the character of the Gaoler; indeed, an observer will be surprised at finding his duties so decently performed, where every circumstance thwarts and cramps him. His salary (only 40l.) is two low; he has no assistance provided for him, and yet he is sometimes employed as a constable, an occupation which of course withdraws him from his Gaol. In his absence the care of the Gaol devolves on his son, who is not appointed nor salaried by the Corporation, but is by trade a carpenter. It is quite natural that a father should seek the aid of his son, but if such aid is necessary, it ought to be afforded by an officer chosen for the purpose, and recompensed for his trouble. The Gaoler's wife, although unpaid, is obliged to act as Matron.

It seems almost useless to enter into any minute details of the economy of a prison, where there is only one division for the males and another for the females, excepting the scanty portion appropriated to the Debtors.

Prisoners sentenced to hard labour are transferred, by contract, to the County Gaol.

Seven is the greatest number of prisoners sleeping in the same room. Two are sometimes placed in the same bed. Silence it would be impossible to enforce, while things continue on their present footing.

Diet.—The Debtors receive no food, unless they apply for the City bread, which is two pounds per day.

The other prisoners have the same allowance before trial as after, namely, two pounds of bread daily; an allowance which appears to me improper in its selection, and insufficient altogether for the purpose.

The Bedding allowed is one rug, one blanket, two sheets and one straw mattrass.

The Debtors are supplied by the Gaoler with beds, bedsteads, sheets, blankets, counterpanes, &c., at 2s. 6d. per week, if they can pay for it; if not, they have the same allowance as other prisoners.

Labour.—The only work carried on here is breaking stones for the streets. The hours of labour are from seven till four in winter, and from six to six in the summer.

The profits arising from it are applied to the support of the prisoners.

Religious and other Instruction.—Divine Service is performed on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The Chaplain delivers a sermon also on Christmas-day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Whitsunday.

The prisoners are supplied with religious books, but they have no instruction in reading beyond that which one may impart to the other. The Chaplain keeps a journal. He has a duty to perform at the Cathedral.

Care of the Sick, Disease and Mortality.—There is no Infirmary here; and when a prisoner is ill, he remains in his cell. The Prison does not appear to contain much sickness in the course of the year; the most prevalent complaints are those imported into the house, such as the itch and venereal disorders. The Keeper affirms that no prisoner has fallen ill in the Prison during the last year; their stay, indeed, is generally of short duration. He states that no death has occurred here during the last nine years.


The Keeper — £.42


Cost of Prison diet per day per head, 4d.

The Inspectors' report in 1837 contained further criticism of the prison but indicatedted that a move to a new site was in the offing:

In the rear of the Gaoler's House is a block of Prison Buildings, divided for male and female Prisoners, each having a Yard. The walls of the Yard are, however, not seven feet high, and the Prisoners talk with each other freely. The Men have a day room and six Cells. The Women have three Cells, nine feet square: the Windows of these Cells look into the Men's Yards, and we observed a man climb up to the Window of one of the Women's Cells, and a female prisoner hand him a light for his pipe.

The debtors reside in the Gaoler's House: his kitchen forms their day room. Their Airing court adjoins the male and female criminals' yard, so that there is a general communication among all classes.

The Borough contracts with the County for the maintenance of certain of its Prisoners, and reserves its present Gaol for slight cases of felony and misdemeanor, and Vagrants. The total number in custody in 1835 was 92 ; but a considerable increase has since taken place in the number of commitments owing to the vigilance of the new Police. In the first six months of the last year there had been 283 Commitments. The greatest number in custody in 1835 was 26, and in 1836, 27.

The Council are most anxious to build a new Prison; and we examined two Situations which had been fixed upon. They are, however, both unfavourable from the proximity of other Buildings.

In 1841, the Inspectors described the prison as 'one of the worst in England'. They were pleased to report, however, that a plan for a new prison had been adopted. It was to provide 24 cells, measuring 13 feet by 7, and to include a yard for stone-breaking as a means of hard labour.

The new building was erected on Grope Lane (now Gaol Street) on land purchased for £550 by the City Council from Mr. Cam in Little Gaol Lane, Hereford. Construction work began on 9 November 1841 with the partnership of Thomas Trehearne and Thomas Duckham as architects. It took three years to complete the building of the gaol. To the rear of the prison were exercise yards and the whole building was surrounded by a high wall for security.

In 1849, the Inspectors provided a detailed report on the new establishment:

This prison was built only five years ago, expressly with a view to the introduction of the separate system. The division for male prisoners consists of a corridor facing the prisoners, entrance, containing eight cells on the ground floor and the like number on a gallery above. These cells are very well ventilated and lighted, and measure 13 feet by 7 feet, with a height of more than 9 feet. They contain each a block of wood, to serve as a seat, a table, and a corner-shelf; but they are not provided with water-closets, or conveniences for washing; neither is there any supply of water to them. They were certified as fit for separate confinement in 1844: the deficiencies I have alluded to, although much to be lamented, not being considered sufficient to put them out of the category which the Act of the 2 and 3 Vict., cap. 56, is intended to apply. I would beg, however, strongly to express my opinion of the disadvantages to good discipline arising from the deficiency last mentioned, as it leads to the necessity of allowing prisoners to leave their cells upon frivolous pretexts; to say nothing of the great consumption of the time of the officers, in attending to the constant calls of prisoners.

The remaining accommodation for male criminal prisoners, consists of four cells in the basement, two of which are used for the confinement of vagrants; while the other two, having been certified, are used for the purposes of punishment.

The cells for female criminal prisoners are eight in number; placed on two floors of the left wing of the building. They are on the same construction as those of the males; but by a strange oversight they have been placed on the side of the building next to the street, which has made it impossible to give them any direct light, from the fear of allowing communications to be made to the prisoners from without. It has been attempted to remedy this evil by making large windows over the doors, so as to admit as much light as possible from the corridor, but the relief is only partial; and although in bright weather it enables prisoners to work or read for some hours of the day, it is still frequently necessary to use candles.

Connected with the females' prison is a very spacious and well furnished-kitchen for prisoners of both sexes, the cooking being performed by a single female prisoner. Adjoining to the kitchen are a very good washhouse and laundry, in which is a bath for female prisoners. The washing for all the prison is here done by the females.

It is to be regretted that gas is not admitted into the cells, as it would afford a much better light than the candles at present in use, besides being more safe and manageable. After the first expense too of the gas fittings, the economy would soon be felt to be great.

It is not only in having light in the cells, that the management of this small prison is in advance of its more important neighbour, the county gaol. Some steps have been made towards the substitution of a correctional system for one of force; towards the realization of some at least of the benevolent objects of a reformatory discipline. Instead of squandering the time of imprisonment in turning a wheel, whose greatest recommendation is its unprofitableness, or in walking round a yard with the sole object of further exhausting the bodily energies, the prisoners are here instructed, and practised in arts which hold out to them the prospect of obtaining an honest livelihood; and which, even though they may not eventually be available to them in this point of view, have at least the merit of administering present relief to the conscious feeling of degradation and worthlessness, which as long as it has dominion over the mind acts as a barrier to all advance towards reformation. The only mechanical trades taught here at present, are the several branches of that of mat-making and rug-weaving. Those whose imprisonment is very short, or who are from any other cause incapacitated from learning these trades, are employed in the preparation of the cocoa-nut fibre for the other workmen, or in spinning or platting the material, or in knitting stockings. A ready sale is found for these manufactures, the profits of which I am called to state, upon the information of the governor. In 1844, when the manufacture was commenced, a profit of 11l. was realized; in 1845, 51l.; in 1846. 47l.; in 1847, 37l. At the time of my inspection, the year 1848 was not completed, but there was reason to expect that it would prove more productive than former years.

All the male prisoners for trial were employed in picking or in platting coir, or cocoanut fibre, for the use of the mat-makers, with the exception of one who was engaged in tailoring. The untried females were knitting or sewing. Of the convicted men, 7 were employed in picking coir, 3 in platting coir, 1 in finishing matting, 1 in sorting yam, 1 in the manufacture of hearth-rugs, 2 in making nets for folding sheep, 2 in making prison clothing and repairing hammocks, and 1 as a carpenter. One only was excused from labour on account of sickness. One of the convicted females was employed in cooking for the prison, and the rest in sewing, spinning, and knitting.

The encouragement which must be derived by those concerned in enforcing the discipline from these evident signs of success in their benevolent endeavours, forbid me to feel apprehensive that they will long deny to the prisoners those further advantages which are within their reach, and which are also contemplated by the beneficial Act of Parliament whose provisions they have thus far laboured to carry out. The advantages I allude to are those of religious and secular instruction, which I regret to say are still most imperfect. The chaplain, who has never received any permanent appointment from the town council, the consideration of filling up the vacancy caused by the decease of his predecessor having been indefinitely postponed, is required to attend daily, and to read prayers twice a-week; his ministrations being confined to the performance of Divine service on Sundays, Christmas-day, and Good Friday. He has occasionally administered the sacrament, but not lately, as there have been no fit communicants. He does not, as required by Rule 69, give instruction to the prisoners in classes. He does not, as required by the next rule, visit the prisoners in their cells. This duty being neglected, he is not in a situation to fulfil that enjoined by Rule 72, which requires him to pay particular attention to the state of mind of every prisoner, and report in writing thereupon to the visiting magistrates. In pointing out the neglect of these rules by the chaplain, justice obliges me to advert to the source of that neglect in the very insufficient remuneration awarded to that officer by the town council. His whole yearly stipend amounts only to 3l., and even 8l. of this is derived from the funds of a charity. It would he superfluous to point out the impossibility of any clergyman, not altogether independent of considerations of emolument, giving as much time to the prisoners as is required by the rules, without a better stipend.

While I am upon this subject, I think it right to observe that, as there are occasionally members of the Church of Rome among the prisoners, priests of that persuasion should he permitted to visit them without the presence of an officer, os is required in the case of other visitors.

It is painful to add to the statement already made of the deficiency of religious instruction, that it is not supplied by the offices of any lay teacher. There is no schoolmaster employed.

The observations already made upon the inadequacy of the chaplain's salary, apply with at least equal force to that of the surgeon, who receives only 20l. in remuneration of his services. He is required by the laws to visit the prison twice at least in every week, and see every prisoner confined therein, whether criminal or debtor. This duty is not fulfilled. He comes, indeed, frequently, and inquires whether any prisoner is sick; but does not examine prisoners as a matter of course. He does not, as required by law, examine all prisoners before their admission into the cells, but only those who are suspected to be ill. He does not, as required by the supplementary rule, visit daily the prisoners in solitary confinement for prison offences. It is needless to say that he does not report when a prisoner's mind or body is likely to become injuriously affected, as required by Rule 85, since he pays no attention to them unless specially brought under his notice.

It is right to mention, that there has been no instance of insanity occurring in the prison, and that the health of prisoners is generally better on discharge than on admission. The longest sentence that has hitherto been carried out has been 18 months' imprisonment. There was one man sentenced to two years' imprisonment, but he was pardoned on medical grounds at the end of nine months. It is now believed that this prisoner feigned illness. He has since been convicted and transported.

The rules of this prison have never been printed, neither are they regularly sent up by the town clerk, as required by the 5 and 6 Will. IV cap. 38, sec. 5.

Punishments are very few since the introduction of the separate system — there has been no instance of corporal punishment. The governor, who appears to take much interest in efficiently carrying out the discipline, has had the superintendence of this gaol ever since it was built, and previously that of the old. He considers that the present system is much better calculated to carry out the discipline without harsh measures. The labour in the old gaol was only stone-breaking.

The governor has often been obliged to put more than one prisoner in a cell, in which case he always puts three. To obviate the necessity of this, as far as possible, I have thought it advisable to certify, for separate confinement, four cells designed for debtors, but which are seldom used for prisoners of that class, in order that they may be legally employed for criminal prisoners.

As cases of epilepsy occur occasionally, I think it would be advisable that one cell should be padded to prevent injury during these attacks. The cost would be small, as the pads would be made in the prison.

There are five airing-yards for male prisoners, where they are allowed to take an hour's exercise separately every day. Prisoners in confinement for less than a month are not allowed exercise out of their cells except by direction of the surgeon, There is only one airing-yard for female prisoners, in which one prisoner walks at a time.

The accommodation for debtors amounts to one day-room and four sleeping-cells, which are occupied by males alone, there being no separate accommodation for females. Accordingly, when debtors of both sexes are in confinement at the same time, the females must be placed in the cells intended for criminals. This should not be, more especially as a number of commitments of debtors here, as elsewhere, is increasing, and likely to be further increased by the operation of the statutes of the 8 and 9 Vic. c. 127, and the 9 and 10 Vic. c. 95. The debtors have an airing-yard on the north side of the prison.

The prison library consists of 90 volumes of books and tracts, which, although for the most part unexceptionable in their particular class, might I think with advantage receive the addition of some of a secular character, which would render the first steps of education more attractive, while on the other hand it might be improved by withdrawing from it some works of a polemical kind.

Here, as almost everywhere besides, there has been an increase in the past year in the number of commitments, both of prisoners for trial and of those under summary conviction. As compared with the last year the numbers have been as follows:—

At the commencement of the year:—      
  Prisoners for trial224224
  Convicted at Assizes and Sessions325516
  Summary convictions4-4718
Received during the year:—      
  Prisoners for trial17724401454
  Summary convictions823411610143144
Committed for examination and afterwards discharged1711829837

In custody at the commencement of the year---1-1;
Admitted during the year, under 9 and 10 Vic. c. 951-17-7


Of 178 prisoners tried in the course of the year, or committed summarily, the sentences have been as under:—

For terms not exceeding three months155
For longer terms19

Five of these prisoners were sentenced for one year and upwards. The greatest number of prisoners in confinement at one time in the course of the year was 36, nine of whom were females, and the greatest number of debtors was two.

The total expenses of the prison in the course of the year, exclusive of repairs, was 579l. 3s. 7d., of which were expended—

  £  s.  d.
For officers' salaries173 12 8
For prisoners' diet195  7 1
For clothing43  6 7

The cost of prison diet per head, per annum, 8l. 1s. 3½d.; that of prison clothing and bedding, 2l. 6s. The receipts have amounted to 22l. 3s. 4d, including 163l. 10s. received from the Government for the maintenance of convicted prisoners and the removal of convicts.

The staff of the prison consists of the governor, the matron (his wife), the acting chaplain, the surgeon, the deputy-governor, and a turnkey.

In 1854, part of the prison was converted into a residence for the superintendent of the police force.

The former prison site is shown on the 1886 map below.

Former City Gaol and Bridewell site, Hereford, c.1886.

The prison was closed following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878. The north-west wing of the prison was converted into the City Police Station. The south-east section became a fire-engine house but part was demolished to create Delacy Street. The Corporation built a row of cottages down this side of this street to act as barracks for the city police. These cottages have since been demolished and the street now leads to the modern police station on Bath Street. The fire station was also demolished and the remaining part of the prison became the City Magistrates Court. In 2001 this Magistrates Court closed down and moved to new purpose-built premises on Bath Street, opposite the police station. Since then the building has had a variety of occupants.


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