Ancestry UK

Borough Gaol and Bridewell, King's Lynn, Norfolk

King's Lynn (also known as Lynn Regis) had a Borough Gaol dating from at least 1615, when store rooms under the Town Hall, on the Saturday Market Place, were converted for the purpose. In 1784, John Howard reported on his visits to the establishment:

The rooms for debtors, felons and petty offenders are convenient, and were clean at my first visit. Cribs with straw and two coverlets for the felons: the court is small, and has fowls kept in it. Clauses against spirituous liquors, and the act for preserving the health of prisoners, not hung up. Gaoler's salary, £20: fees, debtors 3s. 4d. felons &c. 5s. per table, dated 1st of March, 1729: signed, John Goodwyn, mayor, Thomas Berney, recorder. By the Act 1770, court of conscience debtors shall remain in confinement for no longer space than three calendar months.

Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors.Felons &c.
1774, Dec. 11,1,0.1779, Oct. 9,3,2.
1779, March 29,3,4.1782, Feb. 4,4,2.

In 1784, a new gaol was erected next to the Town Hall and the old accommodation was then used as a Bridewell, or House of Correction. The new building, two-and-a-half storeys high and constructed in white brick, was the work of William Tuck and cost £500.

In 1812, James Neild described both premises:

Gaoler, William Hawes. Salary, 35l. for both.

Fees, Debtors, 6s. 8d. Felons, &c. 5s. 6d.

Chaplain, none. Surgeon, from the Workhouse, if wanted.

Number of Prisoners.

Debtors.Felons &c.
1802, Jan. 28th,31
1805, Aug. 30th,14
1810, Sept. 5th,1 1 assault.

Allowance, none, except to Paupers; and that varies, according to the price of provisions. In August, 1805, it was eight-pence a day each. In September 1810, nine-pence a day each, in money.

The Town Gaol is nearly opposite to St. Margaret's Church, and was built in 1784, as appears by the Inscription in front. The ground-floor is occupied by the Keeper; and the Gaol is separated by two iron-grated doors, within a passage 4 feet wide.

The Gaoler's kitchen commands a view of the court-yard, which is 82 feet by 15, for the common use of all descriptions of Prisoners. On the left-hand is the only day-room in the Prison, 19 feet by 13, with a fire-place, and stone sink.

At the end of the court-yard, and under arcades, are two sleeping-cells, about 8 feet square, arch-roofed; lighted and ventilated by two iron-grated windows in each, and furnished with crib-bedsteads, straw, and two, three, or four coverlets, as the weather may require. Poor Debtors and petty Offenders sleep in these cells, and if they bring their own bedding, pay sixpence a week.

At the end of the day-room is a staircase, leading to two Infirmary rooms, which have each a fire-place, and two glazed windows, with crib-bedsteads, straw, and coverlets.

On the attic-story, and in front of the Keeper's house, are three good sized rooms, about 16 feet by 11, and 9 feet high, for Master's-Side Debtors, with glazed sash windows, and fire-places in two of them. To these the Gaoler furnishes a single bed at 28. per week; or if two sleep together, 1s. 6d. each.

Over the day-room is the Women-Felons' apartment, 26 feet by 14, and 8 feet high, which has two beds in it, a fire-place, and three glazed windows. The dungeon yard here is a passage of 18 feet by 4 feet wide, in which are three dungeons; two of them about 12 feet square, with arched roofs, crib bedsteads, straw, and coverlets; the third, called the Long Dungeon, is about 10 feet by 4, with a crib-bedstead and straw: The only light and ventilation which they receive is from a small iron-grated aperture, nearly over each door. The Long Dungeon has no light, but through an opening of 10 inches by 4; and being now stopped up, converted into a military depôt.

Debtors from the Courts of Conscience are sent hither, and have the same allowance as the other Prisoners. It decreases, however, on a second commitment of this class; and a watch-maker, who had been confined here before, received only six pence a day.

I found the Act and Clauses both hung up. Here is a pump of excellent spring water; and soft water also is laid on by a pipe.

The House of Correction adjoins to the Town Gaol, and has four large iron-grated windows fronting the street, with inside shutters; and two rooms with arched roofs, 27 feet by 11, and 10 feet high. Into one of these, Prisoners were heretofore permitted to come: but, in consequence of disorderly behaviour, it is now denied them; and the apartments are used only as store-rooms.

The Prison consists of four rooms: the first is 12 feet square; the next has been partitioned off into two; in one of which is a sewer. That which they call the Large Room, is 22 feet by 12, and furnished with three crib-bedsteads; and the Dungeon, which formerly opened into it, as well as the place called Little Ease, are now stopped up. The iron-grated windows to these last-mentioned rooms have outside shutters, and are all of them under the Town-Hall. Here are hemp blocks, and beetles for pounding of tile sherds, and brick-dust was lying pounded in one corner.

Debtors from the Court of Conscience are sent hither for any sum less than forty shillings. Offenders are also sent here, for trial at the Quarter Sessions, from Swaffham. Felons are tried at this Borough by the Recorder, at the Sessions, four times in the year; and the Court here has the power of life and death. Prisoners of this Bridewell have the accommodation of going hence into Court for trial, without the painful circumstance of coming through the street.

An old Table of Fees, and Rules and Orders, dated 1st March 1729, signed John Goodwyn, Mayor, and Robert Underwood, Town Clerk, are kept here; and both the Act for preserving Health, and Clauses against Spirituous Liquors, are properly hung up.

In the early 1830s, the gaol underwent considerable alterations, needed to allow a proper classification of the various categories of prisoner.

In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This prison is an appurtenance to the Town Hall, which stands in a central part of the town, called the Saturday Market. It is under the jurisdiction of the Mayor, and is a common gaol and house of correction for offences committed within the borough, and a place of confinement for debtors in execution, under process of the local courts for the recovery of debts not exceeding 5l. Parts of this prison are very ancient, forming the sub-structure of the Town Hall: additions seem to have been made to it from time to time, particularly in the year 1831, when a sum of 2,300l. was expended in the purchase of ground, materially increasing its accommodation for prisoners.

The Keeper's apartments, which front the public streets, consist, on the ground floor, of two parlours and a kitchen; on the first floor, six sleeping rooms, three of which are appropriated to the better class of debtors. The cistern for supplying water is in the roof.

The new cells are 6 ft. by 8 ft. 2 inches, and 10 ft. high; the old cells, 8 ft. by 5 ft. 9 inches, and 10 ft. high; the solitary cells, 11 ft. by 5 ft., and 10 ft. high. Observations:—This building, of considerable extent, is very ill arranged, and badly suited for the purposes of a Gaol, and still less for those of a House of Correction. From its intricacies and the number of doors, it may be considered secure for the safe holding of prisoners, but it is lamentably deficient in every other requisite. The Keeper, from a window in each parlour, can only imperfectly inspect two yards, and every other part of the prison is entirely secluded from his sight. The Keeper says that, formerly, a turnkey resided in a lodge in the centre of the prison, where he had a constant view of the three yards, but he was discontinued three years ago.

Ventilation and Heat.—In one range of cells, the only light and air admitted is through loopholes in the wall, about 18 inches by 16; the passage to them is quite dark. In the other range ventilation is more perfect, but is acquired by openings in the wall, which look into the female airing-yard. The part of the prison appropriated to males is heated by hot water, conveyed in iron pipes. The apparatus, was erected in 1832. at an expense of 100 £. 14s. 9d.

Observations:—Upon first entering this prison I was almost overpowered by the excessive heat of the cells and passages where the heating apparatus is applied.

Upon asking the Keeper what degree of temperature he kept in the prison, his reply was, that he regulated it by placing his hand upon the wall, and according to the heat he felt there, he either increased or diminished the supply of fuel. He had no thermometer.

Upon going through the cells the air was almost suffocating, and at the extremity of the prison the pipes were so intensely hot as almost to blister the fingers on touching them. The apparatus for conveying heat is confined to the parts allotted to male prisoners; and upon entering that of the females, the cold felt was not less chilling than the previous heat was oppressive. The Matron says that, in winter, she has frequently seen the females paralyzed with cold, and unable to move from its effects, they not being allowed fires. She has at times, out of commiseration, sent them warm food from her own table. The Surgeon states that lie finds the cells occupied by the men very close, and thinks them unhealthy from their irregular temperature.

Upon visiting the gaol in the evening, and placing a thermometer in the passage, between the Keeper's house and the day-yards, it stood at 43°; in the women's sleeping rooms, with two occupants, it was 44½°, and in the men's cells, 63½°, showing a difference of nearly 20° in temperature between the parts appropriated to male and female prisoners.

Diet, Clothing and Fuel.—The nominal diet is a half-quartern loaf per day, and half a pound of cheese a week.

Clothing of every description, if required, is supplied at the expense of the Corporation.

Observations:—The Keeper is allowed 7d. a day for the maintenance of each prisoner, for which, besides food, he provides shaving, hair-cutting, washing, necessaries for the sick, worsted for mending stockings and rugs, and kindling for the Hall and Gaol. He says that he allows the prisoners, instead of the above dietary, and not exceeding it in cost, to have, at their own discretion, butter, milk, treacle, salt-pork, and tobacco if they chew. That the prisoners eat the pork raw, they not being allowed firing. On Sundays he occasionally, on the same system, gets them a piece of meat baked with potatoes.

The prisoners generally put themselves into messes. This was the practice before his appointment. The untried are allowed to purchase a pint of beer daily, and the debtors a pint and a half. The Keeper occasionally gives the prisoners employed in cleaning the prison, a half pint of beer and extra food. The bread supplied the prisoners is of the best quality.

Bedding.—Three woollen rugs and two hempen mats, similar to those used at Newgate, are allotted to each prisoner for bedding. Instead of bedsteads a plank, is affixed by hinges to the wall, with moveable iron supports underneath, and made use of like the flap of a table, to lift up and down at pleasure.

Cleanliness.—Soap and towels are provided by the Corporation, and body linen, once a week for those who do not provide it for themselves out of the prison. The linen is of most excellent quality. The prison was clean at the time of inspection.

Health.—The Surgeon, who has only held the appointment five months, says that diarrhoea has been the prevailing complaint. He was never made acquainted until questioned by the Inspector in the presence of the Keeper of there being an infirmary, or he would most certainly have removed there a patient lately suffering under most violent diarrhoea. He attributes the prevalence of this disease to irregularities in the diet, having understood the prisoners to have been in the habit of eating raw pork. The prison is, otherwise, generally healthy. He does not inspect prisoners on their coming in. He has kept no account of the cases of sickness which have occurred.

Moral and Religious Instruction.—There is no Chaplain specially appointed to the prison, nor any provision for moral or religious instruction. The curates of the two parishes attend on Sunday evenings and read a portion of the prayers from the Liturgy and a short discourse. The Curate of St. Margaret's says he has no acquaintance with the management of the interior, merely visiting it in his turn for the performance of Divine Service. Two appropriate prayers are hung up in each cell for the use of the prisoners.

The room intended for an infirmary is used as a chapel. The Keeper says that when either of the Ministers is unable to attend upon the Sundays the prisoners manifest great regret. The debtors are always present at Divine Service. The clergymen have no control over the books and tracts distributed to the prisoners.

Classification.—There is no classification attempted; the distinction of the tried and untried yard is only in name; when the one is full of prisoners, then the Keeper places the new comers in the other. There is no order as to meals; they take them when they please.


Offences and Punishments.—There is no register kept.

Weight of Irons:—Double irons, used in conveying male convicts, 9 lbs.; ditto for females, 6 lbs. 3 oz.

Scourge:—The handle 14 inches in length, with nine lashes 18 inches long of whipcord, rather large in size, with three knots in each lash.

Visits and Letters.—Visits are permitted in the presence of the Keeper; and letters are inspected by him on coming in and going out.

Benefactions.—On Christmas-day the Mayor gives the prisoners a dinner of roast beef, plum pudding, and a quart of beer each. They all, on this occasion, dine together in the debtors' room, and sit up two hours later.

Accounts and Expenses.—The Corporation pay for the repairs of the prison; for the maintenance of the felons, and those charged with felony; likewise for clothing and bedding for the whole of the prisoners. The parishes of Saint Margaret and South Lynn All Saints pay for the support of vagrants, misdemeanants and debtors.

Books.—There is no book kept for the insertion of the visits of the Magistrates.

Keeper's Journal.—Very loosely kept; among other entries is the following:— "The Duchess of Kent and the Princess Victoria passed through town to Holkham."

Keeper's Register.—Containing the names and sentences of those tried at the Sessions.

Second Register.—Containing the names of prisoners, with the dates of committals and discharges.

Keeper's Day Book.—In which he inserts the name of every prisoner daily, for whom he is entitled to receive 7d. This book is taken to the Town Clerk at certain periods, who examines it, to see that it corresponds with the bills sent in by the Keeper against the overseers. The two parishes, it is stated, pay, upon an average, one-fourth of the general expenses of the gaol.

Debtors.—They receive the same allowance as the other prisoners. If able to afford it, they are placed in the Keeper's house, where they pay 3s. 6d. a week for a single bed; if not, two sleep together.

General Discipline.—None. The practice appears to be to endeavour by improper indulgences, to make the prisoners as contented as possible. The prisoners are searched when they come into the prison; improper articles are taken from them, and they are cleansed if requiring it. There is but little communication from without, the situation of the buildings precluding it; and the Keeper being the sole resident officer, the opportunities are but rare.

Keeper.—Sixty-one years of age; appointed on the 30th of December, 1822; filled the office of town beadle for 21 years. Salary, 100l. per annum. He is also keeper of the Town Hall, for which he receives various small sums, which, with others for the use of the gaol and hall by the county at Quarter Sessions, amount to about 10l. per annum. He likewise makes a profit upon supplying the prisoners with provisions, the amount of which it is impossible to ascertain, as it varies according to the price. He admits it to be 1d. a day on each prisoner at the present time. There are now 17 in the gaol, which, for the whole year, would give him 2.5l. 17s. 1d. The Keeper has no allowance for the conveyance of convicts, but only charges the actual expenses, which average 5l. 2s. for a single one.

Matron.—Wife of the Keeper. Has no salary, but attends upon the female prisoners.

Surgeon.—No salary. This gentleman is surgeon of the public dispensary. The Corporation are liberal supporters, by subscriptions to this establishment'; and the two parishes pay annually 130l. to it for medicines and attendance to their poor. The prison is included in this arrangement, and he attends there when required.

General observations:—The adjourned County Sessions are held three times a year at Lynn; and very great inconvenience is felt from the number of prisoners then temporarily lodged there for trial from various parts of the county. As many as 41 have been there at one time.

After 1866, the cells were no longer used for prisoners serving sentences, but continued to be used as lock-ups until 1937 when new cells were built in the old prison yard behind the Gaol House. The Town Hall buildings still stand, the former gaol house now being home to a tourist information centre.


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