Ancestry UK

Borough Gaol, Leominster, Herefordshire

Prior to the 1750s, a Borough Gaol, known as the Forbury Prison, had long existed in the West Gate of the Priory in Church Street. The building was said to be of two floors with a gaoler's lodge nearby. The location was very convenient as the local Law Courts held their sittings in the Frere Chamber above the gateway.

At various times, the prison was used to detain Catholic recusants, including the famous priest and martyr Father Roger Cadwallader. Quakers and other nonconformist religious members were also imprisoned here.

In 1752, it was decided that the Forbury Prison was too small for the number of prisoners needing to be housed and the Corporation appointed a Committee to prepare a plan for enlargements, with work to be completed by the following spring. In July 1752 the West Gate of the town, along with the Frere Chamber, collapsed but the gaol appears to have escaped any damage and continued in use. In April 1753, however, the Corporation condemned the Forbury Prison to demolition and a new prison was built in nearby New Street.

After a visit to the prison in 1802, reformer James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, James Morgan, the Town Crier. Salary, 6l. Fees, none.

Prisoners, 3d June, l802, and 24th Aug. 1803, None.

Gaoler, James Morgan, the Town Crier. Salary, 6l. Fees, none.

This Prison consists of two upper rooms, about 20 feet by 14; one of which is for Debtors, the other for Criminals. Here is a small court, about 14 yards square ; but Prisoners have no use of it, except by the indulgence of their Keeper.

A report in 1835 noted:

There is a Gaol belonging to the borough. The gaoler, who is a bellman, crier the court, and otherwise employed by the corporation, is appointed by them. He lives in the; gaol free of expense, has a salary of 6l. a-year, and other occasional emoluments.

The gaol contains two rooms on the criminal, and one on the debtors side.

Prisoners charged with felony are now always committed to the county gaol; and the two rooms on the criminal side are appropriated to persons charged with or convicted of misdemeanors. These rooms are sufficient for the purpose, and in proper condition. The debtors' room, in which there is a privy, is in so bad a condition, that one of the borough magistrates declared a week's confinement there to be as bad as confinement for a year in any other gaol.

In 1849, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This prison is very old and ruinous, and ought to be rebuilt, as it is quite unequal to the purposes of safe custody or of convenience. It contains three cells for prisoners; one on the ground-floor and two on the floor above. They are all boarded. They measure 14 feet by 10, and are 9 feet high. In one of the rooms which is designed for females, there is a fire-place, but there is no glass in any of the windows, and the rooms are stated, with much appearance of probability, to be very cold in winter. The prison is frequently visited by the borough magistrates, but no measures that I am aware of, are in contemplation to improve it. As it serves the double purpose of a place of temporary detention for the county and for the borough, there are often many prisoners a in confinement at a time: although none are detained after committal for trial or on summary conviction, when they are immediately transferred to Hereford. They have, however, of late years, been sometimes detained a week, or even a fortnight on remands. In the last two years, no prisoner has been detained more than eight days.

The diet of the prisoners is provided by the resident police officer, who receives 8d. per day for each borough prisoner, and 1s. per day for every one belonging to the county. The reason of this singular distinction was not explained. When committed for trial, they are taken to Hereford County Gaol by the superintendent, who receives 8d. per mile each for conveying them, which is paid by the county. No chaplain is attached to the prison; but Bibles are allowed to such prisoners as can read. The surgeon of the workhouse would be required to see any prisoner who may be taken ill, but he is not required to attend unless sent for.

The subjoined return contains a classification of all the prisoners confined in this prison, from the 1st January, 1847, to the 31st December, 1848:—

DESCRIPTION OF OFFENCE Committal for Trial. Summarily Convicted. Discharged by Magistrates. Total
Felony4011 5- 6 870
Obtaining goods under false pretence 1 1--- 1 3
Vagrancy-- 7 1 8 218
Assault--13- 4 118
Drunkenness--7-17 529
Malicious Injury to property-- 7 1-- 8
Total411239 23517146

It is remarkable, that there should have been no persons confined for poaching; and also, that no debtors were in confinement, as this prison is designed to receive those belonging to the borough. The keeper is allowed accommodation for himself and family, and 30s. per week, besides the allowances before alluded to.

The building subsequently became a police station and county lock-up house. Considerable alterations were made in 1881 by the erection of new cells.

The establishment was closed in 1888. An antiques centre now stands on the site.


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