Ancestry UK

City Gaol and Bridewell, Lichfield, Staffordshire

Lichfield may have had a gaol as early as 1164, and certainly by 1309 when it probably stood in the market place. From about 1545, it was located behind the guildhall, with an entrance passage from Bore Street, running along the side of the hall. In 1728, a cage was constructed in a dungeon beneath the gaol. The prison served as County Gaol, a City Gaol, and by 1784 as a Bridewell, or House of Correction, for both the county and city.

In 1784, John Howard gave a description of the gaol:

Two close cells 61 feet by 5, and 8 feet high. To these are added two new ones, and two rooms for debtors: a court is enclosed, in which is an offensive sewer. The prison dirty, as is always the case where there is a number of dogs. Act for preserving the health of prisoners, and clauses against spirituous liquors, not hung up. No water accessible to prisoners : no straw. Keeper's salary, £2. Licence for beer: fees, 13s. 4d. no table. Allowance, 1s. 6d. a week.

1773, Nov. 20,Prisoners 2.1779, Nov. 26,Debtors 3. Felons &c. 1.
1776, Jan. 8,"  1.1782, Nov. 25, "  2.  "   1.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, John Pricket. Salary, 50l.

Fees, Debtors and Felons, 13s. 4d. each. And the Under-Sheriff demands 2s. 6d. from every Debtor for his Liberate!

Garnish, not yet abolished, 1s.

Chaplain, none statedly appointed; but the Rev. Mr. Proby attends when one is desired.

Surgeon, when wanted, from the Corporation.

Number of Prisoners,

Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors.Felons &c.
1803, Aug. 24th,22,1805, Oct. 31st,00.

Allowance, Debtors, none; unless Paupers, who, have 6d. a day. Felons, the same, in bread. Bridewell Prisoners, a three penny loaf; but if they earn 3d. by their labour, it is allowed them additionally in bread.


Here is one court-yard only for all descriptions of Prisoners, 42 feet by 30, with a pump of excellent water in it, and a sewer. Above stairs are two rooms for Debtors, to which the City supplies bedsteads, but no bedding. If a Debtor brings his own bed and bedding, he pays nothing; if the Keeper furnishes a bed, and two sleep together, they pay 1s. per week each. Debtors are allowed the use of the Keeper's kitchen, or else find their own coals in their apartments.

Those Bridewell Prisoners who are not committed to hard labour, receive two pence out of every shilling they earn.

For Felons here are three cells, which open into a passage or lobby 3 feet 4 inches wide, near the Keeper's kitchen. Each cell has an iron grating, of 24 inches by 4, over the door, and is 11 feet by 5, and 6 feet 6 inches high, with wooden bed stead, straw-chaff beds, two blankets, and a rug. One cell for Vagrants, and one for Deserters.

Here are likewise two Dungeons, totally dark, 7 feet by 6, and 8 feet high; planked with oak on the bottom, top, and sides. The bedding, like that in the cells. The three parishes of Lichfield allow thirty shillings a year, at 10s. each, for coals, and the Corporation grants twenty shillings per annum for straw.

Neither the Act nor Clauses hung up. The Gaol whitewashed once in two or three years.

In 1823, there were are eleven rooms and cells, and three yards. A handmill has been recently put up, for grinding corn. The number of commitments that year was only 23; and the greatest number of prisoners at one time 10, comprising three male and three female felons, two male and two female misdemeanants.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

Construction.—This is a large straggling building, with no boundary wall; adjoining other houses on each side, and with a street at each end. A considerable part of the front of this building is occupied by a Police Office, by a large Hall for the Quarter Sessions, by the Gaoler's private apartments, by a Bed Room, which he lets to the higher class of Debtors, and by a Lock-up Room for disorderly persons. Then comes the Prison at the back of all these. It contains five Yards, five Day Rooms, and three Work Rooms ; and there does not appear to be any possibility of increasing the present stock of accommodation. It can contain 13 prisoners in separate cells. The yards are very small, but they are all paved ; and there is a supply of water, and also a privy in each. Some of the cells opening out of these yards appear to be in a state of neglect, perhaps through the little use which is made of them. The cells are dark, they have no glass windows, and, on the whole, are not in good order. During four years there has been only one escape; the prisoner was retaken. There is no bath; a tub is used occasionally. There is no Chapel; no Infirmary. There is no Dark Cell, but two cells are darkened by the use of shutters, in order to answer the purpose : the inmates are removed at night to their own cells.

Management.—It is under the jurisdiction of the Bailiffs and of the Corporation. Silence is not enforced, and the want of space would probably ever prove an impediment to its effectual maintenance. Quiet is preserved. Every prisoner sleeps in a separate bed, provided that there is sufficient accommodation : the Keeper and Turnkey affirm, that only once during the present year (1835) have two men slept in one bed; this was in the instance of two deserters, who passed one night thus. The Gaoler's wife is the Matron, and. receives no salary. The Turnkey is salaried by the Gaoler. The Gaoler contracts for the food. The Untried may receive food from without, but not the Convicted.

The Keeper acts as the Chief Constable of Lichfield; he is called out when any disturbance occurs. Hence he is occasionally compelled to quit his own proper charge ; and, however conscientiously he may discharge this combination of office, it appears to me that in no case can the functions of Police Officer and Gaoler be properly vested in the same individual, because, after a struggle or conflict perhaps with the culprit, the person who has thus seized another is not well prepared to become his keeper, and monitor, and taskmaster.

Diet.—In the account which the Gaoler gives me of the Food, 1lb. of bread are said to be the daily allowance of food for the Untried, and 1lb. of bread daily for the Convicted. But, in the Return made to the Committee of the House of Lords, I find that, in addition to bread, gruel and potatoes are stated to be allowed, with meat once a week, before conviction, if the prisoners apply for work, and the same allowance of meat also after conviction. I hope that the last account may be the correct one, and that the deficiency in my own Return may he the result of accident. The allowance of bread alone appears to me improper and insufficient in whatever place it occurs.

Labour.—The only labour is grinding corn and heading pins. The profit goes to the County Rates. The hours of labour are from sunrise to sunset. The Untried are employed if they ask for work.

Religious and other Instruction.—There is no salaried Chaplain here, nor is there any performance of Divine Service. The Vicar of a parish in Lichfield is Chaplain to the Corporation (which is itself only an honorary appointment), and so far may be considered by some as the Chaplain to the Gaol. But, however this may be, the attendance of that gentleman is quite voluntary. He, or his Curate, sometimes visit the Gaol. The supply of Books is very scanty: four years ago some were sent by a member of the Corporation, but none, I believe, have since been received.

Care of the Sick, Disease and Mortality.—The Surgeon only comes when called. Not having happened to succeed in meeting the Surgeon, I have not been able to procure a return of the number of sick during the last year. No death took place during that time. There is no insane prisoner in confinement.

In 1848, when conditions in the gaol were poor and the number of prisoners was generally small, it was decided to send them to the county gaol at Stafford. However, the prison continued in use as a short-term lock-up until finally being closed in 1866. Most of the site was then used for the construction in 1867 of a magistrates' court, while four cells were incorporated into the guildhall — these now contain a small exhibition which is open for public view.


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  • 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.