Ancestry UK

Moot Hall Gaol / Lock-up, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland

In 1810-12, a new court house, known as the New Moot Hall, was erected on Castle Garth, Newcastle, replacing the previous Sessions House at the same location, which had been condemned for its inconvenience and unhealthiness. Like its predecessor, the new building incorporated a short-term prison for housing those being tried at the county Quarter Sessions. However, prior to the opening of the new Town Gaol and House of Correction on Carliol Square in 1828, the Moot Hall gaol was also pressed into service for that use. As the borough of Newcastle had the status of a county in its own right, separate from Northumberland, the latter's county gaol not be used to receive prisoners from Newcastle.

In 1824, it was reported:

The old gaol having been pulled down, the criminals are now placed in a temporary prison; the Moot-hall belonging to the county having been converted to the purpose. It consists of two large and two small rooms. Male prisoners are kept apart from the females, and felons from misdemeanants, as far as is practicable by the confined construction of the building, but there is no airing-yard. No means of employment are provided. No duty is performed by the chaplain, and no provision is made for instructing prisoners who require it, but they are supplied with Bibles and Prayer-books. The allowance to each prisoner is fivepence a day in money, which is paid every morning.

The number of persons in confinement, during the last year, was 141; and the greatest number at one time was 15.

The debtors are removed to the ancient tower or keep of the castle, which belongs to the corporation. Males and females are kept apart during the night, hat this is stated not to be practicable in the day-time. There is no yard, but the roof of the prison is used for air and exercise. No employment is provided.

A chaplain reads prayers twice a week, and preaches a sermon once a month.

The number of debtors committed in the last year was 133; the greatest number at one time was 26.

In the house of correction there is no classification, for want of room. Males are kept separate from females, but there is only one yard. There are thirteen sleeping cells, but 65 prisoners were confined at one time last year. The number at Michaelmas was 50; viz. felons, 7; misdemeanants, 43; of these 15 were females, and three untried prisoners. The number of commitments in the year was 228.

There is no chapel, and no chaplain attends this prison s but the keeper lends Bibles and Testaments to the prisoners.

The employment consists of a small tread-wheel, which is used for crushing corn and sand. Each prisoner is allowed three-pence a day for-the purchase of food, &c.

A further report in 1827 noted:

he female prisoners are placed under the care of a matron, and they are kept apart from the male prisoners.

There is no employment in the building used as the common gaol. In the house of correction or bridewell, a tread-mill is in use for crushing corn and sand; the prisoners are also employed in beating sand. The females are frequently employed at washing and in cleaning the prisons.

The mill is placed so as to be under the inspection of the governor and task-master. It has only one tread-wheel without any division. The female prisoners are on the wheel two hours each day, when the male prisoners are at dinner, or resting time. The prisoners generally work one half on the wheel, and one half off as a relay,and rest ten minutes when off. The hours of daily labour are from nine to twelve, and from two to five, in summer; and in winter, from nine to twelve, and from two to four.

The cost of the mill was about £300. The diameter of the wheel is five feet seven inches, and the distance between the step boards seven inches.

None of the prisoners have suffered in health from working on the wheel; and the best effects have appeared from the introduction of this species of corrective discipline .

There is no alteration in the allowance to prisoners at hard labour: it appears extremely scanty, each prisoner being paid threepence a day, in money, to purchase food and other necessaries.

After the new Town Gaol and House of Correction were completed in 1828, the Moot Hall prison reverted to its original use as a short-term lock up.

In 1841, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

The lock-up house consists of two huge rooms and two small ones below the court-house used for the county assizes. There are other cells which were never finished or brought into use; and the cells altogether, I believe, were originally intended for a regular prison, though, in consequence of their being partly below ground, the plan of using them as such was abandoned. The cells now occupied are used only for prisoners under examination, and never for convicted prisoners or for prisoners committed for trial. Prisoners sometimes remain as long as a week.

The place is very strongly built and dry. The two large rooms are warmed by open fires, but there is n provision for warming the small rooms.

The ventilation is moderately good.

The place was not very clean; the windows were dirty; and the night-stools in one of the cells were in a very offensive state.

The average number of prisoners appears to be two or three only. The greatest number which the keeper remembered at any one time since he came into office (thirteen years ago) was 18.

The keeper stated that the prisoners washed themselves every morning and evening, but a prisoner who had been in confinement a whole day and night (the only prisoner then in the place) said that he had not washed himself at all, and he was so dirty that I do not think he could have washed himself. Nevertheless the keeper declared that he had himself stood by and seen this prisoner wash himself that morning, though he admitted that he had not done so in the evening, and stated as a reason that he was out with a warrant.

The prisoners are allowed 4d. per day each for food.

The bedding consists of a palliasse, two blankets, and a rug for each bed. The bed-clothes were dirty.

The keeper receives a salary of 40l. per annum, together with 6d. per day for each prisoner from Gateshead. This, considering the small number of prisoners, is a liberal salary, and, in my opinion, is sufficient to obtain the services of a properly qualified keeper and matron, who should have no employment that would withdraw them from home.

When the prison finally ceased use is uncertain. The Moot Hall, now a listed building, continued in use as a court house until the 1990s but was sold in 2019 to a property developer.

Moot Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1960s.


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.