Ancestry UK

Town Bridewell, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire

By the 1770s, a Town Bridewell, or House of Correction, was in operation in St John's Street (now King Edward Street), Nottingham. The site had previously been home to St John's Chapel.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

Two rooms: no fire-place: a dark dungeon down nine steps. No court, although there is ground before and behind the house. No sewer. Water in a kitchen, where there is a bed for prisoners who can pay two pence a night. Allowance, a three penny loaf every other day. Here is a mill for grinding horse-beans. Clauses against spirituous liquors not hung up. Keeper's salary, £8: fees, 1s. 4d.

1776, Sep. 25,Prisoners 0.
1779, Sep. 19,- - 0.
1782, Jan. 21,- - 2.

In a further report in 1791, he noted:

Four rooms are added; and a court is enclosed, to which the prisoners seldom have access. They were all locked up and unemployed. Allowance, a threepenny loaf every other day. Keeper's salary only £8. In 1788, there was a new keeper, and the prison much cleaner. Here is a mill for grinding beans, and on the outer door was written, "Beans ground at 1d. a quarter."

1787, Oct. 23, Prisoners 14.  1788, Aug. 6, Prisoners 3.

In 1812, James Neild reported on the establishment:

Keeper, Robert Machin. Salary, 30l. Fees, 3s. 4d.

Chaplain, none. See the Remarks.

Surgeon, Mr. Basnett, for this house and the Town-Gaol.

Salary for both, Debtors excepted at the Town Gaol, 10l. 10s.

Number of Debtors, 1805, Oct. 1st, 13. 1809, Aug. 28th, 7.

Allowance, a threepenny loaf per day, weighing 1 lb. 1¼oz. at my visit in 1805.


This Prison, situate in St. John Street, was formerly St. John's Chapel. It has a boundary wall, and the Keeper's house, which is in the centre, commands the two court-yards. That for the Men-Prisoners is 54 feet by 36, paved with flagstone, and supplied with a pump and sewer. For the Women there are, below, four rooms with arcades, each about 9 feet square; and above-stairs are three others of the same size, with fire-places and glazed windows, that open into a gallery 27 feet long, and 3 feet wide; and all look into the Men's court.

The court-yard for the Women Prisoners is 33 feet by 19 feet 6, and is unsupplied with water. They have also a day-room, opening towards the Men's courtyard.

In August 1807, an addition was made to this Prison for the separate confinement of the Women. On the ground-floor here is a day-room, about 14 feet square, with a fire-place, a large glazed window, and forms to sit on; two sleeping-rooms, with two beds in each; a room for the refractory, with borrowed light, and without windows; and a spacious flagged court, with convenient sewer, a pump, and dust-pen.

The first story has three good-sized rooms; one of which is used as a work-room, and the others have two beds each. The second story has also three rooms, two of which are appropriated for the sexes to hear Prayers, which are read every Sunday, alternately, by Mr. Budger, a hosier; Mr. Hazard, a linen-draper; Mr. Simpson, a rope-maker; and Mr. Medlam, a frame-work knitter. The third story has a very large work-room, and a sleeping-room. The bedsteads are of wood, to contain two persons; with a straw-in-ticking bed, and four blankets to each, but no rug.

The Men's day-room below is nearly l8 feet square, with a fire-place; and up stairs they have three rooms, of about the same size, with fire-places and glazed windows. Each of these last holds two wooden bedsteads, to which the Keeper furnishes straw at 20s. a quarter, with four blankets, allowed by the Town; but if he supplies a bed, and two sleep together, the charge is 2s. each per week.

The two court-yards originally set out for this Prison were comparatively of little use, or beneficial consequence. There is but one pump in common betwixt them; and the intercourse of all sorts and classes was prevented only at night. Both these court-yards, in the old part of the Gaol, as well as the rooms formerly occupied by Women, are now appropriated to the Men. They have convenient sewers; and are supplied, not only with soft water from the river Leen, but with spring water also, by the pump above noticed.

No employment, as yet, is furnished by the Town; but, in common cases, those who can obtain it, have the benefit of their labour to themselves. Those whom I saw in 1805 were tambouring, running of lace, or weaving stockings. Now, if a frame-work knitter procures work, for a Man he pays one shilling per week; for a Woman, sixpence per week to the Keeper: and then they receive all their nett earnings, together with the Prison allowance of bread. At my last visit, in 1809, three out of the seven Prisoners were at work.

The Commitments hither, from 31st March 1807, to 31st March 1S09, were eight hundred and fourteen.

Poultry were used to be kept in the court-yards; but at my last visit, I found that very offensive practice discontinued. It does not suit nor become a place of human confinement.

Coals are allowed to the day and work-rooms; and the sleeping-rooms, when needful, are warmed by the tubes of German stoves. No County clothing is supplied. No bath or oven, to purify foul and infected clothes.

The Keeper is furnished with mops, brooms, and pails, to keep the Prison in neat order; but no soap or towels are allowed for personal cleanliness; nor religious books distributed for the Prisoners' use, under guilt, sorrow, or sickness.

They have their usual allowance of bread given them when discharged.

Neither the Act for preserving Health, nor Clauses against Spirituous Liquors, are here hung up.

In 1821, plans were in hand for an enlargement of the building:

About 2000 yards of land have been added to the site of the present prison, which is intended to be divided into six distinct additional courts, intended to contain, on the ground floor, six large work-rooms and six day and cooking-rooms; and over the same, in two stories, will be sixty arched sleeping cells, for the separate confinement, at night, of sixty prisoners.

The plan of these additional buildings will be that of a panopticon, and the prison will be superintended by an extra keeper. A corn-mill is also intended to be erected, to be worked by the prisoners, under the Keeper's inspection.

It is also intended to take in about 1000 yards more of land, round the premises, to be appropriated to a garden, for the service of the prison; the whole to be enclosed by a boundary wall.

However, the full extent of the planned enlargement was not completed. In 1838, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This house of correction, or "St. John's" prison, so termed from Occupying the site of a religious house, is conveniently situated for its purpose in the town of Nottingham. Shortly after the passing of the Gaol Acts, this prison was enlarged, or rather reconstructed, upon the principles of classification then introduced. The design contemplated was that of an unequal square, with the keeper's dwelling in the centre. Two sides have, however, only been completed, each three stories high, with day-rooms on the ground floors, and sleeping cells on the upper. A portion of the old, irregular, and inconvenient buildings were allowed to remain, and were converted into apartments for the keeper, and wards for the female prisoners. The prison stands in an extensive area, enclosed, except at the south-west angle, with a boundary wall surmounted with courses of loose bricks. Where the enclosure is imperfect, the windows in the galleries arid staircases look upon the street. The-entrance fronts St. John's Street; the lodge is connected with other buildings, and comprises apartments for a turnkey, drop room, reception cells, and tread-wheel sheds; The accommodation for the keeper adjoining consists of a room for the magistrates; parlour, office, kitchen, cellarage, and three chambers. The chapel is in the centre of the principal wing, and is divided for male and female prisoners. The airing-yards are paved, and separated from each other by walls. Many of the sleeping cells have fire-places; they are all arched, with the exception of those occupied by the females, which are ceiled with lath and plaster. The keeper, from the inconvenient position of his house, has no inspection over the part occupied by the male prisoners, and that allotted for the confinement of females is too small, is likewise deficient in ventilation, and contains but one airing-yard for all classes. The windows of the sleeping cells of the male prisoners look directly into the women's wards, and require blinds. The tread-wheels, placed in the south-west corner and most insecure part of the prison, are inconvenient for access and inspection.

Diet.—Breakfast, a pint and a half of milk porridge, made with a pint of milk and 2½ ounces of oatmeal. Dinner, 1 pint of soup, 1 lb. of beef, without bone, and half a peck of potatoes, is allowed weekly to each prisoner, and is made into soup. Supper, li½ pints of gruel. Males, l½ lbs. of bread; females, 1 lb. of bread, daily. The two cooks have an extra allowance of 6 ounces of meat.

Clothing.—Felons, a suit of party-coloured frieze, red and brown, shoes, linen. Misdemeanants, suit of brown frieze. Women, striped cotton bed-gowns, linsey-woolsey petticoats, linen, shoes.

Bedding.—Iron bedsteads, straw mattress, two blankets, and rug. Sheets for females.

Cleanliness.—The prison and prisoners clean.

Health.—The surgeon attends twice a-week, and oftener if required. He is present at corporal punishments, and inspects the prisoners previous to their being classed. The ordinary diseases are itch, venereal, and rheumatisms. He states, "he always visits prisoners when undergoing solitary confinement. Several soldiers have undergone their sentences of solitary imprisonment in the house of correction. Two of them experienced ill effects from the close confinement, which disappeared upon their being permitted, at his recommendation, to walk in the open air for an hour, or more, after the other prisoners were locked up. In the case of two boys, sentenced to solitary confinement for a month, upon one it had not the slightest effect, upon the other it had some upon his spirits, none upon his appetite. One prisoner, a boy, named J., was sentenced to two months solitary; he had never been subject to fits, and although he has been in prison repeatedly since, I am not aware he has ever had any return; but such was the effect of the solitary confinement upon his mind at the time, that I felt convinced, if it had been persisted in, such would have been the case." The circumstances are thus detailed in the keeper's journal:—"J. J., aged 16, sentenced at the January sessions, 1835, to six months' imprisonment, two of which were to be solitary. February the 12th, the first day of the solitary part of the sentence being carried into effect, found lying on the floor of his bed-cell insensible, (by William II 11am, turnkey.) who immediately reported the same to the governor; Mr. Davis, the surgeon, was sent for, and found him in the state described; he was ordered directly into the sick ward, and was sometime before he recovered his senses. February 16th, two visiting justices, with the surgeon, ordered that J. J. should not be put again into solitary confinement, on account of his health," The surgeon further states, "He frequently examines the provisions; that the diet is, generally speaking, equal to that of the agricultural labourer in the county, but that he would not advise its being reduced." There is no regular infirmary, and great inconvenience resulted therefrom at the period of the cholera. Books kept by him the same as at the borough gaol.

Moral and Religious Instruction.—The chaplain performs one full service on the Sabbath, and reads prayers twice during the week. No attempt is made to instruct either the boys or adults. The only absentees from Divine service are the cooks. The chaplain says "the females are under the superintendence of the matron, who instructs them daily; I have not examined them as to their progress; I do not consider I have anything to do with the females except in the chapel. Previous to the reduction of my salary I considered it my duty to conform to the Gaol Act as nearly as possible, but since that I have not done so. The keeper does not attend chapel; the turnkey always does; the matron generally; occasionally the females have come to chapel without the presence of a female officer; the turnkey's wife has brought them there, and left them. I have never communicated to the magistrates the non-attendance of the officers. I think the fear of transportation is increasing; I have heard them express a dread of what they term the new transportation law." The matron states, "Those mornings when service is not performed in the chapel I assemble the prisoners for prayer and reading of the Scriptures." The chaplain keeps no private character book.

Labour.—Tread-wheel and employment in the keeper's garden, carpentering, and white-washing for the males. The females at washing and mending the prisoners' and officers' linen.

Months Employed Number of Working Hours per Day Number of Prisoners the Wheel will hold at one time. Height of each Step. The ordinary Velocity of the Wheels per Minute. The ordinary Proport­ion of Prisoners on Wheels to the total number employed. Number of Feet in Ascent per Day as per Hours of Employ­ment. Revolut­ions of the Wheel per Day. The Daily Amount of Labour to be performed by every Prisoner. How recorded with precision. Applic­ation of its Power.
Each month in the Year. From April to September inclusive 9 hours, the remaining six months will average 7½ hours 27 7 inches. About 48 steps per minute; but not having self-acting regulator to the fly, it is found impossible to keep up a regular speed. Two-thirds. 9 hours, 15,120 feet; 7½ hours, 12,600 feet. 9 hours, 920 feet; 7½ hours, 800 feet. 9 hours, 10,080 feet; 7½ hours, 8,400 feet. A Bell is attached to the machinery, which rings at every two revolut­ions of the wheel. Pumping water occasion­ally.

Offences and Punishments.—The usual prison offences are misbehaviour on the wheel, violent and disorderly conduct, punished by stoppage of food and confinement in a dark cell. Corporal punishment is inflicted by a man hired for the purpose. The surgeon is always present. It is merely nominal as to severity, and has been inflicted upon adults as well as boys without any effect. Number of Offences, see Table.

Scourge.—Whip handle 18 inches long; nine lashes of common whipcord 18 inches long, each with four single knots.

Irons.—Weight 6 lbs. 5 ounces.

Visits and Letters,—Visits are permitted by order of a magistrate, not to exceed ten minutes in duration. Letters are written by the prisoners on a slate, and copied and sent by the keeper.

Accounts, Expenditure, Books.—Provisions and other articles for the supply of the prison are contracted for quarterly. The keeper supplies the vegetable for the prisoners' soup, for which he is allowed sixpence weekly The bills are sent to the prison to be examined by the visiting justices, then laid before the town-council for approval. The treasurer pays all the bills except the trifling amounts included in that of the keeper under the head of sundries.


Visiting Magistrates' Book.—Containing orders and dates of visits.

Receipt and Delivery Book.—Containing particulars and amount of the articles supplied for the prison.

Bread Book.—With an account of the daily issue of bread.

Stock Book.—All inventory of clothing in store and use.

Keeper's Journal.—Containing occurrences and punishments.

Register.—Arranged under the following heads:—Number—prisoners' names—age—by whom and when committed—offence, and for what time committed. Constable's description, feet, inches—complexion—eyes—hair—prisoner's account of his place of abode and trade, &c. —when discharged, or otherwise disposed of.

General Discipline.—The discipline of this prison is of a very inferior order. The prisoners still occupy the day-rooms, which are so situated as to defy inspection. The tread-wheels are so placed as to render detection of misbehaviour on them very difficult, which might be greatly remedied by fitting them with partitions. Upon the day of inspection the prisoners were sleeping two in a cell, in direct opposition to the law, although a considerable portion of the prison was unoccupied, quite sufficient to admit of a separate night cell for each. The duties of a chaplain are very imperfectly executed. No attempt is made to instruct the prisoners, with the single exception of the hour passed in the chapel; the Sabbath is spent in talking, lounging, idling, and playing in the day-rooms; the utensils in them are scored for draughts and other games. On attending Divine service I found the prisoners without a single Prayer-book, although generally able to read. The keeper does not attend Divine service, tie states in explanation, "There being only a female at the gate, and prisoners being often brought in at the time, he does not consider it safe." A very serious inconvenience results from thee matron not residing in the prison, and leaving it to take her meals. During the night, and at such periods, the female prisoners are left without the control of a female officer; and the keeper states that he has frequently been under the necessity of punishing them for misconduct. The matron, though aged, is a very respectable and conscientious person, performing her duties well when present, and the above remarks are not intended to apply to the contrary. Prisoners are constantly at work in the keeper's garden without any superintendence. The turnkey states, "that tobacco, meat, cheese, notes, and other articles come occasionally over the walls: this generally happens after some of them have gone out, who go to the friends of others and direct them where to throw them over. They steal each other's food; and idle talk and skylarking is always going on in the dayrooms. The prisoners have frequently asked me for books. I have heard them talk about different prisons. Derby they say is most hard, and disliked more than any; Southwell is better, for they get there a penny a-day when they come out. The Town Gaol is better than any, because their friends can bring them provisions. Has frequently known thieves to be at the gate ready to receive their former associates on discharge; is quite sure that the dread of transportation for a second offence is very beneficial; knows several in the town who have been in gaol and once convicted, who have since kept out from that fear. Several prisoners have applied to the magistrates to be permitted to remain in the prison, as they had no means of getting their living out of doors." The keeper says, "I think there is an increasing dread of transportation among the prisoners; I have heard it frequently mentioned when going through the passages of a night, that the severity of it has been much increased." Among the entries of visitors to the prison, in the keeper's book, I find the following: "July 15 1837, George Charles Smith, and six orphans, to visit the prisoners and distribute religious tracts." The keeper states "the children were dressed as soldiers and sailors, one in a highland uniform. The above-named individual addressed the prisoners, and distributed tracts; I really hesitated about admitting the children, and asked what possible good it could do to bring them to such a place. He also addressed the females." The turnkey says, "I went round with Mr. Smith, he addressed the prisoners, and distributed tracts. He brought six boys with him, about nine or ten years of age, dressed in uniform. The prisoners could not at all make out what it meant." I consider visits of this description as extremely improper in a prison, and not less so the distribution of tracts without the knowledge of the chaplain. The deficiencies in this prison and the gaol have been laid before the magistrates, who have manifested every desire for their remedy, and have already provided a separate sleeping-room for each male prisoner. Officers.

Keeper.—Age 43; appointed 1833: formerly a police constable; salary 150l., coals, candles, washing, garden.

Turnkey.—Age 53; appointed 1817; frame-work knitter; read and write; resides in the prison; married; salary 54l. 12s., coals, and candles.

Mill-Watch.—Age 52; appointed 1826; formerly in the Nottingham militia; married; resides in the prison; read and write; salary:54l. 12s., coals, and candles.

Matron.—.Age 69; appointed 1820; salary 25l.; docs not reside in the prison.

Chaplain.—.Appointed 1819; salary 60l.; is chaplain to the gaol; no other care of souls.

Surgeon.—Appointed 1820; salary 42l for medicines and attendance.

After the Nottingham Town Gaol on High Pavement was closed in 1846, its function was transferred to part of the House of Correction premises. In 1878, following the nationalisation of the prison system, the site absorbed the function of the old Nottinghamshire County Gaol, also on High Pavement, which was closed in the same year. In 1891, the prison was replaced by the new Her Majesty's Prison, Nottingham, at Perry Road, Sherwood.

The prison site was subsequently occupied by a picture theatre, then from 1928 to 1972, the Central Market. Modern flats now stand on the site.


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