Ancestry UK

County Gaol & Bridewell and Town Gaol, Oakham, Rutland

By the 1770s, a building at the corner of High Street and Gaol Lane (now Gaol Street) in Oakham was serving as Rutland's County Gaol and Bridewell, and also as Oakham's Town Gaol.

In 1784, John Howard reported on the establishment:

GAOLER, William Lumley, now Henry Lumley.

Salary, none.

Fees, Debtors & Felons, £0 ;  14 : 10.

Transports, £10 each.

Licence, Beer.


Allowance, Debtors & Felons, three-halfpence a day each, in bread.

Garnish, one shilling


Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors.Felons &c.
1774, Jan. 23,0,0.1779, Mar. 28,5,5, Deserters 3.
1775, Nov. 10,1,2.1779, Sep. 21,3,1.
1776, Sep. 26,0,0.1782, May 3,2,3.


SURGEON, Mr. Bullivant, now Mr. Berry,

Salary, £5 : 5 : 0.

This is also the county bridewell and the town gaol; yet I found it twice empty. On the ground-floor is a day-room or kitchen for debtors:—a day-room, and two small vaulted night-rooms for felons; one of which being quite close (11 feet by 6 feet 4 inches), the gaoler has made apertures in the door. Up stairs are two rooms strongly planked with oak: in each of them are two beds, for those that pay.

There is a large work-room, but there were no rooms proper for the separation of men and women, or of bridewell prisoners from felons. Lately one room has been fitted up in the barn for that purpose, with a chimney. The whole prison is thatched.

The felons court is parted off with strong wooden palisades; which intercepting the pump, the justices have been so considerate as to put down another pump in the felons court. They have also ordered the gaoler to provide some clothing for the most destitute prisoners. His salary as keeper of the bridewell is £20. No table of fees. Act for preserving the health of prisoners, and clauses against spirituous liquors, not hung up.

The present gaoler's father, grandfather and great grandfather, held the same office.

In 1810, James Neild described the gaol as follows:


Gaoler, George Gould; Salary, £50. Fees, debtors and felons, 14s. 10d. each; besides which, the Under-Sheriff' demands 9s. 2d. of each debtor for his liberate! Garnish, abolished.

Chaplain, Rev. Richard Williams; who attends Prisoners under sentence of death only, for which he receives a gratuity from the Treasurer of the county.

Surgeon, Mr. Keal; Salary, £5.

Number of Prisoners, Sept. 27, 1805: debtors, none; criminals, two. Allowance, One pound of bread per day, sent from the baker's.


This Gaol and Bridewell has the keeper's house fronting the street; and his back windows command a full view of the different court-yards. That for debtors is about 48 feet by 10, with a day-room on the ground-floor, 15 feet by 12, a fire-place, and a glazed window towards the street; and in this room they cook their provisions. Above stairs, ascending by a ladder, is a large work-room, 25 feet by 14, with a fire-place; and below are a brewhouse and an oven, the late Gaoler Sewell being a baker. On the other side of the court-yard, up a flight of 10 stone steps, are two lodging-rooms for debtors, strongly planked with oak; in each of them two bedsteads, to which the keeper supplies bedding at 2s. 4d. per week a single bed, or if two sleep together, 1s. 6d. each.

Here is a free ward for poor or common side debtors, to whom the County allows a straw mat, two blankets, and a rug. No room set apart for the sick.

The felons' court-yard, parted off with strong wooden palisades, is about 48 feet by 12, with a pump and sewer in it; a day-room, 13 feet 9, by 9 feet 6 inches, in which is a fire-place; and two very small vaulted night rooms, one of them 11 feet by 6 feet 2 inches inches; the other 8 feet by 5 feet 10 inches, having heretofore neither light or ventilation, and the doorway of both being only 4 feet 10 inches high. The gaoler has made two apertures in the door, about 6 inches square; and in each in room is a bedstead, with straw mat, two blankets and a rug. Here is also a large workroom for felons, 25 feet by 14, with a glazed window, and aperture for ventilation. No fireplace. It has a mud floor, is very damp, and has in it four hemp blocks, and a whipping post.

The men's Bridewell is a room about 13 feet by 11, and 8 feet high, with a fire-place, a glazed window about 2 feet square, and furnished with a bedstead, straw mat, two blankets, and a rug. Their courtyard is very scanty, being 13 feet only by 5 feet 6. The women's Bridewell is nearly the same as the above; and both have a hemp block in them. The fences are open palisades; consequently, there is no proper seclusion of the sexes in this class.

Convicts under sentence of transportation have not the King's allowance of 2s. 6d. per week.

The Table of Fees scarcely legible. No Infirmary for any class. No bath. The Clauses against Spirituous Liquors are hung up, but not the Act for Preservation of Health.

The Gaol is thatched; but, as a Prison, kept very clean. The New Prison is nearly finished.

The new prison referred to by Neild was erected in 1808-10 at a cost of £9,352 on what is now Station Road, formerly North Backway, at the corner of Cemetery (now Kilburn) Road. The prisoners' accommodation had a radial design with three cell blocks arranged like spokes of a wheel around, but detached from, a central octagonal hub which contained the keeper's quarters and chapel. Access from each cell block to the chapel was via a bridge. It was described by Neild in 1812:

Gaoler, William Sewell; now George Gould. Salary, 50l. Fees, 14s. 10d. for Debtors and Felons. Besides which the Under-Sheriff demands, 9s. 2d. of each Debtor for his liberate! Garnish abolished.

Chaplain, Rev. Richard Williams; who attends Prisoners under Sentence of Death only; for which he receives a gratuity from the Treasurer of the County.

Surgeon, Mr. William Keal. Salary, 5l.

Debtors.Felons &c.
1800, April 22d,34,
1805, Sept. 27th,02.


The present Gaol, finished in 1810, is situated a little way out of the Town, and the boundary-wall encloses about half an acre of ground. Here is no lodge for a Turnkey; the door of entrance opens into a room, which has in it a boiler and a sleeping-cell; and up stairs is a condemned cell, and a straw loft. The flat roof at the top is intended for the place of execution. The Gaoler's house is an octagon, centrally placed, with three wings for Prisons, the court-yards of which are commanded by his windows. Men Debtors have a courtyard, 50 feet by 20; and a day-room about 14 feet square, with glazed and grated windows and fire-place; three sleeping-cells below, and five above, each 9 feet by 7, and 9 feet high. Women Debtors have a small court-yard 16 feet by 14, a dayroom like the Men's, and only one sleeping-cell, which is above stairs. Men Felons have a court-yard 40 feet by 23, a day-room 14 feet square, and above stairs three sleeping-cells. Women Felons the same.

The Bridewell part of the Prison has, for Men, a court-yard 46 feet by 27, a day and work-room on the ground-floor; above stairs five sleeping-cells; and the same for the Women. For slight offences here is a court-yard, day-room, and two sleeping-cells on the ground-floor, and three above. Here is one solitary cell, with a small court attached. The Chapel is in the Gaoler's house, and the Prison is supplied with water by an engine.

In 1820, it was reported:

This is the only prison for the county. It is calculated to contain 32 prisoners, and this number is seldom exceeded. Formerly the prisoners were employed in platting straw and knitting, for which they received the whole of their earnings; but lately a hand-mill, for grinding corn, has been erected, which is worked by four men at a time; each man works four hours in the day, for which he receives a pint of beer, in addition to the prison ration of food. The profits of the mill have not yet been ascertained. The cost of it was about £40. Religious and moral books are provided by the county, and a person is employed by the chaplain to teach the prisoners who cannot read. The general conduct of the prisoners is improved by confinement. The recommittals are not more than one per cent. Irons are used for those who have attempted to escape, and for desperate felons. There is only one turnkey. The female prisoners are under the care of the governor's wife. The prisoners are provided with needful clothing, and have a change of linen allowed weekly.

By 1830, the prisoners were being divided into seven classes. There was no employment for offenders before trial but after conviction they worked at the hand-mill. The weekly food ration for each prisoner comprised 10½ lbs. of bread, a peck of potatoes, 1½b. of beef, without bone, and ½b. of salt.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

Tins small prison stands on an airy, open spot, close to the county town of Oakham, and was built in 1810 at a cost of 10,000l. It is detached from other buildings, and is inclosed by a boundary-wall of brick and stone, 22 feet in height, with several loose courses of materials at the top. The entry is by a Doric doorway of freestone with side lodges appropriated to the residence of the turnkey, store-rooms for clothing, reception cell, and drop room, the roof being the place of execution for criminals. The prison consists of a central building of octagonal form, containing apartments for the keeper, and the chapel. The situation and design of the keeperís house are convenient for inspection, but not being on the same level with the buildings occupied by the prisoners, this object is but imperfectly obtained. The keeperís apartments consist, on the ground floor, of magistratesí room, parlour, kitchen; first floor, 4 chambers; second floor, chapel. The chapel is of an octagonal form, with 8 pews for the prisoners, who are eftectually screened from each otherís sight by wainscotting 6 feet in height. The chaplain only can command a general view of the prisoners. The access to the chapel is by bridges, and there are 6 separate entrances for as many classes. The prisoners are lodged in 3 detached wings with 6 airing-yards, one to each face. The airing-yards are separated from each other by walls only 9 feet high, and the ends next the boundary-wall, from which they are at an average distance of 50 feet, are closed by a wooden stockade. The privies are built in the corners of the yards, and render the climbing over a task of little difficulty. The yards are partly paved, and water is laid on to the day-rooms and infirmary. It is pumped into cisterns from a well ill the felonsí yard. The staircases are all of wood, most insecurely constructed; the roofs are of timber, and a great deal of the same material is worked into the walls, even those of the cells. The infirmaries are in the attics of the wing in rear of the keeperís house. They are ample and convenient: their windows look over the surrounding country. One of the two is supplied with a water-closet and water for use. The doors of the sleeping-cells are of oak. the floors partly of brick and stone; the roofs are arched, and the windows, of considerable size, glazed. The building is not insured. The keeper has a considerable plot of ground both within and without the walls.

Diet. — 1½lb. of seconds bread daily; 1½lb. of meat on a Sunday, and a peck of potatoes and 5 ounces of salt weekly. Prisoners convicted of a second offence are allowed bread and water only.

Clothing. — Clothing is only supplied in case of actual necessity. A drab suit of woollen for the men, cotton gowns for the women. Linen is furnished to all weekly.

Fuel. — 100 lbs. of coals weekly in winter, and 50 lbs. in summer for each day roomís consumption.

Bedding. — Bedstead wood, palliasse, pillow, 2 and 3 blankets, and rug.

Cleanliness. — The prison and persons of the prisoners clean.

Health. — The surgeon only attends when required by illness. The most prevalent ailments are itch, syphilis, gonorrhoea. He keeps no journal; but when any extraordinary case occurs he makes minutes of it for his own use. No death in the prison for several years.

Moral and Religious Instruction. — The chaplain was not present on the day of inspection. Two services with one sermon is performed on the Sabbath, and prayers daily. The sacrament is not administered. No systematic instruction of the prisoners. The chaplain occasionally visits the prisoners in the day rooms. There is a library, chiefly composed of tracts and books published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. The keeper issues them to the prisoners at his discretion He states "that some of the prisoners express a desire to be instructed; that the books are perused by them with considerable interest, and returned unmutilated." I find that the duties of the chaplain, although a resident in the town of Oakham, are oftener performed by other individuals than by himself. In 1837, according to his journal, he has only officiated himself on 122 occasions. It is not to be expected that ministers, undertaking as a casualty to perform the duties of chaplain to a prison, can feel the same interest as an individual permanently entrusted with this important office. I recommend most strongly, the magistrates not to suffer the office of chaplain to be executed by deputy. In this prison, where work is scarcely to be provided, or with difficulty, the only means of palliating the inconvenience is by an increase of the labours and attendance of the chaplain, not confined to mere duties of detail, but extended to frequent personal communication and intercourse with the prisoners. Limited as is the number of prisoners in this establishment, something might, I think, be done in the shape of instruction, if ordinary pains were taken. The chaplainís book laid before the magistrates contains the date and name of the officiating minister.

Labour. — A crank-wheel is applied to the grinding of flour, but the labour is merely nominal. Six prisoners may be put to work at a time, but the numbers very rarely permit of this being the case. They are on for an hour, and then rest for the same period, the time being apportioned according to the number of prisoners, They are locked in the mill by themselves, and the turnkey states, "That the noise of the machinery is his monitor of their being at work; that the labour is thought nothing of." The keeper states, that he has in vain endeavoured to obtain employment for the prisoners; he finds it even impossible to procure grain for grinding at the mid. He purchased himself for that purpose several loads of wheat and barley, but was forced to discontinue it, from the loss which took place. The cranks are now merely worked by a weight and lever — the time of labour being ten hours in summer, and as long as daylight permits in winter.

Visits. — The convicted prisoners by order of a visiting justice once a week. Prisoners before trial daily, with the exception of the sabbath. Letters at the discretion of the keeper.

Offences and Punishments. — Attempting to break prison and disorderly conduct; punished by stoppage of meals and close confinement and irons. Whipping is generally restricted to boys. No case of corporal punishment of an adult for nine years. It is inflicted by the turnkey, and with little or no severity. The surgeon does not attend.

Scourge. — Common whip-handle, 16 inches long. Nine lashes of thick whip-cord, 20 inches in length; three knots in each. In the present, as in many other cases, the instrument testifies the impotency of the application, for if used even with the ordinary severity of the army, the punishment, from the size of the whip-cord, would be unusually severe. The scourge, in most cases, I have found to be oftener employed as an instrument of terror than of use.

Irons. — Weight, 6 lbs.

Benefactions. — There are no bequests to this prison : at the suggestion of the keeper, the tradespeople who furnish the supplies contribute and provide the prisoners with a dinner and pint of ale on Christmas-day. A box for donations is placed in the lodge; the contents do not average 5s. yearly; they are bestowed upon prisoners at their discharge to enable them to proceed to their homes.

Accounts, Expenditure, Books. — The small number of prisoners in this establishment renders any regular system of contracting for the supply of provisions quite impracticable. The keeper orders the quantity of provisions he requires, and the tradesmenís bills are sent to him quarterly, examined, and transmitted to the clerk of the peace, who lays them before the magistrates in sessions, and upon their approval and order the treasurer pays. The only check, or account kept of provisions received, is a small one for the bread, in which the baker enters the quantity he delivers. I see no reason why every article supplied should not be entered in the same manner when received at the gate.

Books. — No books of accounts kept.

Register. — Arranged under the following heads: — Number — sex — age — name — from whence brought — trade or profession — date of commitment and by whom — when received — crime charged — sentence — expiration of imprisonment — when discharged — read and write — observations.

Description Book. — Name — parish — county — age — height — person — face — head — eyes — eyebrows — nose — mouth — neck — hair — shoulders — arms — hands — legs — feet — coat — waistcoat — breeches — remarks.

Journal. — Containing copies of committals and entries of punishments.

Visiting Magistrates Book. — Containing entries of magistratesí visits and investigations of complaints, &c. The visits are monthly.

General Discipline. — The great obstacle to corrective discipline in this prison, and in other small ones, is the impossibility of finding labour for the prisoners. To render the crank-wheel at all effective as a punishment, the prisoners should never be left to their labour without the presence of an officer. The average number sentenced to labour is from 3 to 4. Under the head of moral and religious instruction, I have adverted to what I consider a principal defect. One prisoner under sentence of transportation was in irons by order of the magistrates, on the day of inspection, for an attempt to escape. The prisoners occasionally work in the keeperís garden within the boundary wall. In April, 1837, a prisoner effected his escape, having been at work under the superintendence of a turnkey outside the prison. The magistrates have since put a stop to the practice. The keeper permits the turnkey, who is a family man, to sleep three or four times a-week out of the prison: I cannot think this prudent, and it certainly ought not to be done without the sanction of the visiting justices. In this prison there is no responsible female appointed to act as matron. The keeperís female servant, a respectable person, does the duty. The keeper states, "That constables sometimes bring prisoners in a stale of intoxication; that they take no receipt on the delivery of a prisoner, but that if he observes they are not sober, he reports them to the magistrates, who stop their allowance."

Keeper. — Ago 63; appointed 1816; salary 95l., and 5las keeper of the castle; coals and candles, garden within the walls, and a third of an acre of ground outside.

Turnkey. — Appointed 1830; married; resides in the lodge; wages 17s. a-week ; formerly in the public line; read and write.

Chaplain. — Appointed 1815; salary 100l.; master of the grammar-school at Oakham; incumbent of Navenby, in Lincolnshire.

Surgeon. — Appointed 1815; salary 15l., for attendance and medicines.

In 1846, a treadwheel was installed at the gaol.

Following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878, the gaol was closed. The site is now occupied by part of Oakham School. One of the original prison wings appears to be incorporated into the buildings on the site.


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