Ancestry UK

Town Gaol, Poole, Dorset

The Poole Town Gaol was in existence by at least 1601 and occupied a site on King Street, roughly where the northern end of New Orchard now lies.

In 1784, John Howard, described the 'Town and County Gaol' as:

Two rooms, down three steps. No water. Keeper, no salary: fees, 13s. 4d. no table. Allowance to debtors and felons, 2s. 3d. a week each. At my last visit the floors were boarded, and the walls of the court raised.

1776, Feb. 26, Debtors 1. Felons 0.
1782, Nov. 3, Debtors 0. Felons 0.

The gaol appears to have been rebuilt in the 1790s. In 1812, James Neild reported:

Gaoler, William Arney. Salary, 8s. per week. Fees, 13s. 4d. No Table. Prisoners, 22d Oct. 1803, Debtors, none. Felon, one. Allowance, 6d. a day.

For Debtors here is a court-yard, 51 feet by 47, and a day-room, 11 feet by 9. Above stairs are four sizeable sleeping-rooms, for which Debtors pay one shilling per week each. The Town allows firing, from November till May.

Felons have a court-yard, of the same size as that for the Debtors, but no dayroom; and two sleeping-cells, 9 feet by 5 feet 10, and 8 feet 10 inches high, with wooden bedsteads, straw, two blankets, and a rug.

Both courts are well supplied with water, and the Prison is clean. Neither the Act nor Clauses hung up.

By 1818, the Town Bridewell had been incorporated into the premises. In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons recorded:

The whole prison is very contracted in space, but the yards are not so much so as the building. There is only one day-room, which is appropriated to the use of the debtors. There is no room for the sick, no chapel, no bath.

There is a great deficiency of cells, and particularly in regard to females, for whose use one only is appropriated. In consequence of this scarcity of cells, prisoners often sleep together, two in one bed, which cannot be too soon discontinued. There is water and a privy in each yard. The yards are four in number; one is for the debtors, one for the females, one for the felons, and one for the tread-mill. In the passage leading to the felons' yard there is a fireplace: when it rains the felons sit in this passage.

There is a boundary wall, and it is not overlooked in any part by the adjacent houses. There has been only one escape in 14 years; this one was unsuccessful, and occurred recently. There has been no alarm of fire during that period.

If the prisoners who are sentenced to hard labour and to long terms of imprisonment were transferred to Dorchester Gaol there would be less necessity for building new cells; but if that plan be not adopted, it will be absolutely indispensable to enlarge the accommodations of the prison. There is some ground which might be used for building, which at present forms the gaoler's garden.


Prisoners sentenced to hard labour were formerly sent to Dorchester, but they are now retained here since the erection of the tread-mill. No prisoner has been detained here longer than 12 months during the occupancy of the present keeper. Tobacco is not allowed. The mayor often inspects the gaol: he visited it twice in the last week.

Two men were in the habit of sleeping together in the same bed at the time of my visit; and such also is often the custom with respect to the female prisoners. Here, as elsewhere, I have endeavoured to prevent a repetition of this evil practice by pointing it out to the mayor and other authorities.

The keeper is the only resident officer. It would be impossible for him to perform his duty even in the inadequate manner which he attempts if it were not for the assistance of his wife: she acts voluntarily as matron, and has never received any directions to attend upon the women; she has no gratuity, but earns 6d. a-pair by washing the prison blankets. An additional turnkey is absolutely necessary if this gaol is to maintain any higher character than that of a good lock-up house.

The rules observed here respecting visits and letters are not sufficiently strict nor well defined. Visits cannot be made without an order from the sheriff and they must take place in the presence of the keeper or of his deputy. The gaoler generally reads the letters, but there is no fixed regulation respecting letters. I have earnestly recommended the adoption of fixed rules on these and other subjects.


There is a small tread-mill, which is capable of containing 12 persons; but no more than six have ever been employed upon it at once. The power is not applied to any profitable purpose. When a prisoner is unfit for this kind of work, the keeper sends to the workhouse for oakum in order to he picked. The prisoners wash their yards, cells, and privies. I found one female prisoner washing for the gaoler's wife.

The tread-mill is of comparatively little use from the want of an assistant to superintend; as there is only one officer, he cannot be constantly on the watch.

Religious and other Instruction.

There is no chapel. I have recommended that the debtors' day-room be used as a temporary chapel in the absence of better means, and that a chaplain be engaged, with a fixed salary, and on the condition of visiting the prison at regulated times. There is no want of religious books here. It is needless, perhaps, to add that there is no provision made for instructing the prisoners in reading, except when some ladies have sometimes taught a female. A clergyman of Poole comes to visit the prisoners occasionally, and converses a little with them. He brings them religious books, of which there is a good supply. He receives no salary, and has not visited for a month past.

Care of the Sick, Disease, and Mortality.

There is no surgeon engaged at a fixed salary; indeed, the surgeon comes at present only on an order from the sheriff: but this evil, having been pointed out by me to the mayor, will be immediately, as he assures me, corrected. During 14 years that the gaoler has resided here no death has occurred. No case of malignant cholera was seen here. No extra allowance has been ordered for the sick during the last two years.


The keeper has 12s. per week: this is obviously an insufficient sum to induce a competent individual to undertake the office. He receives coals and candles, and also demands 13s. 4d. from every debtor when he leaves the prison: this is a bad custom; but he does not detain them if they are unable to pay it.

Statistics of the Population.

From 1st January 1835to 31st December,1835 the total number admitted was 43. Of these were debtors, 4. Of the whole number were females,4. Sixteen was the greatest number at onetime.

The average number of persons confined here at one time is five or six. Most of them are to be strangers.

At the time of my visit (13th June 1836) I found no debtors, one untried woman, and three convicted males: in short, only four prisoners.

Bedding and Clothing.

The debtors pay 1s. 6d. a-week for the use of bedding; but if they are unable to do so they use the prison bedding. The prison beds are good; each has a flock bed, two blankets, a rug, and a pillow. The whole is clean; the blankets are usually washed once a month. For the clothing, when a prisoner is destitute, the sheriff orders some necessary coarse articles. There is a store in the prison of one dozen shirts and of half a dozen shifts. The prisoners may have their clothes washed by their friends without, or they may wash them themselves. Half a pound of soap is allowed weekly to each prisoner, and also warm water to wash with.


The untried prisoners and the debtors only are allowed to receive food from without. Beer is only permitted to be introduced for the use of the debtors; there is no order respecting the introduction of spirits for the use of the debtors. The debtors, if destitute, receive 6d. per day, or are supplied with the workhouse allowance for food which is sent in from the workhouse. The bread which is provided for the prisoners is furnished twice a-week from the workhouse. The weekly quantity of bread allotted to each prisoner consists of two loaves, each weighing three pounds two ounces, so that it amounts to six pounds four ounces per head weekly. On Monday no extra food is given; on Tuesday some meat and potatoes are sent in from the workhouse; on Wednesday, soup; on Thursday, cheese; on Friday, meat and potatoes again; on Saturday, peas soup; on Sunday the prisoners receive no extra allowance. On Saturday they receive some extra bread in company with the peas soup. No salt is provided, but the gaoler gives some from his own stock; he also supplies them with warm water when they ask for it. No distinction is made between the diet of those who are sentenced to hard labour and that of the other prisoners. A peck of coals is allowed every two days in winter for the male felons' yard and the female yard.

Whipping and Punishment.

This is performed by the gaoler, among the numerous duties which devolve,upon him here; and he receives no remuneration for it. The ordinary number of lashes is twelve, inflicted by a cat-of-nine-tails, and in the presence of the sheriff and the surgeon. There is no dark cell. When punishment is necessary, which is rare, the prisoner is locked up in a cell, but the shutter is not put up to darken it.

Progress of the Population.

The numbers have increased of late years, because the prisoners sentenced to hard labour are now detained here, instead of being sent, as formerly was the case, to the county gaol and house of correction at Dorchester.

The prison closed in 1878. The building no longer exists.


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.


  • Prison Oracle - resources those involved in present-day UK prisons.
  • GOV.UK - UK Government's information on sentencing, probation and support for families.