Ancestry UK

Town Gaol and Bridewell, Sandwich, Kent

From medieval times, a Town Gaol existed on Jail Street (now St Peter's Street), Sandwich. A Bridewell, or House of Correction, was added to the premises in 1756.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Keeper, Nathaniel Bradley. No Salary.
Fees, for Felons, 13s. 4d.; for Bridewell Prisoners, 6s. 8d.

Chaplain, none appointed; but the Rev. Mr. Conant officiated occasionally in 1806; and the Rev. Mr. Bunce now attends those who are committed for heinous offences, or are desirous of spiritual comfort.

Surgeon, Mr. Curling; who makes a Bill.

Number of Prisoners, 1804, Sept. 24th, Three. 1806, Aug. 10th, None.

Allowance, four-pence a day, or sixpence, according as bread is dear or cheap.

Court of Conscience Debtors are sent here for twenty days, but never exceeding twenty eight days confinement; during which the Plaintiff is obliged to allow 3d. per day; so that few of this description are confined here now.

This Prison is situate in Jail Street, and on the ground-floor fronting the Street has one room, 18 feet by 16, with boarded floor, an iron-grated window, and fixed sloping blinds; a crib bedstead, straw, and two blankets for each Prisoner.

Above stairs are two rooms, about 18 feet square; one with a fire-place; an iron grated window in each, opening toward the Street, with fixed Venetian blinds. In the court-yard are two other rooms, called The Bridewell, supplied with crib bedsteads; but no fire-places. On a stone Tablet over them in front, is inscribed:

This House of CORRECTION
was built in the year 1756, in the
Mayoralty of JOSEPH STEWART, Esq.
at the Joint Expence of the
Parishes in Sandwich, the Parish of Walmer,
and the Vills of Ramsgate and Sarr.

Hemp blocks are fixed in the Bridewell; but no Employment, though Prisoners are here committed to hard Labour!

Any Prisoner is permitted to work, however, if he can procure the means from without; and has, in this case, the whole of his earnings, but not the Gaol Allowance.

There is no water accessible to the Prisoners; and the court-yard being deemed insecure, they have not the use of it.

In 1829-30, a new prison was erected on Millwall Place (now Knightrider Street), Sandwich. In 1839, the Inspectors of Prisons reported on the establishment:

This prison stands on the skirts of the town of Sandwich, about a quarter of a mile from the Town Hall. The situation is considered healthy. The site occupies about half an acre, and there is a field surrounding the boundary wall (also belonging to the borough), of nearly-two acres. The prison is under the jurisdiction of the corporation. Prisoners from Ramsgate, Walmer, and Sarr, are also committed hither. The prison was first occupied by prisoners in May 1831.

The governor's house forms, the centre, and the prisoners' buildings radiate from it. Each of the radii contains wards, cells, and airing yards for two distinct classes. At the extremity of the yards is the governor's garden, from which the prisoners are separated by an iron-railing. There is a space of 30-feet from this railing to the boundary wall; which is 15 feet high. A small tower, or porch, has been recently built at the prison entrance.

On the ground floor of each ward are a day room and two cells. Above, in two of the wards, is another day room and three cells, and in the other two wards a single cell and one large sleeping-room,—two cells being thrown into one. There are 16 cells adapted for the confinement of a single prisoner in each.

The day rooms are each 12 feet long, 10½ feet wide, and 8 feet high. The two large sleeping rooms are 15 feet long, 6½ feet wide, and 8 feet high ; and the 16 smaller cells are 8 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 8 feet high. There are, besides,two dark cells, 5 feet 9 inches long, 3 feet wide, and 8 feet high. They have three small apertures, which do not appear to us sufficient to insure a proper degree of ventilation. The doors of all the cells have an aperture 6 inches by 2 : they are lined with iron plate. The airing yards are each 36 feet long and 20 feet wide. There is a bath on the ground floor, and a privy in each yard. The wards are usually appropriated to the following classes, viz.:—

1st. Convicted felons.
2d. Summary convictions.
3d. Vagrants.
4th. Debtors.

The actual classification observed in the prison varies according to the numbers and descriptions in confinement. There are seldom any female prisoners, but, when there are, they are placed in the upper part of the ward usually assigned to vagrants, and are kept quite distinct. This room is also used as an infirmary in the very few cases in which a separate apartment for the sick has been required. Convicted felons and misdemeanants are placed together at the tread-wheel, and are divided off to their respective day rooms when not at labour, and to the cells of their ward when they retire at night. At a late inspection we found the following prisoners in custody:— Name.

R.B.30Stealing a liquor panSentenced to six months' hard labour on the tread-wheel.
J.W.14Stealing a watch.Ditto.
W. C.24Damaging windowsDitto two months.
J. B.27DittoDitto.
J. B.46DittoDitto.
J. S.23VagrantDitto one month.
T. M.38DittoDitto.
G. S.47Stealing watch.Imprisonment for two months.
R. S.37Robbing his masterDitto.
J. G,18DittoDitto.
J. B.29Want of Sureties

There was no female in custody. This is sometimes the case for a period of two or three months.

The cells are deficient in ventilation; only one small pane of glass in the window opens, and there is only in addition the aperture in the cell-door already mentioned. The cells smelt close, although the men had left them for several hours.

From a small window in each of the governors lower apartments, and in two of those above, he is enabled to inspect the prisoners' day rooms. The inspection, however, is. not perfect, as. it is possible for a prisoner to avoid being seen. Each of the day rooms has a fireplace. The prison is so small and compact, and the situation so remarkably still, that the governor can at once hear any loud noise. He says that he can hear in his apartment at night any knock-upon the walls or cell doors.

The cells are unlocked in the summer at six o'clock,-when the prisoners make their beds and wash. At half-past six, the prisoners sentenced to hard labour go to the wheel. Breakfast is-served at half-past eight. At nine,they return-to the tread-wheel. At twelve, an hour is allowed for dinner and exercise. From one till six, they are again at labour. From six until a quarter before eight, they are allowed to remain in their day rooms or yards,:after which they are locked up. The prisoners take their meals in their day rooms.

There is no reception cell on the admission of prisoners, neither does the surgeon see the prisoners before they are passed into their cells. When a prisoner requires cleansing he is bathed. The clothes of the prisoner are baked when necessary, and it is stated to be so in the case of vagrants in nine cases out often.

The tread-wheel usually revolves at the rate of 48 steps per minute. A fly-is attached. The hours of labour in summer are ten, and in winter seven hours. The prisoners when on the relief sit down. The governor has no turnkey, and his dislike to the appointment of wardsmen is such, that he prefers leaving the prisoners to themselves and trusting to his own vigilance, rather than placing confidence in any prisoner. Of course, conversation goes on as well at the tread-wheel as in the wards and yards. All that the governor pretends to do is to prevent loud talking, and he frequently visits the wards and yards for this purpose.

Prisoners not sentenced to hard labour are employed in making coir-mats, washing, pumping, cleaning, and gardening.

Bibles and prayer books are placed in the wards. Divine service is performed once on Sundays, generally at half-past ten. The chaplain is the master of a grammar school in Sandwich. He has no other professional duty, except that he officiates at one of the churches in the town in the morning once a month, on which occasions he performs service in the prison in the afternoon. He considers that his engagement at the prison extends only to the performance of service once on Sundays, and we must say that the scanty remuneration which he receives would fully warrant this impression. He does not visit the prisoners during the week, although he has attended when the keeper has called his notice to particular individuals. We could not help feeling strongly impressed with the deficiency of religious instruction in the prison, and of regretting this the more because the quiet of the prison is favourable to any exertions which might he made for the moral and religious improvement of the prisoners. In an entry in his journal the chaplain observes, that " the room (viz. the chapel) is so small, and the congregation so confined, as to he rather like a family meeting than a church congregation." "I do not," he says, "feel myself to be making a general address. It is so confined as to be personal, and enforces attention; and if anew comer has appeared negligent, an expostulation has always been attended with immediate attention, apparently of that as well as of conduct." We feel satisfied that much benefit would arise to the prisoners from the more frequent attendance of the chaplain—from the daily reading of prayers, if not by himself yet under his direction—from private advice and admonition to the prisoners—and from the instruction of the young in reading. We do not see, however, that these additional services can reasonably he expected from the present chaplain, considering that he has other duties on the week-days, unless the remuneration now given to him be increased.

The surgeon attends the prison generally twice in the week, about eleven o'clock. He does not go through the wards, but inquires if there are any sick. He is represented to be very attentive whenever any prisoner is under his care. The number of the sick is remarkably small.

The day rooms and cells are cleaned once a-week in winter, and twice in summer. They are whitewashed in the spring. The prisoners are employed as cleaners, one being assigned to each ward. They are usually prisoners not sentenced to hard labour.

The dietary is 1¼ lb. bread, 1 lb. potatoes, and 2 quarts of oatmeal daily, and 7 ozs. meat twice a-week for prisoners who labour on the tread-wheel, and but 5 ozs. meat for those not sentenced to hard labour. Scales and weights are provided for the use of the prisoners.

Female prisoners are attended by the wife of the governor. The greatest number of females at one time in custody has been seven, but they seldom exceed two. They are usually employed in washing.

Visitors are permitted to see the debtors, and prisoners before trial, every day from 12 until 2. Male visitors only are searched. The prisoners are brought to the entrance porch, and are separated from the visitor by an iron gate. The keeper is always present. Professional advisers would be allowed to see the prisoners in the governor's office. The convicted are only allowed to receive visitors by permission from a visiting justice. Prisoners convicted of felony may see their friends on the first Thursday in the month, from twelve-to one. Prisoners under summary convictions for non-payment of penalties, or convicted misdemeanants, can receive their visitors every Thursday from twelve to one. There is, however, very little visiting; and the keeper is strongly opposed to it, on the ground of its being very prejudicial to the maintenance of gaol discipline. In several instances he has observed the good impressions produced by the discipline greatly impaired by conversations which the prisoners have held with their visitors.

All letters are examined by the governor except, those of debtors. He takes charge of any sums of money which may be brought in by criminal-prisoners, and delivers it over to them on their discharge. Debtors are allowed to retain their money.

Debtors who maintain themselves are allowed to purchase a moderate quantity of food, and a pot of beer, daily; but those who receive the borough allowance are prohibited from doing so. It appears that this rule hag been the means of several debtors paying their debts. On their first arrival they have said, "I can pay, but I won't pay;" but when they have found themselves restricted from the comforts which they expected, they have written to their friends to settle with their creditors. A debtor, not long,since, asked, on admission, to be allowed to work at his trade as a shoemaker: The magistrates said that he might do so if he would support himself and for that purpose pay 3s. 6d. per week. When he found that he could not receive the borough allowance as well as his earnings, he immediately wrote to his wife to pay the debt, amounting to £1. 16s. 10d., and in two days he was discharged.

Beer is not allowed to prisoners, before trial, if even they support themselves.

Convicted felons only have a gaol dress. It consists of a woollen jacket, trousers, and waistcoat, stockings, shoes, shirt, handkerchief, and cap. The linen articles are changed weekly.

The washing of the linen is generally done by the male prisoners, as it is seldom that the females in custody are sufficient in point of number for the purpose.

The bedsteads in the cells are of iron. The bedding consists of a tick filled with straw,.a rug, and two blankets. The bedding is generally brought out of the cells once in the day, and washed four times in the year:

The governor has no turnkey nor assistant during the day, but a man attends in the evening, at nine o'clock, to sleep in the prison in case of any extraordinary occurrence during the night.

The governor states that he rarely leaves the prison, and that he is not sometimes out of it for, perhaps, three months at a time. There have been several attempts to escape, but none have been successful. We scarcely know of any gaol more insecure, and are surprised that escapes are not frequent. That they have not been so must be attributed to the constant presence of the governor, who states that he is perpetually on the watch. The security, good order, and cleanliness of the prison, are very creditable to him, especially when it is considered, that he has no turnkey or assistant.

The association which prevails among the prisoners, and the positive absence of all restrictions upon improper conversation of any kind, provided only that it is carried on without noise; these, together with the deficiency which we have pointed out in the religious instruction of the prisoners, are serious defects in the discipline of this gaol. The construction of the prison is, however, favourable to its being enlarged, upon the separate system; and we are of opinion that great advantage would arise from extending the gaol with the view of making it a district prison, if the magistrates of the borough and of the county should be inclined to favour such an arrangement. By an enlargement of the prison, for which there is ample space, the separate system, might be introduced and other plans enforced with reference to the general discipline, which cannot now be adopted owing to the contracted size of the gaol, the small number of prisoners, and the present very limited establishment

The prison site is shown on the 1877 map below.

Town Gaol and Bridewell site, Sandwich, c.1877.

Following the nationalisation of the prison system, the gaol closed in 1878 and was demolished the following year. The St Peter's Street gaol building survives, now converted to residential use.


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