Ancestry UK

Felon's Gaol, Southampton, Hampshire

By 1774, Southampton had a Town Gaol, also known as the Felons' Gaol, in God's House Gate, at what is now the corner of Winkle Street and Town Quay. The inmates, who were mostly those committed for trial, occupied the building's old tower. Part of the same building had been used as a Bridewell since 1707.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

Gaol for Felons (the Tower) at the lower end of the town. 18 feet 9 inches by 8½: very dirty. A court: no water. Gaoler's salary, now £10. Prisoners allowance, three-pennyworth of bread a day.

1774, Sep. 24,Felons 0.1779, Mar. 3,Felon 1.
1776, Feb. 26,0.1782, Feb. 24,0.

In about 1785, the tower was enlarged and part of it given over for use as a Debtors' Prison, each of the two sections having its own keeper, courtyard and water supply.

God's House Gate, Southampton, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1812, James Neild reported on the felons' department:

Gaoler, William Dymott, a Taylor. Salary, 20l. and 15l. as Sergeant at Mace.
No Fees.

Surgeon, Mr. Keels; who makes a Bill.

Number of Prisoners,
1802, March 19th. Three. 1803, Oct. 23d, Four. 1807, Sept. 22d, One.

Allowance, sixpence a day, and a bushel of coals per week.

This Gaol is part of the old Tower, at the bottom of the Town; and has a narrow slip, or court-yard, of 34 feet by 7, with a pump and stone sink, but frequently without water in a dry season: Four small rooms on the ground-floor for Prisoners, about 11 feet square, with iron-grated and glazed windows; and fire-places, furnished with a wooden bedstead, straw-in-sacking bed, two blankets, and a rug.

Over the Door of entrance is painted, "Pray remember the Poor Prisoners' Box!"

A report in 1823 described the gaol as:

An old and very awkward small prison, attached to one of the ancient arched gateways of the town. The situation of this gaol, and of the bridewell, is unfavourable, being close to the shore, in consequence of which the buildings are much exposed to damp after the fall of the tide. There is only one small narrow yard to the prison, which is shaded by a, lofty front wall, thirty feet or more in height: to this yard the male and female prisoners have access, for exercise, alternately; but the windows of all the rooms look into it, so that the men and women can freely converse together. On the ground-floor are two rooms; one used as the men's day-room, the other as a sleeping-room, which is so damp as to require a fire in it, weekly, throughout the year. Between these rooms is the stair-case, leading up to two other rooms corresponding with those on the floor beneath; one is the sleeping-room for the men, the other is occupied by the females, night and day. The window to this room might have a screen fixed up outside, to admit light and air from above, but to prevent the women from communicating so easily as they now can do with the men in the yard below. The keeper's room has a window looking into the yard: this is a great advantage. There is a supply of good water; but the drainage of the prison appears to be in a very bad state. As the sun's rays are effectually excluded by the lofty wall in front, it may be easily supposed that the premises can scarcely be otherwise than very damp, exposed as they are to exhalations from the river.

The prisoners attend chapel in the Bridewell, across the street, into which they are conducted by a covered passage over the gateway. The allowance of food is sixpence per day. The number of prisoners usually in confinement is small, seldom exceeding ten or twelve at one time. The interior is whitewashed twice a year. With a building so incommodious, little can be expected in the way of improvement. To remove, however, the inconvenience arising from the facility of communication between the men and women, it is understood to be the intention of the magistrates, in future, to commit all females to the Bridewell.

In 1837, the management of the felons' and bridewell sections was unified and other changes made. For information on the merged establishment from that date, see the separate page on the bridewell.

In 1855, the prisons in God's House Gate moved to new purpose-built premises in Ascupart Street.

The God's House Gate building still stands as part of Southampton's preserved city walls and gates.


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.