Ancestry UK

Borough Gaol and Bridewell, Stamford, Lincolnshire

From the Middle Ages, part of the gatehouse on Stamford's town bridge served as its Borough Gaol. In 1779, the gaol was transferred to the newly built town hall on St Mary's Hill, Stamford, which also incorporated a Bridewell, or House of Correction.

In 1784, John Howard reported on the establishment:

The gate which was the old prison is taken down, and a new prison is built at the town-hall. One good room for debtors in the keeper's house: for other prisoners two cells, 10 feet by 8, and 7½ high: the window in each only 2 feet by 5 inches: and a bridewell-room 16 feet by 8: the window here also too small, 2 feet by 1 foot 8 inches.

Allowance to felons, two pence a day. Salary, as gaoler, £4; as keeper, £3 : 6  8. Licence for beer and wine. Act for preserving the health of prisoners, and clauses against spirituous liquors, not hung up. This new gaol, instead of being on a more humane plan, is worse than the old prison was for felons. The court not being secure, the prisoners are always locked up in their offensive and unhealthy cells. Fees, see Table; which, though not signed, nor hung up in the new gaol, I transcribe for the singularity of an article or two.

Debtors.Felons &c.Debtors.Felons &c.
1776, Feb. 10,0,1.1779, Sep. 21,0,0.
1776,Sep. 26,0,2.1782, May 3,0,2.
The Town or Borough of Stamford in the County of Lincoln.
A Table of Fees settled &c.—at the Quarter Sessions held by Adjournment 28th August 1729 &c.
£.   S.   D.
For every arrest upon bail0  : 10  :  0
For waiting for bail one shilling per hour 
Bail fees to the gaol0  :  6  :  0
For diet each day, if not find themselves0  :  1  :  0
For lodging each night, if not find themselves0  :  0  :  4
If they find themselves bedding, then for cleaning the room each week0  :  1  :  0
For Felons &c. that lie on the Common-side.
For gaoler's fees for the gaol0  : 10  :  0
To the smith ironing and taking off0  :  2  :  0
Lodging for each night0  :  0  :  2
To the person who executes sentence of pillory, burning in the hand, or whipping0  :  1  :  0
To the keeper of the House of correction for every person committed for the first night0  :  0  :  6
Every day that person continues in custody for attendance0  :  0  :  1

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Keeper, Charles Rogers. Salary, for the Gaol and Bridewell, 31l.; of which 24l. paid by a Rate, and 7l. by the Corporation Treasurer.

Fees, Debtors and Felons, 108. each. Table hung up, but not signed.

Surgeon, if wanted, is sent by the Mayor.

Number of Prisoners, 1802, Aug. 10th, One.
Conveyance of Transports, if only one, 8l. 8s.: if more, 6l, 6s. each.

Allowance, to Debtors, none; to Felons, eightpence per day.


This Prison, built at the Town-hall, has one good room for Debtors in the Keeper's house. I was glad to be informed that none had been committed hither for ten years.

Here is a small court-yard for all descriptions of Prisoners, the use of which for exercise is now permitted them, the walls being raised to a height sufficient for security.

For Criminals, here are two offensive and unhealthy cells, 10 feet by 8, and 7 feet 6 inches high, to which the only admittance of light and air is through a niche in the wall, 2 feet long, 5 inches wide, and an aperture in each door, about 8 inches square.

The Bridewell room is 16 feet by 8, and has only one small window, 2 feet by 20 inches; a perforated door, and in each room a sewer, Water is laid on by a pipe, for which the Gaoler pays ten shillings a year.

Here is no Employment for the Prisoners, and the Bridewell room is too dark to admit of it. The Act for preserving Health, and Clauses against Spirituous Liquors, not hung up.

A report in 1821 criticised the lack of classification of the prisoners as there was only one yard, which was common to all the inmates. It was said that the magistrates had "taken measures for the immediate erection of a more secure and convenient prison."

Town Hall, Stamford, Lincolnshire, c.1908.

In 1838, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

The prison is a plain elevation of free-stone standing at the back of the court-house. It consists Of four stories divided into 16 cells, or rooms, each of which is 9 feet 2 inches high. The end rooms in each floor are all of the same dimensions, 11 feet 8 inches by 9 feet, and the centre rooms, necessarily reduced by having a passage taken from them, are 10 feet 4, by 8 feet 9 inches. The cells have all arched ceilings, except the attics, intended for debtors and sick, which are lathed and plastered. The windows, 1 to each room, are 3 feet 4 inches by 3 feet, sashed and glazed, and secured on the inside with cross bars of iron. Six of the sleeping rooms have fire-places. There are 3 airing yards, 2 in front for the males divided by a low wall, and 1 for females; the only access to which is from the yard occupied by the males, and through the centre of the building. Privies in each yard. There are no infirmaries.

Diet.—Fourpence a-day is allowed by the corporation for the subsistence of the prisoners; they are permitted to lay it out in whatever articles they please: beer not excepted.

Bedding.—Iron bedsteads, palliasse, 2 blankets, and rug.

Fuel.—A peck of coals to each day-room daily.

Clothing.—Clothing is not provided, except in cases of urgent necessity.

Cleanliness.—The sleeping rooms clean; the day-rooms but indifferently so. Soap and towels are provided, and clean linen once a-week.

Health.—Medical assistance is provided when required.

Moral and Religious Instruction.—I lament to report that the spiritual wants of the prisoners are wholly unprovided for: no clergyman attends to perform Divine service on the Sabbath, nor on any other occasion. There are but one Bible, two Testaments, and a Prayer book in the prison, and these were presented by the mayor. The keeper states, that "The clergymen of the neighbourhood used to perform Divine service within the prison, but were so insulted by the prisoners as to be compelled to decline it. They have not been supplied with books lately, those they had were completely destroyed; we take away at night those the mayor presented."

Labour.—A crank-wheel. It is placed in a room intended for solitary confinement. The labour is merely nominal.

Months Employed Number of Working Hours per Day Number of Prisoners the Cranks will employ at one time in separate Apartments. The ordinary Velocity of the Cranks per Minute. How the Labour is apportioned to the Number and Strength of the Prisoners employed. The daily Amount of Labour to be performed by every Prisoner. How recorded with precision. Application of its Power.
The whole year. Each prisoner works 3 hours a day, viz. 1½ hours in the morning, and 1½ hours in the afternoon. Only one, but two can work together in the same apartment. Thirty Revol­utions. By regulating the pressure of a spring on an internal cylinder. 5,400 revol­utions. By an index. The infliction of punishment. It is probably also conducive to health.

Visits.—Visits to prisoners are made on a Saturdays from 9 to 10, and from 1 to 2. They see their friends at the gate in the presence of an officer.

Offences and. Punishments.—Fighting, mutinous conduct, and attempts at escape, punished by putting in irons and stoppage of food.

Irons.—4¼ lbs. No whipping.

Accounts, Expenditure, Books.—The keeper of this prison holds also the situation of clerk to the magistrates, and the accounts of the two offices are mingled together in his books. Every item of prison expenditure, and also the fees due to the keeper as clerk to the magistrates, are neatly and minutely entered in a book, and laid before the magistrates weekly, and passed by them. In consequence of legal difficulties in which the borough has been involved, the payments are considerably in arrear. I recommend that the accounts of this prison should be kept distinct from those of clerk to the magistrates.

Discipline.—On going through the prison I found one prisoner in double irons by order of the magistrates for an assault upon the turnkey; the day-rooms without tables or benches, they having been destroyed by the prisoners. The keeper's journal and the evidence of the officers afford ample testimony of the total want of order and subordination which pervades this establishment. The common offices of Divine worship are unperformed; neither order nor regularity are observed at work, or meals; the prisoners are permitted to indulge their fancies in the selection of articles of food, and their principal occupation appears to be acts of outrage, attempts at escape, and mutual corruption. Four prisoners escaped in February, 1836, and got clear of the building, but were taken a week afterwards.

Extract from Keepers Journal.

"May 31st, 1836. — — found attempting to make an aperture in the gaol wall for the purpose of escape: on being remonstrated with, and told he must be put in irons, he broke the windows of the day-room, and also of the working-room. Put in fetters, and placed him in solitary confinement."

The turnkey's evidence of his duties and the slate of the prison is as follows:—"I come to the prison at 7 o'clock (winter), unlock the prisoners, let them down, give the coals for the fires, and brushes for the cleaning. Put one into the mill-house for an hour. They tell me what they want, and I go out and purchase the potatoes and meat they order, the keeper providing me the money every morning; they order what they please. At 10 o'clock put the prisoners on to work, each for an hour, after that the time is divided amongst them for the rest of the day; they continue to work until six or seven, and are not locked up until nine. The prisoners broke their table and stools in the day-rooms about three months since; they were not put into the cells or otherwise punished for doing so. It is a long time since there was any seat in the misdemeanants' room. I gave them the Chambers's Journal found in the prison; it belongs to —— in the next yard. The keeper gave him leave to have it. They asked me to borrow it, and I did. They can, and do talk over the division wall. They can get over to one another; I have caught them over several times. I see the prisoners when they first come in; I do not search them. Two gentlemen came a fortnight last Friday to see the prison, gave a sixpence, and threw a shilling into the yard; picked it up. They had then a little small beer; they have it occasionally brought into the prison. They frequently make a noise and shouting. Sometimes they call out to each other before they are let down in the morning. They swear at one another, and use very foul language. The amount of labour depends upon the number we have in, there being only one at a time at the crank; the more prisoners, the less they have to do. Some of the young ones, I think, get worse here; we have occasionally boys, two or three at a time. There is a prisoner who has been three times since I have been here, I have been twice assaulted by the prisoners. In April last, a convicted felon was on the mill, and, behaving improperly, I ordered him into the dark cell; he refused to go; I had to struggle with him to get him there. He bit me severely in the cheek; was assaulted again on the 15th July by another prisoner now in double irons."

The keeper states, "The prisoners communicate with each other over the division walls; they frequently get backwards and forwards over them; they have been punished for it, but it has not prevented them. The crank-machine was only intended for a prisoner in solitary confinement, but the magistrates, from not being able to find labour, thought it better that all should take their turns at it; the prisoners are very frequently noisy and disorderly; they are not checked by the refractory cells or stoppage of food. Men have been sentenced to solitary confinement, but it is nothing, they can talk to each other. The greatest number of prisoners that we have had has been 10. The prisoners are allowed 4d. a day to maintain themselves; they may have small beer as much as they like. The turnkey has sometimes 40 or 50 articles to purchase for them of a morning, and it takes him an hour daily to market for them."

The keeper's wife acts as matron. The female prisoners are employed in washing; being in the back part of the prison there is no possibility of inspecting them. As many as 7 females have been here at one time, but often a considerable period elapses without there being one; an additional officer is much wanted.

It is absolutely incumbent upon the authorities to take steps for the supply of religious consolation and instruction, the maintenance of order, and something like labour and discipline in this prison, or taking the alternative of contracting with the county for the prisoners under correction, and retaining the present gaol only for prisoners before trial. The attention of the mayor and town-council has been drawn to the wretched condition of this prison.

Keeper.—Age 52; appointed 1820; salary 70l.; resides in the prison; bailiff of the borough courts; clerk to the magistrates; his salary includes the services of his wife as matron.

Turnkey.—Age 42; appointed 1836; labourer; does not reside in prison; does not read nor write; wages 14 shillings a week.

The prison closed following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878.

The town hall building now houses a variety of art works and museum items. Tours of the town hall are run, free of charge, on Fridays.


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