Ancestry UK

Town Gaol, Tenterden, Kent

By 1818, Tenterden had a Town Gaol and House of Correction located on the High Street. It was also used to house debtors and as a short-term lock-up.

In 1845, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This gaol, or lock-up house, is situated in the main street of the borough of Tenterden. The windows of the cells look into the street, and nothing can prevent any prisoner that may be in confinement from holding conversation with the passers by. This facility of intercourse has been attempted to be prevented in one of the cells, by surrounding the window with a sort of wooden cage, about four feet distant; so that an inmate may not approach nearer to the window than that limit. The possibility of communication with those without, however, is not prevented by this arrangement. The prison consists of four miserable cells; two on the ground floor, and two above. Those on the upper floor cannot be considered places for the safe custody of any prisoner who had the least desire to make his escape. The walls are of the most fragile description; consisting only of upright and transverse pieces of wood; the interstices being filled with lime and laths and plaster. We noticed several holes in the walls, which could easily be extended to permit of an escape. We found the gaol shamefully dirty; it is overrun with spiders' webs, and the keeper admitted that it had not been swept for a month previous to our inspection although three prisoners have been in confinement for short periods during that time. One of these was a violent and incorrigible woman, who tore her bedding into shreds; the fragments of which have been suffered to remain in the cell for four weeks as if to encourage others to follow her example. We submit that the prison should at least be kept clean, and with something like regularity; and that prisoners should only be suffered to remain therein for the shortest possible period before being sent to the county prison at Maidstone. The present keeper has been three years in office, and is a tailor and clothier, living several doors off, in the same Street. For the supply of the prison diet, which is in accordance with the prescribed rate of diet set forth in the regulations for prisons in England and Wales, he receives, per diem, 9d. for males, and 8d. for females. He asserts that, since he has held the appointment, he has not seen a clergyman within the prison walls. In cases of sickness a surgeon is called in, and the expense incurred is paid by the magistrates. At the period of our inspection there were no prisoners in custody; Nor are there any entries of commitments in the keeper's journal from the 26th April, 1844, till the 12th April 1845. He asserts, however, that during that. There might have been about a dozen prisoners in confinement for a single night, or part of a day and night; but of these he keeps no account.

The number committed to the prison:—

In 1842 was 9716
In 1843 was22426
In 1844 was15419

This gaol is not exclusively a lock-up house; for two prisoners have undergone in it their sentences of imprisonment of fourteen days each; another, of four days; whilst one had been in custody sixteen days before trial, when he was discharged by the Court. Even these are too long terms of imprisonment to be passed in this very defective gaol.

The prison was closed in about 1866.


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.

  • Kent History and Library Centre, James Whatman Way, Maidstone, Kent ME14 1LQ Only holding appears to be Court of Record Minute Book containing occasional orders, e.g. one concerning prisoners' living conditions (1819).
  • The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU. Has a wide variety of crime and prison records going back to the 1770s, including calendars of prisoners, prison registers and criminal registers.
  • Find My Past has digitized many of the National Archives' prison records, including prisoner-of-war records, plus a variety of local records including Manchester, York and Plymouth. More information.
  • Prison-related records on Ancestry UK include Prison Commission Records, 1770-1951, and local records from London, Swansea, Gloucesterhire and West Yorkshire. More information.
  • The Genealogist also has a number of National Archives' prison records. More information.


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