Ancestry UK

Town Gaol, Walsall, Staffordshire

Walsall had a Town Gaol by the seventeenth century and was located beneath the town hall on the High Street, Walsall. Offenders were confined for only a night or two, before they were brought before a magistrate. Debtors were also housed in the one of the rooms which had a fireplace and could receive gifts from friends via the windows. When prison reformer John Howard visited the gaol in 1783, there were no prisoners.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

Gaoler, William Mason. No Salary. Fees, 3s. 4d. and 2s. to the Town-Clerk.

1802, Nov. 2d, no Prisoners.

Allowance, to Debtors and Felons, twopence per day.


This Prison consists of two rooms under the Town-Hall: that for Debtors has a fire-place: it is down five steps, and has an iron-grated window to the Street, but not being glazed, and having no inside shutters, it is extremely cold; and there is straw only, on the damp brick floor, to sleep upon. A door opens out of this room into a dark Dungeon for Felons, about 9 feet square.

Adjoining to the Debtors' room is one for Felons, with an iron-grated window towards the Street, and two dark Dungeons, with straw to sleep on.

No court! No sewer! No water! The Beadle told me he brought it to the grating for the Prisoners. Those for petty offences remain here till the Quarter Sessions. No Debtors are confined here for less than ten pounds.

In 1815, the gaol was rebuilt, though remaining in the basement of the town hall. A house was also erected for the gaoler, for whom a salary replaced the fees that had previously provided his income. A report in 1835 recorded:

The borough Gaol is situated under the town hall, below the level of the street. It Gaol, consists of six cells, inclosing a small yard of very insufficient dimensions. This establishment is altogether of an unsatisfactory character: no classification beyond the separation of men from women can be effected; neither is it possible to separate prisoners committed for trial from those under sentence after conviction. There is not sufficient space for air or necessary exercise. There are three fire-places in the gaol, but the cells are frequently very damp; so much so, that the moisture trickles down the. walls. The prison allowance is limited to bread and water. The magistrates do not visit the gaol regularly; sometimes an interval of six months or even more is suffered to elapse without any visitation being made. It was stated by the gaoler, that he had never known the magistrates to visit the gaol during the winter months.

The mayor has the custody of the gaol. He appoints a deputy gaoler, usually one of the serjeants-at-mace, who receives as such, a salary of 12l. 10s. a year.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

Tins gaol is in the basement of the Town-Hall, four feet under ground; the entrance is through an Inn-yard. There are four sleeping Cells of small dimensions, viz. two 9 feet by 5 feet, and two 7 feet 6 inches by 6 feet. These Cells have no Windows, and are very damp and badly ventilated by a small opening in the door. There are also two day rooms, one for the males, 17 feet by 7 feet 2 inches, and a smaller one for the females, 9 feet by 7 feet 3 inches. In the latter, three Women have been placed. There are also two small Airing-courts, which, for greater security, are iron-barred overhead, from wall to wall; but, from their exposure to the public street on one side, and the Inn-yard on the other, the Prisoners have been frequently supplied with Saws, with which they have managed to cut the bars, and make their escape. The Mayor said that himself, and other of the Magistrates, had frequently, when standing in the Town-Hall, detected persons in handing Articles to the Prisoners. The Gaoler does not reside in the Prison.

Prisoners when fully committed, and after sentence, are sent to the County Gaol at Stafford. As many as 98 Prisoners, however, were committed to this Borough Prison in 1835. The greatest number of Prisoners at one time in custody in that year was 13 Men and three Women. The longest periods of detention have been three months.

The Prison is very insecure, and very unjustifiable means are resorted to, to prevent escapes. A few days before our visit, a lad of 17, confined for a breach of agreement with his master, had, after having been excited by Ale given to him by his fellow-prisoners, succeeded in getting out, but was retaken. To prevent a further attempt, he was chained down to his bed in the situation in which we found him three days afterwards. The Cells are dark, damp, and unventilated. There is no female Officer.

The Magistrates have determined to erect a Prison, and have fixed on an excellent Site.

The proposal for a new prison did not come to fruition and from 1837, prisoners from Walsall were sent to the county gaol in Stafford. In 1843, the Walsall Gaol was replaced by a lock-up in the police station on Goodall Street.


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