Thursday, 14 April 2022

The Old Gloucester Gaol

[Gloucester Castle keep: the old county gaol. Based on an 1819 work, from W. Andrew, ‘Old English Towns’, published 1909. Via Wikimedia Commons - Gloucester Crime History blog]

Brief history of the old gaol

The first gaol in Gloucester was in part of Gloucester Castle. The castle had been constructed early in the 12th century and part of it was in use as a gaol by 1185.

During the 17th century most of the castle was demolished but in 1672 the Sheriff of Gloucestershire insisted that the keep should be kept as the County Gaol.

By the late 18th century when George was a prisoner in the gaol, the building had become overcrowded and was in desperate need of repair. Some repairs were made between 1780 and 1782. The building was even fumigated in 1874.

In 1783 The Sheriff of Gloucestershire visited the gaol at the former castle keep and  recommended the building of a new gaol.

In 1784 an act was passed in parliament to make changes to the prison system including providing county magistrates the power to build their own prisons. William Blackburn drew up the plans for the new prison at Gloucester.

When plans for the new gaol were approved in 1785 the new building was to hold 207 prisoners.

In 1791 the first prisoners were transferred to the new building.

When George Guest (Gess) was an inmate of the prison between 1783 and 1786 the prison buildings were dilapidated and conditions for the prisoners were overcrowded, cramped, filthy, unhygienic and cold.  The prisoners had straw for beds which was rarely replaced. Food usually consisted of stale bread and pottage - a form of vegetable soup or stew which, on occasion, may contain small pieces of meat. 

There was one open sewer for the entire prison. Fleas, mites, lice and rats frequented the gaol. Disease was common in the gaol including typhus, also known as gaol fever. 

During the day the prisoners were usually put to work breaking rocks, picking oakum, beating flax or spinning yarn, making nails, mouse and rat traps, stools or garden tools. Groups of seven prisoners at a time could work the treadmill to grind corn and other cereals.

When considered necessary by gaolers, prisoners could be made to wear fetters and chains.

When the new prison opened in 1791 it was designed to hold 207 prisoners with separate sections for men and women. It also had exercise yards and a chapel. The prison was now under the jurisdiction of the Quarter Sessions.  Prisoners were now issued with prison clothes and even soap. The quality and quantity of food improved. Prisoners were also grouped according to their sentence rather than everyone being together. However by this time George Guest was in Australia.

Useful websites:

History of 1792 Old Gloucester Gaol - City and Country website

Gloucester Crime History - Prisons - blog (Jill Evans)

Conditions in Gloucester prisons - Gloucester Archives (article- pdf)

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