As you do, we have just stumbled upon a book titled ‘An Account of Prisons and Houses of Correction in the Midland Circuit’, which provides details of the conditions within the prisons following a review carried out by John Howard Esq., prison reformer, on behalf of the Duke of Montagu, so we thought we would share some bits with you.
Howard’s aim was to review the physical condition of the prisons, and the benefits or otherwise of the prisoners themselves.
The morals of prisoners were at this time as much neglected as their health. Idleness, drunkenness and all kinds of vice, were suffered to continue in such a manner as to confirm old offenders in their bad practices, and to render it almost certain, that the minds of those who were confined for their first faults, would be corrupted instead of being corrected, by their imprisonment.
Howard made a series of recommendations regarding prisons including these:
Every prison be white-washed at least once every year, and that this be done twice in prisons which are much crowded.
That a pump and plentiful supply of water be provided, and that every part of the prison be kept as clean as possible.
That every prison be supplied with a warm and cold bath, or commodious bathing tubs, and that the prisoners be indulged in the use of such baths, with a proper allowance of soap and the use of towels.
That attention be paid to the sewers in order to render them as little offensive as possible.
That great care be taken, that as perfect a separation as possible be made of the following classes of prisoners. That felons be kept entirely separate from debtors; men from women’ old offenders from young beginners; convicts from those who have not yet been tried.
That all prisoners, except debtors be clothed on their admission with a prison uniform and that their own clothes be returned to them when they are brought to trial or are dismissed.
That care be taken that the prisoners are properly supplied with food, and their allowance not deficient, either in weight or quality.
He also recommended that gaolers were to be paid a proper salary, that religious services take place and that no swearing was to be permitted. A surgeon or apothecary be appointed to tend to the sick. That attention be paid to the prisoners on their discharge and that, if possible some means be pointed out to them by which they may be enabled to gain a livelihood in an honest manner.
The book provides brief details of the finding at some of the prisons, so we thought we would share a few of these with you:
County Bridewell – Warwick
A new prison is finished and occupied. There are separate apartments and courts with water, for men and women; and vagrants have a court and apartments separate from the other prisoners. Allowance, as in a gaol.
No coals: no employment at present; but a long room, ten feet and a half wide is provided, with looms, and other materials for work.
1788, Feb. 15 Prisoners – 10.
Birmingham Town Gaol
The court is now paved with broad stones, but dirty with fowls. There is only one dayroom for both sexes, over the door of which there is impudently painted ‘Universal Academy’. Neither the act for preserving the health of prisoners, nor clauses against spirituous liquors are hung up. The gaoler has no salary, but still a licence for beer.
1788, Feb. 14 Prisoners – 13.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire
Two rooms. No court: no water. Keeper’s salary only £4
1788 Aug. 7. No prisoners.
An old house lately purchased. Prisoner were formerly confined in a room in the inn keeper’s public house. No allowance, keeper’s salary £20
1788, Aug 3. No prisoners.
County Gaol at Nottingham
At the entrance is this inscription on a board ‘No ale, nor any sort of liquor sold within the prison’. Gaoler’s salary now £140. The prison too small. The debtors in three rooms, pay 2s a week each, though two in a bed. They who can pay only 6d are in two rooms below, confined with such felons as pay 2s a week. The other felons lie in two dark, offensive dungeons, down thirty-six steps called pits, which are never white-washed.
Another dungeon in 1787 was occupied by a man sentenced to two years solitary confinement. The town ‘transports’ and criminals are here confined with the county felons, which it may be hoped the magistrates will soon rectify. The room used for a chapel was too close, though when I was there, only one debtor attended the service. Allowance to felons now 1 and a half pence in bread and a half penny in money. Five of the felons were county, and give town convicts.
1787, Oct 23, Debtors 9
Felons etc. 21
1788, Aug 6, Debtors 12
Felons etc. 10
County Bridewell, Folkingham, Lincolnshire
No alteration in this offensive prison. Court not secure. Prisoners locked up. No water: no employment. Keeper’s salary £40 out of which he maintains (of starves) his prisoners.
1788, Jan. 17, Prisoners 3
Lincoln City and County Gaol
No alteration. Through the window of the two damp cells, both men and women freely converse with idle people in the street, who often supply them with spirituous liquors till they are intoxicated. No court: no sewers: no water accessible to the prisoners. Gaoler’s salary augments £20 in lieu of the tap.
1788, Jan 16 Debtors none. Felons etc. 5
County Gaol at Northampton
Gaoler’s salary £200, out of which he is to give every prisoner three pints of small beer a day.
In the walls of the felons court there are now apertures for air. The prison clean as usual. The new room for the sick is over the Bridewell, with iron bedsteads and proper bedding. The bread allowance to felons is a fourpenny loaf every other day (weight 3lb 2oz). County convicts 2s 6d a week.
1787, Oct 27 Debtors 9. Felons etc. 20.
The Humours of the Fleet. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library