Life in Lichfield Gaol 1839

I’ve found a report by the Inspector of Prisons for Lichfield Gaol, from 1839.  I think it is absolutely fascinating, so I’ll just be quiet and let you read on……

LICHFIELD.Borough Gaol And House OF Correction.

Construction.—There have been no alterations in the building since my former visit. It is in contemplation to buy the malthouse adjoining, in which case more yards, including a labour-yard, might be built.

There are here :—1 male debtors’ yard.
1 women’s ditto.
1 untried males’ ditto.
    1 convicted males’ ditto.
1 other.
Total, 5 yards.
There is no female debtors’ yard.
There are eight cells here, exclusive of debtors’ cells. In the year ending December 31, 1839, the highest number of prisoners here, exclusive of debtors, was nine.
Management.—This is a police-station house as well as a prison. The whole is clean and neat in proportion to the existing means.
There have been no alterations in the system since my last visit.
The keeper is still a constable, but he does not go out as such in general.
His salary is 60l. Five pounds per annum has been allowed to his wife, the matron, since November, 1839, when she received her appointment.
No wardsmen or wardswomen are employed.
No letters are admitted or taken out, except after being read by the keeper.
No visits to the prisoners are allowed without an order from a magistrate.
On the night preceding my visit, all the prisoners were sleeping in single cells, except one, who was put in the same bed with a debtor, who was melancholy and likely to commit suicide. Except the above, no prisoners were sleeping two in a bed.
The one female prisoner was sleeping in a cell by herself.
They are sometimes obliged to put two in a bed when the prison is crowded, but this might be obviated by placing more bedsteads in some of the cells.
Day-rooms are still in use. The labour is at present carried on in the day-room of the convicted prisoners.The number of prisoners usually confined here is small, and that the keeper does his best I fully believe; but the control over the prisoners is quite insufficient and nominal, because in his absence they are left entirely to their own humours and conversation. He affirms their behaviour to be usually orderly.

Escapes.—There have been none since my last visit.

Suicide.—There has been no case since my last visit.

Solitary Confinement by Sentence of Court.—In such cases the bed is taken out of an ordinary cell and the window closed with a shutter. Before the prisoner goes in, his breakfast is given him. He is taken out for an hour, daily, for exercise.

The diet is bread and water; and, on Sundays, potatoes and meat. The longest term of such confinement is a month; the average, a fortnight. Such persons go to chapel.

Refractory prisoners are locked up for one or two days in a darkened cell.

Religious and other Instruction.—About two years ago the curate of a parish in the town began to perform divine service once on Sundays, with a sermon. He comes occasionally at other times to inquire how the prisoners are getting on, but does not go into the wards. He has no salary, I believe.

The chapel is a small ordinary room, with no pulpit.

There is no ladies’ committee here.

The sacrament has not been delivered since my last visit.

The prisoners are attentive at chapel.

Books are well provided, but there is no instruction in reading.

The behaviour of the prisoners is moderately good. About five were punished for refractory conduct in 1839; but no one was put in irons.

The keeper, during the four years that he has been here, is acquainted with no case of reform after discharge.

Treatment of Sick, Disease, and Mortality.—There are no regular infirmary-rooms, but there are rooms with fire-places suitable for the purpose. The surgeon comes sometimes on passing by, to ask how the prisoners are, but only goes into the wards when sent for, or desired to do so, by the keeper. He sends in a bill, and has no salary. The health of this prison is good.

There has been no death since my last visit. I found no one ill, except a man with a venereal affection.

During the last four years, no woman has been confined to her bed, or has had a worse complaint than a cold. The only cases since my last visit have been colds, venereal affections, and itch. I found a bottle of dissolved salts in the day-room, which had been sent by the surgeon; the men took them when they thought proper. With respect to extra diet, one man now here has had half a pint of milk at night, and half a pint of porter at dinner.

Diet.—This is the same as at my last visit: 3/4 lb of meat in the week; 1lb 1/4lb of best bread daily; 1 lb. of potatoes daily; and 4 pints of gruel daily.

Labour.—It is in contemplation here to get a tread-wheel, or to introduce stone-breaking, if the ground of the adjoining malthouse be purchased. At present the prisoners grind beans and barley with a hand and a crank-mill; the latter will occupy five men at once, but no one is present during labour. If they get a tread-wheel, or break stones, it is then intended to have some officer present during the hours of labour. I found four men grinding beans and barley.

The profits of labour are very little.

The prisoners do not go outside the walls to work on any pretext.

Population.—This continues about the same.
The lowest number here at once in 1839 was, 2 (both felons).
The number of admissions from January 1 to December 31, 1839, was:

34 (including debtors).
32 (without debtors).
The above number does not include the night-charges.
The greatest number of women here at once in 1839 was, 2.
Greatest number of debtors at once in 1839, 2 (both men).
During the last four years there have been no female debtors.
At the date of my visit there were here:—
1 for trial.
4 convicted at sessions.
1 summary conviction.
1 debtor.
7 men, and 1 woman for non-payment of fine. Total, 8.
Of the 7 men, none had been here before.  

Stock.—The bedding consists of 10J prs. of sheets; 22 blankets; 10 mattresses for men; 10 bedsteads. Combs, towels, and soap are well supplied. The stock of clothing consists of 6 suits for men; 16 shirts (12 new); 8 pairs of clogs, and 12 of stockings; 2 shifts; 2 flannel petticoats; 1 black petticoat; 1 pair of shoes; 1 pair of stays; no cap; 2 gowns; 2 aprons.

Registration.—There is one register.
General Remarks.—No prisoner has ever been sent to the county gaol at Stafford during the four years that the keeper has been here. There has been no case of capital offence, or such would have been sent thither.
Relief on Discharge.—Such relief is not afforded without application to the magistrates, and never unless the prisoner has behaved well, and has a long way to go.

Suggestions towards Improvement.

1. Some separation should be made in the chapel between the male and female prisoners.
2. Separate locks and keys should be used on the female side, as directed by the late Prison Act.
3. The window of the untried prisoners’ day-room should be made to open.
4. A journal should be kept by the chaplain and surgeon.
5. More bedsteads and bedding should be procured in order to enable each prisoner to sleep in a separate bed.
6. In order to promote a better separation of the prisoners, three bedsteads should be put up in the room called the weighing-room, which is at present not used as a sleeping-room.
7. The room in which the wood is at present kept should be prepared and used as a dark cell for refractory prisoners.
8. The hard labour at present carried on here is little more than a mode of passing away tedious time, because there is no paid officer present to control the prisoners. It cannot be expected that the keeper can be constantly present. The appointment of a turnkey would be a great advantage in this respect, as well as generally for the better ordering of the prison.
9. This prison has not a sufficient number of wards or divisions to comply with the late Prison Act.

If anyone wants to read more, here is a link to the 1847 inspection.  The inspector’s not too impressed…..

4 thoughts on “Life in Lichfield Gaol 1839

  1. Sharing a single bed with a melancholic debtor -that must have been fun! I love the tone of the inspector in the 1847 report – in 2011 speak he's saying 'this prison is like a holiday camp!'.


  2. Intresting reading Kate, although its not a place you would want to end up in, i bet some of the folk in there never ate every day of the week untill they ended up in the gaol!


  3. Pingback: Gaol Sentences | Lichfield Lore

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