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Prison conditions in 1836

However effective the Metropolitan Police was, problems remained with the prisons at this time. Things had not changed much since 1818.

This lengthy extract is from the first report of the Prison Inspectors, made in 1836. It is taken from Parliamentary Papers, 1836/XXV, pages 16-20 and 271-272. The Inspectors are writing about Newgate Gaol.

We first visited that part of the prison called the Chapel Yard. To this are attached three rooms or wards, Nos. 10, 11, and 12, which the prisoners occupy by day, and in which they sleep at night. All the prisoners have access to the yard, and can go to all the rooms. In this yard there are at times 50 or 60 prisoners. When first visited by us the number was 20, of whom we found in room No. 10, eight; No. 11 six; and in No. 12, six.

Here were associated together the convicted and the untried, the felon and the misdemeanant, the sane and the insane, the old and young offender. [By looking at the Appendix to the report] it will be seen that all the classes, which are required by the Gaol Act to be kept distinct, ("care being taken that prisoners of those classes do not intermix with each other,") are here confounded together; and, as if to increase the evil, and to show a greater contempt for the law, there is also added the insane.

In ward No. 10 we found that the wardsman, a convicted prisoner, owned all the bedding, the crockery ware, the knives. forks, kettles and saucepans for the use of which each prisoner pays him 2s. 6d. per week. The above-mentioned articles are purchased for the purpose by the wardsman, upon his appointment to his situation. [Name omitted] who was wardsman until a few days ago in this ward (No. 10), paid, on his appointment, £3. 10s. The present wardsman, [name omitted] has as yet paid nothing; but if he continues in his situation he will do so, and will receive from the prisoners the usual weekly pay. In this ward, in consequence of the high demand of money for extra accommodations, such as are considered the most decent and respectable of the prisoners are usually placed; and it appeared to us, that as many as were able to pay the sum required, readily found admission into it.

There was a good supply of Bibles and Prayer-books, provided by the prison, together with other religious books, the gift of a Captain Brown. These books, particularly the Bibles, bore little appearance of having been used.

On examining the cupboards of this ward we discovered a pack of cards, apparently much used, a cribbage-board and pegs, and two draught-boards and men. We also found four tobacco pipes, in some of which the tobacco still remained; and a box with tobacco in it. These, though forbidden by the prison regulations, were quite exposed on the shelves of the cupboards, and must have been detected, on the most superficial inspection of the ward, by any officer of the prison.

We found also a bundle of newspapers, twelve in all; and, upon inquiring, we were informed that a daily paper is taken in, in this ward. The newsman who lives next door to the Giltspur-street Compter, and who is also a tobacconist, brings it regularly every day to his customers, the prisoners, to whom he has access, unattended by an officer. One of the principal turnkeys, who accompanied us, said that the daily papers were allowed by the governor, but that no Sunday paper was admitted; such papers, he said, were strictly forbidden. This he told us aloud, in the hearing of the prisoners. But we subsequently ascertained that Sunday papers were as publicly brought into the prison on the Sunday morning, as the other papers were during the rest of the week; that several of them were purchased by the prisoners in the different wards of the prison; that during the whole of Sunday they were openly used by the prisoners; that on Sunday evenings the turnkey above alluded to regularly borrowed the Sunday paper, The Dispatch, from a prisoner, and returned it to him on the Monday.

We found porter in a bottle on the shelf, though none could have been brought into the ward since one o'clock the day before.

The wardsman had a snuff-box and snuff, which he used continually and openly: there was also another snuff-box in the ward; and each prisoner, if he liked, might have had one.

We observed in the cupboard mince pies and cold provisions, any quantity of which may be brought in by the friends of the prisoners - to the untried three times, and to the convicted once a week; but, as these are indiscriminately mixed together, they assist one another in having a regular and abundant supply of provisions, which all, both untried and convicted, procure by means of money or friends.

We found two boxes, containing two or three strong files, four bradawls, several large iron spikes, screws, nails and knives; all of them instruments calculated to facilitate attempts at breaking out of prison, and capable of becoming most dangerous weapons in the hands of desperate and determined men.

We also found several books: amongst them Guthries' Grammar, a song book, the Keepsake Annual for 1836, and the [name omitted] by [ditto], 18 plates, published by Stockdale, 1827. This last is a book of a most disgusting nature, and the plates are obscene and indecent in the extreme. It was claimed as his property by a prisoner named [name omitted] and was kept in the cupboard without any attempt at concealment. We also met with large bundles of papers, which on examination proved to be rough draughts of briefs for the use of prisoners' counsel; and were informed by one of the principal turnkeys that the wardsman of No. 10, Chapel Yard, and also the wardsman of the Master's Side Yard, are permitted by the prison authorities to draw briefs for the defence of prisoners, both male and female, and to receive 5s. for each brief.

Last sessions a prisoner drew 11 briefs (eight for males, and three for females) and received the money for the whole. One of the principal turnkeys informed us that he had known some sessions, and that not long ago, in which the wardsman had drawn from 20 to 30 briefs. The wardsman who draws the brief has the prisoner (if a male) brought to him, and from him he receives the particulars of his case. If the brief is for a female, the wardsman goes round to that part of the prison occupied by the females, and there converses with the female prisoner, separated from her only by open iron railings, not in the hearing, nor at all times in the sight, of any officer, male or female. Sometimes the female is admitted to the male side of the prison, and sees the wardsman who is to draw her brief in a room called the "Bread Room." Before the present Session the female prisoner was at these times unaccompanied by any female officer. Under the present regulations one of the matrons accompanies the female prisoner when admitted to the male side; but when the wardsman takes the statements of the female prisoner at the gate or visiting railings of the female prison, the interview is quite private. The facts upon which the brief is to be prepared are frequently stated aloud in the ward, and difficult points of a defence are occasionally discussed amongst the prisoners before the brief is drawn.

There were also in this cupboard several small blank paper books, which one of the ladies who visit Newgate had left with the prisoners, in order that they might write in them answers to Scripture questions given to them by her. The books were applied to different purposes; some contained the sentences, names, and residences of prisoners who had been in the ward, and accounts of debts owing by the prisoners to the wardsman. We learned that the wardsman supplied to the ward candles, blacking, paper, salt, newspapers, pens, ink, and paper, for which collections were made amongst the prisoners weekly; occasions on which the wardsman is enabled to make additional profits.

Visitors are admitted to the untried three days in each week (Monday, Thursday and Saturday); to the convicted but on one day weekly (Tuesday) from half past ten in the forenoon till two in the afternoon. In this yard the visitors are admitted close to the prisoners, separated only by open iron railings, and rarely in the presence of an officer. Though it is said that only one person is allowed by the prison regulations to visit any prisoner on the visiting days, yet, in addition to our having seen several friends at one time visiting the same prisoners, we found that there are several modes of evading this rule; for, as all the prisoners have access to the yard during the visiting hours, any one prisoner may see the friends of all the rest; and, under the pretence of seeing different prisoners, a number of friends may contrive to hold unrestricted intercourse with any one prisoner.

Visitors are searched at the outer lodge; men by a male officer, and women by a female, who are always in at ten or that purpose. But from the number of visitors, which on some days amounts to 100 or 150 the shortness of the time for the search of so many, the disagreeable nature of the duty, the impossibility of its being effectively performed, and the result of our inquiries among prisoners and officers. We are satisfied that various improper and dangerous articles, such as cards, tobacco, watch-spring saws and fine files, to aid attempts to escape, pocket fire-arms, powder and balls, might with ease be introduced to a considerable and alarming extent.

Cold provisions, in any quantity, are brought in; whole joints, meat pies, and almost any kind of delicacy, find their way unchallenged both to untried and convicted prisoners. Money, also, to any amount is admitted; and we have reason to know that individuals have had in their possession several sovereigns at one time.

When we visited the rooms, there was a comfortable fire in each of them, round which the prisoners were seated at their ease; and we noticed scarcely anything in the apartments that indicated the discomfort or privations of a place of penal confinement.

The untried and convicted were treated exactly alike. Of the latter, several pass the whole time of their sentence in the same room, and under the same treatment. with those who are awaiting their trial, and merely retained for safe custody. The convicted, by availing themselves of the good offices of the untried, (who are generally willing to aid their companions in every way,) are enabled to procure provisions and other comforts, as before their trial: so that the only additional privation to which their conviction subjects them is that nominal one which consists in a restriction on as to the visits of their friends to one day in the week instead of three. Visitors bring clean linen likewise, as no provision is made for washing the linen of the prisoners in the prison: and as scarcely sufficient soap is allowed to wash even a shirt, a prisoner who has no friends is in a manner constrained to use his foul linen.

Among the visitors, persons of notoriously bad character, prostitutes. and thieves, find admission. Many of the prostitutes are very young girls, sometimes not more than twelve or thirteen years of age: others have visited different men, yet are admitted under the name of wives and sisters. Several prisoners have informed us that such characters are common among the visitors; and the officers whom we have examined have acknowledged that though they use precautions to exclude bad characters, yet many such they know have daily ingress; and that they have the governor's permission to admit to a man who has no respectable friends, the woman or girl he has lived with, that she may supply him with provisions and clean linen: this permission extends both to the untried and to the convicted.

The beer-man comes into the prison every day from twelve till one, with four three-gallon cans: when they are empty, he sends his boy for more. Sometimes an officer is at the yard gate. who may be present at the distribution of the beer; but this is not generally the case. The wardsman. a prisoner, usually receives the beer, and hands it to the prisoner. A pint only is allowed by the prison regulations to each prisoner daily, whether untried or convicted; But no steps are taken to limit the supply to the regulated quantity: no account is taken of the quantity brought into the prison, nor of the number of pints served to the different wards, nor of the prisoners who have received their allowance, who may and do often come twice or thrice; so that not only can those who have money obtain the pints which may be drawn for those who have none but even a much larger quantity than pint for every man confined in the ward may be, and constantly is, obtained.

We observed the beer-man distributing the beer, no officer being present to see that no more than the proper quantity of beer was received by the prisoners, who in fact might. unchecked, have obtained as much as they chose to purchase. And from our own observation, the statements of prisoners, and those of officers at present in the prison, we have no hesitation in expressing our belief, that almost any quantity of beer which the prisoners can afford to purchase may be brought into the wards.

In visiting No. 11 ward in Chapel Yard we found six prisoners. There are sometimes as many as sixteen or more confined in this room. The wardsman, a prisoner under sentence of two years' imprisonment for conspiracy, had been nine months in confinement, during seven of which he had filled that office He had no bedding to let out; but had a bed for himself, his own property. The crockery, tinware, knives, forks, and basins, also belonged to him; and for the of these he is allowed to charge the prisoners 1s. per week, ward dues. Some paid, and some did not. He would not inform us what he paid, on his appointment, for his stock of goods, nor the amount of his weekly receipts. But his weekly profits must at times be considerable He supplies the prisoners with salt, pepper, candles, blacking. hearthstone and whiting; and occasionally makes collections of a penny or more, according to the number, from each prisoner in this ward for these articles, and for the purchase of a newspaper on Sundays. The wardsman informed us, in the hearing of one of the principal turnkeys (by whom he was not contradicted), that the newsman regularly brought the Sunday newspapers about half-past eight on the Sunday morning; that the ward below always purchased one or more, and that most frequently his ward did the same, though they could not afford a daily paper. He added, that this paper was openly read in the ward, from the time it was received until the hour of Divine Service; and, after chapel was over, all the remainder of the day; and he stated that he never heard that the purchase or perusal on a Sunday of the Sunday papers was forbidden by the Governor or any officer. In this ward the prisoners sometimes borrowed the newspaper belonging to the ward below.

The prisoners sleep on rope mats, and have two rugs to cover them. The mats are laid upon the floor at night, and are rolled up and put by on a shelf, or are hung up against the walls during the day. These mats may be placed as close together as the prisoners choose; and on our visits at night to the wards, we found them sleeping, some by themselves, others two, three, and even four together, as close as bodies could possibly be placed.

All the other particulars of ward No. 10, as to provisions, visits of friends, money, and beer, are applicable to this and every other ward in the prison, except perhaps the cells in some minor points. The ward was well supplied with Bibles, Prayer-books, and other religious books; but they did not seem to have been much used. On the table was a volume of Mavor's British Tourist.

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