The City of Gloucester was a county in its own right from 1483, separate from the county of Gloucestershire, and as such, it had its own court sessions and its own prisons. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, the north gate had become established as the city prison, while the east gate was used as a bridewell. When John Howard visited Gloucester to research his 1777 edition of The State of the Prisons, the bridewell had closed, and he commented that the Northgate prison was too small, and that most of the prisoners were kept together, excepting that the females were separated at night.
In 1781, an Act of Parliament was passed by which a new city gaol was built in Southgate Street. It was opened in 1782, and had separate cells for prisoners. The prison was enlarged in 1816, when a house of correction was added to it and a treadmill installed. By the 1830s, though, the cost of maintaining the buildings was becoming a strain, and the prison was no longer a suitable place to send persons sentenced to substantial terms of imprisonment. In 1837, the city council came to an agreement with the county magistrates, by which city prisoners could be sent to the county penitentiary, so long as the county prison had room for them.
By the late 1850s, their were so few prisoners being held in the city prison that it was decided that it was no longer viable to keep it open, and it was closed down in 1858. The last prisoner, a debtor, was released on 30 October, at the end of his sentence. After that, all city prisoners were sent to the county prison.
The prison appears to have been in a bad state of repair long before it closed down, as there were a number of successful escapes from inside its walls. In 1799, Mary Steward got out of an upstairs room by making a hole under the window of her cell and letting herself down using strips of sheets she had sewn together. In November 1817, four male prisoners, who were in a night cell on the ground floor, managed to dig through the floor until they reached the foundations, then pulled out enough stones to make a hole in the wall. Two men escaped, but were soon recaptured.
Three prisoners were hanged outside the Southgate Street prison. The first was Samuel Griffiths, in 1785, who had committed a robbery at the New Inn. Next was William Clarke, in 1801, for a highway robbery, and last was Joseph Richards, in 1818, who was hanged for obtaining money by threats.
Victoria County History, Gloucestershire, Volume IV, The City of Gloucester, pp. 141-152 and 191-205
Darrel Kirby, The Story of Gloucester (The History Press, 2007)
Jill Evans, Hanged at Gloucester (The History Press, 2011)
Jill Evans, The Gloucester Book of Days (The History Press, 2013), 12 Aug 1799, 30 Oct 1858
Gloucester Journal, 28 January 1837
John Howard, The State of the Prisons, 1777
© Jill Evans 2014