Plum Duff for the Prisoners: Gloucester Gaol, Christmas 1929

Illustration from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, by S. Eylinge, 1869 (British Library, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Illustration from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, by S. Eylinge, 1869 (British Library, via Flickr Creative Commons)

An article appeared in The Citizen on 17 December 1929, bearing the headline:

Gloucester Gaol’s Xmas

“Lags” Now Making Their Way Home to Prison.

Readers were informed that plum duff, “the poor man’s Christmas pudding”, was to be served on Christmas Day to all the prisoners who were undergoing sentence in Gloucester Gaol. The chief ingredients of the pudding were to be currants, minced apples and raisins, with breadcrumbs “to give it lightness”. In addition there would be extra allowances of roast beef and bread. For those who spent the day in the prison hospital, there would be a dessert of apples and oranges.

A prison official was quoted as saying: “There are scores of old ‘lags’ now at liberty who are thinking out ways and means of spending Christmas with us. You will find them committing some minor offence in order that they may be the guests of His Majesty at Christmas time.”

The official continued: “It is not because we pamper them – we don’t – it is because they find the world unfriendly to them, and they would rather be amongst their own sort. Our special Christmas Day diet, if roughly served, is at least wholesome and appetising, and it is as welcome to them as is roast turkey to folk more fortunately placed.”

A search of the petty sessions proceedings in the Gloucestershire newspapers of December 1929 did not reveal dozens of people committing crimes in order to be in prison for Christmas, but there was one case of a man who wanted to be gaoled for longer than the festive period.

The Citizen of 3 December 1929 reported a recent meeting of the Gloucester City Petty Sessions court, presided over by the Mayor, in which James O’Hagan, of no fixed abode, appeared for stealing a pair of boots from the shop of Messrs Cash & Co. in Westgate Street, Gloucester. A policeman stated than when he asked O’Hagan to explain how he had got the boots, he replied, “I pinched them.” When he was charged at the Police Station, O’Hagan had said, “Guilty, my lord.”

Asked by the court if he had anything to say, O’Hagan responded, “I want to go to prison.” He was asked if he would like to say for how long, and he replied, “I don’t mind; the winter, anyhow.” He was sentenced to two months in prison. In a slightly different version of this report, printed in the Cheltenham Chronicle, the Mayor in sentencing him, said, “I am afraid we cannot see you eating your Christmas dinner outside Prison”, to which O’Hagan replied, “Thank you, sir.”

Interestingly, at the same court session, another man of “no fixed abode” appeared, who was also charged with stealing a pair of boots. James Edward Kettle was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment for stealing boots from Messrs Baker and Sons in Westgate Street. Perhaps this particular form of theft was regarded by those in the know as the perfect way to get sent to prison, just in time for Christmas.

Sources:

Gloucester Citizen, 3 Dec 1929, 17 Dec 1929

Cheltenham Chronicle, 7 Dec 1929

© Jill Evans 2014

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