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Buildings and Purpose

A History of Bedford Town Gaol c1852-1824

The town gaol was located at several different sites within Bedford during its history, as follows:

Pre 1589The first was reportedly situated at the rear corner of the Guildhall which stood on the north-east corner of St Paul's Square.
1589The second town gaol was created on Bedford Bridge, by the conversion of the former chapel of St Thomas.
1648The Corporation of Bedford Minute Book [BorBB2/1] notes that 'Bridge House and the dwelling house thereto adjoining for a long time were annexed to the Bailiwick of this town and used for the common prison there and for the habitation of one of the Sergeants at Mace.'
17 July 1661The Corporation of Bedford Minute Book [BorBB2/1] records: 'The Bailiffs having this day informed the Council that the Town Prison upon the Bridge is far out of repair, so that it is not fit to secure the prisoners, it is ordained that the Chamberlains shall forthwith take order to repair it, both for stonework and timber work and otherwise making it secure.' The Bailiffs were elected in the same way as the Mayor, and were entitled to collect the rent and tolls belonging to the Corporation. They were also keepers of the Town Prison, and liable for fines if prisoners escaped. A gaoler, one of the Bailiffs' two Sergeants at Mace, who lived in an adjoining house, assisted the Bailiffs.
1673The prison on the bridge was washed away.
1675The prison was rebuilt.
30 April 1776 the Corporation of Bedford Minute book [Bor BB 2/8] noted; 'It is ordered that a new gaol be built upon the bridge'. This plan was abandoned and the third location of the town prison was decided upon, on the 6th Jul 1776 the minutes record; 'It is ordered that a new gaol be built in St Loyes?and that Messrs Savage and Peet do the cvrpenter and bricklaying work.'
Oct 1779John Howard visited the prison but there were no prisoners. In his work The State of the Prisons in England and Wales Vol.1 Prisons & Lazarettos (fourth edition 1792) described the Town Gaol as two rooms without fireplaces, with no water, courtyard or gaolers apartment.
July 1782There was only one prisoner when John Howard revisited the gaol.
1795The Corporation of Bedford agreed that John Wing would build the new Town Gaol and lodge for the keeper with a wall around the same for £360 and the materials of the old Gaol were to be taken down and used for the purpose. [Bor BE 10/2] The gaol was to be built in 'Pesthouse Close', in St Loyes. It is shown on a map of 1807 [X1/60] a few hundred yards west of the site of the County Gaol, built in 1801.
1824 It was decided to house the town prisoners in the County Gaol. At Bedford Midsummer Quarter Sessions held 12th July 1824 an order was issued that 'a contract be entered into by the Justices of the Peace of the said town with the Justices of the Peace of the County of Bedford, for the support and maintenance in the gaol and houses of correction of the said County of all the prisoners committed thereto from the said Town of Bedford.' [Bor BF 4/69/110]. On the 18th October the same year the Borough Michaelmas Quarter Sessions ordered that 'the several prisoners committed to and now confined and remaining in the gaol of this town be forthwith removed to the gaol of the County.' [Bor BF 4/69/145]. A contract was signed the same day 'for the transfer and maintenance of town prisoners in the County Gaol 8s per week per prisoner.' [Bor BF 4/69/147]. The town gaol was pulled down shortly afterwards.