The City Gaol

  • 15 Jan 2012
  • Worcester People and Places
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Over the centuries, the City had many prisons. There was the gaol at the east end of St.Nicholas Street, a Bridewell at the bottom of Cucken Street (Copenhagen Street), and below the gatehouse of the Foregate were cells which, for a long period, were used as a prison for strangers. The Freemen of the City had the questionable privilege of being detained in the cells beneath their own Guildhall. Like the County, after the escape of so many prisoners from the old prison at the Castle, the City authorities were compelled to provide a more secure gaol, and they empolyed George Byfield, a London architect, who specialised in gaols. He was not new to Worcester, having built Perdiswell House, the House of Industry on Tallow Hill and adorned the gallery of the Guildhall.
Sadly, for motives of economy, the ancient Friary was demolished, and the new gaol was commenced in 1822. It cost the City £12,578, and prisoners were moved into it in July, 1824. Like the County Gaol in Castle Street, it was built by John Howard's principals, and had a treadmill. It generally held about 30 persons, and was always considered orderly, clean and secure.
The new gaol had only a brief existence. The number being detained was small and the prison staff correspondingly so. The post of Governor was very much a sinecure, and was so regarded. The chief feature of the prison was the Governor's house, and the principal empolyment of the prisoners was in his domestic service. Some even waited at table upon him and his guests.
There was only one Governor, Mr William Griffiths, who was appointed in 1819, and held office for nearly 50 years. He was quite a local character, and even in his old age, he was a bright eyed, cheery little man, who wore the long antiquated garb of his youth - black with swallow-tailed coat, soft white reck cloth such as Beau Brummell wore, and a high crowned silk hat. He kept an excellent table and gave dinner parties to those whose hospitality he enjoyed outside.