The City Gaol

  • 27 Oct 2021
  • Historical Studies
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The City has had a number of gaols including near the Trinity Gate/Queen Street, first known record is dated 1540, which was one of the smaller gateways within the City wall and had a Gaol Tower, is was a postern gate leading from the City towards the area of Lowesmoor, said to have been demolished in the 17th century. A short distance was also the gate-house of the Foregate were below cells which, for a long period, were used as a city prison for 'foreigners' (not local to Worcs), but the freemen of the City had the questionable privilege of being detained in the vaults beneath their own Guildhall. at the time of the Siege of Worcester in June 1646 it was known as the old Gaol, the gates and gaol cells were removed sometime around 1702. 

Another gaol, the Bridewell, stood at the bottom of Copenhagen Street. The main city gaol was in part of the old Greyfriars in Friar Street, and continued as such until 1824. The City authorities, like the county, were compelled to provide a more secure prison, and they employed George Byfield, a London architect, who specialized in gaols. He was not new to Worcester, having built Perdiswell Hall and the House of Industry.

The new City Gaol was built on the site of the Greyfriars, fronting Friar Street and Union Street, in 1822, at a cost of £12,578 and the prisoners moved into it in July 1824. It was built on Mr. Howards principles, and like the county gaol, had a treadmill. It generally held about 30 persons, and was always considered orderly, clean and secure. 

The gaol had but a brief existence. The numbers detained were small, and the prison staff correspondingly so. It was impossible to classify such a handful of prisoners and organise the warders, and by the Worcester Prison Act of 1867, the gaol was amalgamated with that of the county. The last Governor was William Griffiths, who was appointed in 1819, and held office for nearly 50 years. The post of Governor was very much a sinecure and was so regarded. The chief feature of the prisoners was the Governors house, and the principal employment of the prisoners was in his domestic service. The Governor had a prisoner of irreproachable manners, and his aptitude for domestic service procured him the run of the Governor's house, and often went out at night to light the retiring guests home. But the prisoner one night, retired himself, carrying the Governor's family plate with him. The story helped to hasten the inevitable merger of the County and City Gaols in 1867.

The gaol was bought at auction by William Laslett for use as an almshouse. The cells became quarters for aged couples, the Governor's house accommodated a chaplain and a superintendent, and the external walls remained for some time. Eventually, the prison buildings were demolished and the present Laslett's Hospital took their place.