HOBS: Provincial Debtors' Prisons: Hereford

The City of Hereford[1] had both a City Gaol and a County Gaol in the early nineteenth century. Both were used to detain debtors. The City Gaol was used in part as a debtors’ prison. It was situated in the Bye-Street gate and ominously for recalcitrant debtors had a whipping-post in its yard.[2] The County Gaol, built on the site of the old Priory was used as a debtors’ prison. In a letter dated 7 November 1690 from John Taylor and John Seaborne the conditions in the prison are recounted. The gaoler, William Huck, it is alleged was, “a common Lewd Person, a Swearer, Curser, Lier, Drunkard…a Fighter, disturbing, beating and wounding of his Prisoners.”[3] The letter alleges that the gaoler frequently drew his sword and loaded pistols at prisoners in a threatening, menacing manner and even went so far as to murder one Mary Barard in the year 1688 by hitting her on the head with his keys[4]. It was also alleged that the gaoler used the prison as his own personal farmyard in which he kept, “his Swine, Geese, Ducks and Hens, Stinking , and Breeding Diseases among the Prisoners.”[5]

[1] On the history of Hereford generally see: Anonymous. The History and Antiquities Of the City and Cathederal-Church of Hereford: Containing An Account of All the Inscriptions, epitaphs, &c. upon the Tombs, Monuments, and Grave Stones, with Lists of the Principal Dignataries; and an Appendix, consisting of several Valuable Orignial Papers. R.Gosling, London. 1717.

[2] Neild, J, Account of Persons confined for Debt, in the various prisons of England and Wales, ... with their provisionary allowance during confinement; as reported to the Society for the discharge and relief of small Debtors. London, 1800, at page 259.

[3] Pitt, M. The Crye of the Oppressed being a true and tragical account of the unparrallel’d Sufferings of Multitudes of poor Imprisoned Debtors, in most of the Goa’s in England, under the Tyranny of the Goalers, and other Oppressors, lately discovered upon the occasion of this present Act of Grace For the Relief of poor Prisoners fr Debt, or Damages; some of them being not only Iron’d and lodg’d with Hogs, Felons , and Condemn’d Persons, but have had their bones broken; others poisoned and starved to death; others denied the common blessings of nature, as Water to drink, or straw to lodge on; others their Wives and Daughters attempted to by ravish’d; with other Barborous cruelties, not to be parallel’d in any History or Nation: All which is made out by undeniable evidence. Together with the case of the publisher. London, Printed for Moses Pitt and sold by Booksellers of London and Westminster, 1691, at page 26.

[4] See the picture to the right of this blog.

[5] Pitt page 29.