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Bedford Gaol and House of Correction Records

The building and upkeep of Houses of Correction, indistinguishable from the County Gaol which was the responsibility of the sheriff, became the responsibility of the justices of the peace by virtue of an Act of 1575 – 76.

Central Government intervention became routine following an Act of 1835 which created the prison inspectorate of the Home Office and was greatly extended by an Act of 1865.

The Quarter Sessions records relating to the Gaol and House of Correction are collection references QGE, QGR and QGV.

QGE

Records of the sites and buildings used, and include deeds relating to the site from 1625. However the main series is of articles of agreement and minute books specifically relating to the building of the ‘New Gaol’ from 1797. In 1818 it was decided to erect a House of Correction not directly connected with the Gaol and to make alterations to the gaol itself. In 1838 Records and plans of the Gaol can be found in PP 1 – 10, part of the Quarter Sessions Deposited Plans catalogue, which also includes plans for various civil buildings including the Shire Hall and various lunatic asylums.

QGR

Consists of reports and papers relating to the gaol, its building, maintenance and staffing, accounts, and rules for the treatment and classification of its prisoners. Amongst these is [QGR 1/25], including the Chaplains Report of 16 Oct 1849 with statistics of parish or country of origin and ages of the prisoners and the state of their education. In his report of January 1849 he notes that he has found it impossible to convince men that it is morally wrong to violate game laws. In QGR 1/42 he notes that “In this County the morality of the population is below the average as regards illegitimate children, of which the proportion is one fourth above the average of England.

The Gaol reports of the chaplain, Governor, Visiting Justices and surgeon in QGR2 & the minute books of the Visiting Justices, who inspected the prison on a weekly basis,ref QGR4 & QGR5 are now catalogued and can be searched on our online database.

QGV

This section is in fact ‘varia’ relating to the Quarter Sessions. It includes rules and regulations and correspondence regarding prison matters, expenditure for maintenance of prisoners and other accounts. The QGV 10 series of prison registers offer the genealogist in particular a wealth of information. The earliest register in Bedfordshire dates from 1799 – 1836 and has been indexed on our Gaol Database along with several other volumes QGV11, 12,13, 15, & 16 covering nearly the whole of the 19th Century. The information includes personal details and appearance of the prisoners with summary of offence and sentence passed, plus general remarks about their conduct. Later volumes may also contain details of number of children, earnings, transfer to different prisons and [QGV10/4] includes photographs of the prisoners. Some of the registers include prisoners from outside the County, principally from Middlesex [QGV 13/1 & QGV 13/2] from 1850 to 1879, and include details such as residence of family and next of kin.

QGV 14 are Calendars of Prisoners in the County Gaol and House of Correction from 1785 - 1870, including lists of Prisoners due for trial at the Assizes.

QGV 15 are lists and registers of debtors 1770 – 1878.

The authority which the committees of ‘visiting justices’ exercised over their prisons was becoming increasingly nominal and the logical conclusion of increasing central intervention came with the Prison Act of 1877. This Act removed all County and Borough prisons from local ownership and vested them in central government.

From this date records of Bedford Prison can be found in the brown catalogue in the searchroom marked PRIS. This includes a list of prison Governors from 1853 – 1994.

The records include those of the governor and officers, plus calendars of prisoners. As these records are much more recent the majority are subject to closure periods of between 50 and 100 years. See the front of the catalogue for details.

See our gaol database for records of prisoners in Bedford Gaol and for case studies of prisoners in Bedford and Huntingdon prisons go to the Victorian Crime and Punishment website.