Kirkdale Gaol

Liverpool Mercury Nov 9th, 1857

Liverpool Life

Kirkdale Gaol

The gaol at Kirkdale was built in 1818, it is twofold in its character. It was erected as a house of correction for the West Derby hundred, but, since the removal of the assizes to Liverpool in August 1835, it has also been the county gaol for the whole of the southern division of Lancashire. Previous to that time, all the assize prisoners for the southern division of the county were sent to Lancaster. The West Derby hundred proper is one of the largest of the seven similar sections into which the county is divided, running three-fourths of the way to Manchester, and including within its area, Warrington, Ormskirk, Wigan, Newton, St Helen's etc. The southern division of the county, we need not say, comprise Manchester, Bury, Rochdale , Bolton, that part of Stockport which is in Lancashire, Stalybridge, and many other important manufacturing towns of large population. Since, however, the City Gaol was opened in Manchester, about six or seven years since, prisoners committed for trial at the assizes from police courts there are confined in that gaol in the first instance, and are only sent on to Kirkdale three or four days before the commission opens. From all the other large towns they are committed direct to Kirkdale. We have seen a calendar for the first assizes held at Liverpool in 1835. There were only 35 prisoners for trial, the average number now will be at least 135, an advance for which the increase of population will scarcely account. Those assizes in 1835 were memorable as leading to the first execution which ever took place at Kirkdale, that of James BARLOW, condemned for the murder of his wife Priscilla BARLOW, at Bury. By a recent arrangement of the Home Office, the debtors committed from the County Courts at St Helens and Warrington, are also now sent to Kirkdale Gaol. The county, we believe, pays the expense of their transmission.

And yet, large as the area is from which prisoners are thus drawn, the average number of prisoners at Kirkdale does not much exceed one-third of the number in the gaol at Walton, which receives the criminals of the borough of Liverpool alone. There is, however, a sufficient reason for this, to which will shall presently advert. The following has been the daily average number of prisoners in Kirkdale Gaol for the last three years, 1855, 364, 1856, 396, 1857, 406, thus showing a small but progressive increase. The number admitted and the number discharged will average each about 49 a week. A very large proportion of the prisoners in Kirkdale are of course committed for offences of a deeper die than those in the borough gaol at Walton, but there is a total absence of that frightful number of re-commitments for drunkenness and such like offences which so painfully characterise the latter prison. For instance, there are very few prostitutes who find their way to the gaol at Kirkdale, and the female prisoners, who are fully as numerous as the males, if not more so, in the gaol at Walton, form in Kirkdale only about one-fifth of the whole.

The gaol at Kirkdale is conducted both upon the associated and the separate systems, and therefore affords a fair ground of comparison between the two. When first erected the separate system had not come into vogue, but within the last eight or nine years two detached buildings, containing in all 162 cells, have been erected within the gaol walls with the view of carrying it into effect. The first of these is a small wing for juveniles , containing 42 cells, but as there are not sufficient juveniles to fill it, all the prisoners who are shoemakers are placed there, and, if any of the boys have been sentenced to a long term of imprisonment, they are taught that trade. In the other building, which contains 120 cells a great deal of cotton weaving [of the kind known to the trade as chambrays and cross-overs] is carried on. The arrangement of the corridors and cells is precisely the same as in those at Walton, with the exception that the buildings are a story lower. There is an ingenious arrangement for ventilation, by which the foul air is collected into a shaft in the roof, where at certain times in summer a fire is lighted with the view of increasing the draught. There is no wing for females on the separate system, and they have hitherto been all in association, but last year a few cells were fitted up for the purpose of separate confinement in the female department.

We know not exactly how it is, but these corridors on the separate system at Kirkdale were to us quite cheering compared with those at Walton. In the first place the light was not so sombre. Then there was not the sense of immensity to appal, and, instead of the dead and dreadful silence which reigns at the Borough Gaol, the larger corridor at Kirkdale resounded throughout its entire length with the merry and inspiriting sound of the shuttle. In Walton there have been six or seven cases of suicide within two years, in Kirkdale only three cases since its opening in 1818.

Industrial pursuits are carried on to a considerable extent, a large portion of the prisoners coming from manufacturing towns being skilled labourers. There is a smithy, at which nails are made, a tin shop, two large joiner's shops [at which, besides work for the prison, contracts are taken in for making window sashes, doors etc], then there are shoemaking and tailoring, but the great branch of manufacture would appear to be fancy matting and coarse carpeting. Some of the mats are of the most beautiful and finished patterns, and, peeping into one of the cells, we observed an old man about 60 [a prisoner, but a designer by trade] engaged in drawing out new patterns and designs for the rest of the prisoners to work by. The mats are shipped in large quantities to America. Picking oakum is of course a staple branch of labour in all prisons, and hair is sometimes taken in to clean and sort for upholsterers. There was expended last year for materials for manufacture, making new looms and repairs etc, 2176, and the total receipts for work were 3402, leaving 1226 as actual profits for the year. We question if there are many gaols in the kingdom which would show, in product of the prisoner's labour a like satisfactory result. The total actual cost of the gaol last year, including officer's salaries, food, clothing, bedding, everything in short, was 7620. The staff of the prison consists of E. G. H. H. GIBBS, Esq, the governor, the Rev Richard APPLETON, chaplain, Dr CHALMERS, surgeon, [we believe he has held that office ever since the prison was built] Lieutenant PARLOUR, cash-book keeper and clerk, a matron, chief warder, schoolmaster, taskmaster, two night watchmen, and 13 male and 4 female warders or turnkeys, making a total of 31 officers. The governor has the character of a strict disciplinarian, but wins by his kindness of manner the gratitude of well-behaved prisoners, and enjoys the entire confidence of the magistrates, he has been 14yrs the governor of the gaol.

The dietary is according to the Government scale, and arranged for 5 classes of prisoners. A few cranks have been put up in the prison, but, there is not on the whole much trouble with refractory prisoners and in cases of repeated offence the governor usually sends for a magistrate, who has power to order the offender either to hard labour or to 28 days close confinement, on a diet of gruel or bread and water. The punishment in "close confinement", consists in the prisoner being allowed nothing whatever to do.

If a prisoner is sentenced to only a short term of imprisonment, of course it is useless to begin to teach him a trade, but those sent for longer periods are generally taught some useful occupation which may enable them to earn a livelihood on their release from gaol. As to the education given, it is only of the most simple elementary character, and a man of about 40, whom we observed weaving in one of the cells, said proudly, "I have learned my letters since I came in, and now I can spell a little!"

The assize calendars for last year were unusually black, and showed a large increase not only in the commitments but in the gravity of the offences with which the prisoners were charged. There were no fewer than 16 persons indicted for murder, 15 for attempted murder, 6 for concealment of birth [these being generally fraught with suspicion of a more serious crime], 18 for rape, and 135 for burglary and housebreaking. There were 82 prisoners for assaults and street robberies, and 30 charged with manslaughter. Looking at this dreadful list, we should unfavourably compare in our criminal statistics with other counties in the kingdom, though probably not if the density of population be taken into account The total number of commitments to Kirkdale gaol last year was 2357, being an increase of 218 over the previous year, the actual number of prisoners 2098. The re-commitments form about one-twelfth of the whole number, many, however, have reference to the same prisoners, some of whom have come several times into the gaol during the year.

The very instructive reports that the chaplain annually submits to the magistrates have an appendix attached containing several interesting tables. From one illustrating the domestic condition of the prisoners, that of the 2098 committed in 1856, 779 were married, 1201 single, and 118 widowers or widows. 573 had both parents living, 813 neither, 271 fathers only, 431 mothers only, and in regard to 10 others the fact was unascertained. 100 were under 15 yrs old, 369 were 15 to 20 yrs old, 788, 20 to 30 yrs old, 469, 30 to 40 yrs old, 217, 40 to 50 yrs old, 114, 50 to 60 yrs old, 37, 60 to 70 yrs old, and 4 were upwards of 70 yrs old. It will be seen from this return that by far the most criminal age is that between 20 to 30 yrs, the time when animal vigour and activity are at the highest.

Another table enables us to judge the state of education and religious instruction of the 2098 prisoners on their admission, 854 could not read, 379, could read only, 472 could read but were bad writers, 361 could both read and write, and 32 were of, "superior education" There were "quite ignorant of religion" an appalling 1053 ! ill or imperfectly instructed in it 772, well instructed 273. The professed religion of the prisoners on their entrance was, Churchmen 1229, Roman Catholics 757, Methodists of various denominations, 58, Presbyterians, 30, Independents, 5, Baptists 7, Unitarians, 4, Jews 3, and there were five who said they had no religion at all ! Of the prisoners in the present year, 1299 were Church of England, 728 Roman Catholics, 73 Dissenters of various denominations, 43 Presbyterians, 5 Lutherans, 17 Independents, 5 Baptists, 1 Quaker, 2 Swedenborgians, 1 Unitarian, 6 Mormonites, 1 Jew, and 2 with no religion whatever.

The chaplain has instituted inquiries which show the wages or usual earnings of the prisoners at the time of their committal, or some time before. Lest the figures should mislead, the fact should be borne in mind that all the females and juveniles are included in the return. In 1856, the largest number, 408, made from 15s to 20s a week, 365 from 20s to 30s, 360 from 10s to 15s, 358 5s and under 10s, 117 were soldiers, 109 were on servant wages or clerks salaries [there reason for their thus being classified together consisting in the fact that both are generally paid annually], 99 had no income whatever, or their mere maintenance, 73 had under 5s per week, 57 had subsisted by the wages of prostitution, 52 had from 30s to 40s a week, 44 were seamen, 39 had 40s and above, and in 17 cases the previous earnings were unascertained. We are surprised that the number of the latter was not greater. How, for instance, is a professional thief to make a computation of his average income ? They may have a large haul at times, but certainly in the long run none ever get rich. We learn that of the 2098, 1581 were employed at the time they committed the offence for which they were sent to prison, 517 were unemployed, 253 of the total number were members of various clubs. The natal countries of the prisoners may also be a point of interest, scarcely more than a half of the whole, or 1189 were born in Lancashire, a total of 1458 claimed England as their birth place, but of these 167 were of Irish parentage, 9 of Scotch and 19 of Welsh. Then, 536 were natives of Ireland, 28 of Scotland, 34 of Wales, and 6 of the Isle of Man. We also observe 16 Americans on the list, and are probably right in the supposition that these must have been seamen. There are also 7 Germans, and 1 is set down as being born at sea. The last residence was of 303 was Liverpool, but only 182 of the offences was committed here, 217 gave Manchester as their last or usual place of residence, and 134 of the offences were committed there. St Helens, Wigan and Warrington stand out in point of numbers in rather painful prominence upon the list.

The trade or business of the different prisoners is very much determined by the various branches of manufacture carried on in the district, the return is of some local interest, 171 of the prisoners were English and 216 Irish labourers, 105 were husbandmen, 136 factory hands, 162 colliers, 66 weavers, 80 servants, 79 hawkers and petty dealers, 42 shoemakers, 6 cloggers, 34 tailors, 40 blacksmiths, 43 ironfounders, 23 stonemasons, 15 slaters and plasterers, 25 plumbers, 29 watchmakers, 17 glassworkers, 31 joiners, 18 book-keepers, 18 boatmen, 44 carters, 11 ostlers, 8 bakers and 12 engineers or mechanics. There were also 21 butchers, 6 publicans, 3 brewers, 3 millers, 9 engine drivers and tenters, 24 ropers, 6 shipwrights, 2 surgeons, but neither a lawyer nor a clergyman, 11 shopkeepers, 55 charwomen, 21 sempstresses, 6 coopers and only 4 clothes dealers and rag gatherers. Amongst other curiosities of the return we have only to name, 6 actors and actresses, 7 sweeps, 2 surveyors, 2 corn dealers, 3 musicians, a barber, a game-keeper, a customshouse officer, a pilot and a teacher.

Of those sent under summary convictions to the gaol at Kirkdale last year, 80 were for begging, 22 for bastardly, 70 for neglect of family, 40 for being out late, 34 for poaching, 48 for picking pockets, 3 for stealing liquors, 1 for stealing a pig,, 3 for swearing, and 1 for Sabbath breaking. The "swearing" we supposes must have been of a blasphemous character, and the Sabbath breaking was doubtless a charge of working on the holy day. 295 of the total number of prisoners had been previously imprisoned in this gaol for other offences, 69 males and 26 females once before, 27 males and 11 females six times and more. Two females during the year were discharged on a ticket of leave, and there were 5 deaths in the gaol.

In the wards in the old part of the prison, conducted on the associated system, silence and the strictest attention to work are rigidly enforced. There are perhaps about 50 prisoners in each of two large work rooms, all engaged in picking oakum [no gentle work for tender hands], and who, although working closely together, are not allowed to take the least notice of each other. A warder sits at a desk on a raised platform at one side of the room, exercising the closet supervision, and any prisoner wishing to retire holds up his hand, when his number is noted, and everything is conducted in the utmost silence and good order. We are told that men of sensibility, the more intellectual and refined class of prisoners, for such occasionally appear, invariably prefer the separate to the associated system, as to form one of such a congregation of ruffians, although there is no positive contact with them, is yet felt as a degradation. Every part of the prison is scrupulously clean, the grounds are also laid out with taste and kept in admirable order, and the strictest regularity everywhere prevails.


Nov 6th 1893



Kirkdale Gaol, Liverpool, the scene of 67 public and private executions during the last sixty years is about to be demolished. The bodies of 67 men and women, who have met their fate at the hands of the public executioner, have all been interred within the precincts of the prison, the approaching demolishon of which rendered necessary the removal of the remains.

This duty devolved on the Prison Commissioners. Accordingly these authorities communicated with Kirkdale Burial Board requesting that accommodation might be provided in the cemetery at Longmore Lane, Fazakerley, for 67 coffins and their contents, which would be brought from Kirkdale.

When the subject was broached at the Board meeting stout opposition was offered by several of the members, who urged in earnest protest that incalculable harm would be wrought thereby to the cemetery, inasmuch as many people from superstition and other promptings would be unwilling themselves to be interred or to have their relatives and friends interred in the cemetery in which they would be placed, as it were side by side with common felons and murderers. However, the Prison Commissioners were informed that the remains would be received at Longmoor Lane.

A stringent condition would be imposed in order probably to in some measure meet the views of those who opposed the giving of the required sanction. This condition was that the removal of the remains must be effected at night time. The necessary condition was agreed to, and preparations made for the carrying out of the ghastly task.

The work of exhumation, removal and re-interment were entrusted to the contractor. The remains of either four or five bodies have been dealt with daily during the past fortnight, and up to Friday, 60 coffins and their contents had found their way to the cemetery at Fazakerley, where they have been interred five in a grave, in a remote corner of the Nonconformist portion of the burial ground.

The work in hand will probably be concluded by Wednesday, though as a matter of fact some difficulty is being experienced in finding any remains of the other bodies. It is stated on reliable authority that the exhumation and re-interment has really been little more that form, for the reason that in most cases there was found nothing in the shape of remains save, and except, perhaps the crown of a skull, or odd thigh bone. The remains placed in the 60 coffins have been chiefly a few shovelfuls of soil, the quicklime having done its work, surely enough.


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