Manchester Archives  launched The Manchester Collection  via Find My Past which include the records from this prison. Many examples from this site were used in the publicity  packs and blogs etc to announce this launch. See below for a link to the Manchester Collection.


Find My Past

Genes Reunited


 This batch of research is something that I am really proud about. It has taught me a lot about the legal system in the Victorian Age and also the social and economic conditions of that time. Other than the hard worked archivists at Manchester Central Library, I have had the privilege of searching through these records before most other researchers. They did not have the time to be able to search these fantastic records as I did. As a result of my many finds MALS have been able to update their catalogue. This included a very significant find.

When people had been sentenced by the various courts they were held in several different locations in the area. With the exception of military prisoners, anyone who was sentenced to longer than six months' penal servitude of longer was usually sent to Millbank Prison in London or Kirkdale near Walton, and later Walton Prison itself. I have extracted the 1851, 1861 and 1871 Census Returns for Millbank Prison which are shown on a separate page.

The registers are very large and heavy to handle. The pages 20 3/4  x 14 1/2  inches and each records goes across two pages under the column headings; Register Number; Prisoner's Name; When and by Whom Committed; How Committed; Summary Convictions; Sentence; Age Last Birthday; Height: Hair; Eyes; Complexion; Marks Upon Person and Remarks; Profession Trade or Occupation; Place of Birth; Last or Usual Residence (and Address of Friend etc if to be advised of Prisoner's discharge; Religion; Extent of Education; Register in Last Case; Married and number of Children or Single; Parents Living; number of Previous Committals; Register in last case; Register in Next Case; Record Book; Letter Book; How disposed of at trial; Letters Received; Letters Out; Date of Discharge.

It is unusual for all of the main headings to have been completed.

It is well worth remembering that at the time these register were compiled the Court system was different from the one we know today. Prosecutions were mainly brought about by individuals as opposed the state or the police. In the case of the Assize Courts, Grand Juries were sworn in before each session began. These were usually the elite local worthies, such as MPs, factory owners etc who had to be freeholders. Their numbers usually consisted of 23 members and decisions were by majority, with a minimum number of 12 voting in favour. Their job was to review the indictment against a prisoner drawn up by the legal clerks and issue, or not as the case maybe A True Bill of Indictment which was they presented to the presiding Judge.  Quite often in these prison registers in the column marked for the sentence handed out, the words "No Bill Offered" , Bill Ignored" or "Bill Cut" can be seen. The effect of all three was the same, the person was not tried and released immediately. Whether these phrases were used for slightly different technical reasons, such as a procedural irregularity or lack of evidence, I was not certain. I therefore sort the advice of a Law lecturer from Manchester.

No Bill (Offered) indicates that the Grand Jury issued no indictment and that the Judge had no option but to dismiss the case. 

Bill Ignored indicates that although a Bill of Indictment had been issued but it was for the wrong reasons as the Bill did not reflect the evidence being advanced. For example where someone is accused of armed robbery, but the evidence being put forward suggests that the crime was one of assault.  Therefore the Bill had been issued for armed robbery and was no basis for a conviction of assault. The Bill would therefore have been ignored

Bill Cut occurs in more borderline cases, the Bill is not quite right.  There's a difference between burglary and theft.  Burglary requires violence, but theft does not.  If a Bill was issued based on evidence that might  be grounds for a conviction of theft, but the arguments being advanced by the prosecution emphasized the violence used, it  become clear that the Bill was an approximate, but ultimately inaccurate, reflection of the crime for which prosecution was being sought.  In these cases, the bill was cut.

The Manchester Guardian of August 3rd 1868 published the following under the cross head "Stabbing at Belle Vue": The Grand Jury ignored the bill against James Early who was charged with stabbing Sophia Madders, on the 22nd June, and he was set at liberty. Another form of Indictment was a Vexatious Indictment. In order to prevent these the Government passed the Vexatious Indictment Act, 1859, later amended by the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1867, which provided that no Bill of Indictment for perjury, conspiracy, indecent assault or certain other misdemeanours, should be presented to the Grand Jury unless the prosecutor had been bound over by recognizance to prosecute, or unless the person accused had been committed to or detained in custody, or unless the Indictment was issued with the written consent of the Attorney-General. This was the situation until the Administration of Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 1933. Part of the provisions of this Act abolished the Grand Juries and amended the law as to the presentment of Indictments.

If a True Bill of Indictment was issued the case would then be heard before a Petit Jury of twelve men.

It should also be remembered that in the cases of prisoners appearing in the upper courts, the charge  appearing in the registers is the one that they were originally charged with, and not necessarily the one for which they were actually prosecuted. Quite often prisoners would have the charges reduced from a felony to a misdemeanour. I have seen examples of prisoners being charged with murder and seemingly receiving only a two months prison sentence. I will quote some examples from a famous case later. Therefore in cases where prisoners get what seem to be very light sentences, it is wise to check the newspaper reports of the trial or where available the court records. The reverse can also be true e.g. a charge of Attempted Murder may also have been increased to Murder.

The Penal Servitude Act 1853 saw the beginning of the end of transportation. The Act substituted periods of penal servitude i.e. time in prison usually with hard labour, as punishment for most previously transportable offences.  Most transportation ended by 1867 but the sentence of transportation was not abolished until 1887.  Technically those held in prison were known as prisoners, but those sentenced to penal servitude or transportation were known as convicts, though I don't suppose the people involved were that concerned what they were called.

What was the difference between a Common Prostitute and a Disorderly Prostitute? It all depended upon which Act of the Parliament the lady was convicted under. A Disorderly Prostitute was convicted using the Disorderly Houses Act of 1751. In other words a prostitute who had been operating in a disorderly house i.e a brothel. A Common Prostitute was convicted under the Vagrancy Act of 1824. This referred to women who commonly (as in often) prostituted themselves on the streets. Theses Acts were amended as time when by and were eventually removed from the Statute Book.



Also known as the City/Borough Gaol. Opened in 1849 (now known not to be accurate, see below) by the Borough of Manchester, it was mainly a short term gaol. The longest sentence was usually six months  with many prisoners serving much shorter periods, although there are a few examples of prisoners serving as long as two years' imprisonment. However some longer sentences were doled out to military deserters. Both males and females were incarcerated here. It was also used for holding people on remand awaiting trial at the Assize court and those who had been sentenced to longer sentences who were awaiting transfer to a long term prison. Many of the prisoners were tried at the Quarter Sessions. Located on Hyde Road, the prison was demolished in 1892.



Belle Vue Prison c1855

Courtesy of Manchester Local Image Collection


Records available: (there are some gaps) General Register for both men and women; April 1850 to May 1853; 7 Mar 1859 to 8 Jul 1861; 9 Jul 1861 to 17 Apr 1863; Apr 1863 to Nov 1864; 21 Nov 1864 to 22 May 1866; 22 May 1866 to 15 Jun 1867; 5 Mar 1869 to 2 Nov 1869; 2 Nov 1869 to 18 Aug 1870; 18 Aug 1870 to 8 Jun 1871; 8 Apr 1872 to 6 Mar 1873; 6 Mar 1873 to 26 Jan 1874; 26 Jan 1874 to 25 Oct 1874; 14 Jul 1875 to 24 Mar 1876; 25 Mar1876 to Nov  29 1876; 29 Nov 1876 to 12 Sep 1877 and 19 Jun 1878 to 2 Apr 1879.

Census returns for the above can be found at:

1851 HO 107 2219 folio 434 (also available on M & LFHS CD)

1861 RG 9 2875 folio 131

1871 RG 10 3986 folio 92

1881 RG 11 3912 folio 123

I have now looked at all of the available volumes of these records and many names keep reappearing for the same crimes such as being drunk and riotous, abusive language, neglect of children, drunken driving, prostitution and so on. For these offences the sentences were in the range of three days to one months imprisonment with hard labour or a heavy fine as an alternative. It did not seem to matter how many previous convictions the person had committed. I noted one woman who been convicted of being a common prostitute received a sentence of fourteen days. She  had 108 previous convictions.

However, for crimes of a more serious nature the punishments were severe. Stealing from the upper classes was not tolerated. The following is an entry for one of the "regulars" who was convicted for abusive language and being drunk and riotous on more than a few occasions.

94803 Elizabeth RASPBERRY. 25th April 1874. Stealing from the person of Wm Savage 1 watch his property. Sentence: Sessions May 7th 1874. Female 43 years 5' 2". Dark complexion, black hair, grey eyes. Pockmarked face, lost left eye, scar from cut on forehead and left eyebrow, left ear ???? down,  ears pierced. Occupation: Hawker. Place of birth: Ireland. Person to be notified on release: Friend, Fanny Cochrane, Cumberland St. Roman Catholic. Reading & Writing; nil. Widow, five children. number of previous convictions: 31. How disposed of at Court: Seven Years Penal Servitude with Hard Labour. Comments: Removed to Millbank June 24th 1874.

This next entry relates to the Bill of Indictment on the previous page.

1182: Thomas WILLIAMS. 13th April 1851. Tendering on the 25th January 1851 to Ellen Drake one piece of false & counterfeit coin resembling a sixpence also tendering another 10 days thereafter to June Smith one other false and counterfeit coin resembling a shilling well knowing it to be false and counterfeit. Age; 21 years. ht; 5 ft 9ins. Fresh complexion brown hair grey eyes. Scar right of forehead, 2nd & 4th toes off right foot. Labourer. Liverpool. No settled residence. R C. Reading & Writing: Nr (Non reader). Married with one child. Mother living. How disposed of at Court: six calendar months + hard labour. Date of discharge: Aug 13th.

The charges in the register differ slightly from those in the court records.

My later research indicates that this prison did not open until April 1850. The construction of the gaol was dogged by the plans being altered on almost a weekly basis to cater for changes in design of the use of particular material. The heating system was found to be unable to keep the cells at a reasonable temperature. Some cells were noted to be as cold as 44 degrees. The toilets in the cells were inadequate as was the iron work on the cell windows. The ventilation system did not work correctly. Steam in the washhouse did not disperse. All these faults were noted in a report by the Visiting Justices, who had to issue a licence before prisoners could be housed, dated 10th December 1849.

A Manchester Corporation  sub-committee meeting dated March 14th, 1850 indicates that the prison was not yet open, but that plans should be made ready for the transfer of prisoners from Lancaster Gaol.

The first 25 pages of the prison register M600/1/1/1 are missing and the first full entry is dated mid April, but given the number of convictions at that time and transfers from other gaols, an opening date of 1st April 1850 is not impossible. It was coincidently a Monday. Also it is noted in the minute that the first Borough Sessions after the opening of the gaol was April 8th 1850.

Even after the goal opened for prisoner, it took a long while to be fully operational. A report from June 11th 1850 states that 150 male cells, 50 female cells, 8 reception cells were fully furnished, leaving a further 273 cells to be furnished.

In July 1850 the surgeon noted in his journal: "I have  this day ordered the patients to be removed from the Female Infirmary into cells on account of the extreme dampness of the Infirmary which renders it unfit for use." About the same time the Matron recorded the following in her journal: " The Wardens and Jane Judge, a prisoner who attended to the sick at night, have spoken to me this morning concerning the very bad smell in the corridor from the cells occupied by the prisoners who are sick, particularly that of Mary Maxwell although clean bed and bedding were given yesterday and every possible care taken as to cleanliness. Both Maxwell and McGuire screamed out several times in the night so loud that they were heard all over the Female Prison."


I discovered a collection of Witness Statements from Inquests held in Manchester between 1851 and 1852 (see here). Included were the inquest into three deaths which happened during that period in the Gaol.

Number 1137

Borough of Manchester in the County of Lancaster to wit Depositions of Witnesses, produced sworn and examined, this seventh day of January One Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty Two at the Manchester Borough Gaol, before me, Edward Herford, Gentlemen, Coroner of our Liege Lady the Queen within the said Borough, touching the death of John Thompson an inmate of the Manchester Borough Gaol of the age of nineteen years there lying dead.

Thomas Withers second class warder upon his oath saith. Deceased was sentenced to seven years transportation at the Sessions last week - My duty is to attend to all the cells in the landing of C3 Wing. On the fifth instant I saw the deceased into his cell and his door closed at eleven o'clock in the forenoon. About twenty minutes afterwards I went into his cell for the purpose of asking him if he knew what punishment he had received from the Governor. On opening his cell door I found him suspended by the neck to the water pipe which goes along the ceiling of the cell. He was quite dead. He had tied around his neck the hammock girth. He seemed to have got upon his table which had been placed underneath for that purpose. I called Mr Makin trade-instructor who was coming past at the time. He was cut down immediately. The assistant surgeon was in attendance in about two minutes, but deceased was quite dead, in my opinion five minutes before I saw him. I had spoken to the deceased about nine o'clock the same morning. I had gone into his cell to see that all was right. I then asked him if he had no work to do. He was reading a book either a hymn book bible [or] a prayer book. He said he had not. I then closed the cell door. He appeared that time quite sensible - I observed nothing unwell about him - at eleven o'clock after he was before the Governor he told me this past off[ence]. I knew nothing [worthy] particular about him - when he was brought here a shirt time before the Sessions he said he knew he should get seven years; and seemed quite settled to his fate - he had been about a month or six weeks under my charge, that is since his commitment. His conduct had been very good. He had never complained of his treatment in any respect. I never noticed in his conduct indicating unsoundness of mind, or that he was likely to commit such an act. He was in this Gaol before , but not to my knowledge. The hammock girth was made into a slip noose, running through the buckle.

Thomas Withers

William Walters reception warder here saith. When deceased returned from his trial at the Sessions , I found [him] comparing the list which he had on when he first came in, that he had one muffler less than he had when he went down to the court on the first day of the Sessions Monday. I ask him what he had to say about it. He said he had lent it to [O'Neil] another prisoner. I said he knew he ought not to have done it. I had cautioned him against changing [?????] any of his things to any other prisoner - It is the rule that they shall not do so during the Sessions. I said I should report him to the Governor. I found that the relevance of him having given his having given his muffler to [O'Neil] was [continue] After the Sessions I reported it [to] the Governor and then deceased said he had left it in the cell by mistake. The Governor sent an Officer and he brought the muffler back. The Governor had told him he had no right to keep it there. I do not think deceased said after this that it was left by mistake. The Governor said that he should have bread and water for three days. - His usual diet was gruel and cocoa with milk for breakfast and supper and meat and potatoes for dinner - I don't remember him saying anything to the Governor. He did not seem bitter at all. This was last Monday between ten and eleven. - The muffler was one which he brought with him - When brought before the Governor he cried, or at any rate seemed sorry - very first inconvenience would result if prisoners were allowed to give or retain theirs things. Claims have been made by prisoners for articles which it was purported were lost when they had themselves. Bread and water is the least punishment.

William Walters

Charles Henry John Lane Governor saith. Deceased was admitted on twentieth December on a charge of felony. He had been discharged in October after four months imprisonment. He was brought before me on a charge of giving away his muffler at Sessions. I asked him what he had to say. He said he did not think it ant harm. He did not say that it was left by mistake, that I recollect. The principal warder said he had cautioned the prisoner not to play any tricks with his clothing in consequence of something which had had occurred at his previous imprisonment. Deceased made no observations. - I did not notice that he seem nervous particularly He had had it in his cell, he must have secreted it - all their own clothing is taken from them - and therefore it must have been secreted somewhere about his person after coming from the Sessions, during which they would wear their own clothes. His motive might have been to tie it around his body for warmth. I cannot form any judgement of his motive for doing so . I had noticed nothing unsound in his mind or unusual in his behaviour. I had no opportunity in observing what effect his sentence had upon him. He was troublesome and was punished seven times during his former imprisonment. This time he has behaved well. Meat is given four days a week to that class of prisoner. - After having kept him a month or two, transportation prisoners are sent to other prison - I have no to believe that in this case this separate system of confinement has had any non-judicial effect upon the mind. No personal violence is ever allowed.

C H J Lane


Walker Golland surgeon here saith. I have seen the prisoner twice since his admission. On all occasions he appeared well and I noticed no appearance of depression, or of unsoundness of mind in any respect. The death would have been immediate and was caused by strangulation.

Walker Golland

Patrick Joseph O'Leary Chaplain saith. I saw the deceased the day after he was sentenced to transportation for seven years. I think it desirable to see prisoners after such a sentence, as it usually causes them great depression. Deceased seemed very sullen and dogged and indifferent, and seemed to take no notice of any [of] this I said � I considered this a singular case. But the man was sane as far as I could see. My [opinion] now is from the indifference which he exhibited he must then have determined not to see it out, but to commit suicide. I had not see him since Tuesday week. - My opinion is in favour of the separate system, and prisoners frequently tell me that if they had not been [here] imprisoned here previously on the [associative] principle, it would have been better for them.

P J O'Leary

William Kenworthy deceased father saith. I saw him last three weeks ago. I then noticed nothing about him unsound. He left my house and I have not seen him since.

Severally sworn

before Edw Herford

Verdict: Insanity


Number 1466

Borough of Manchester in the County of Lancaster to wit Depositions of Witnesses , produced sworn and examined, this twenty seventh day of September One Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty Two at the Manchester Borough Gaol, before me, Edward Herford, Gentlemen, Coroner of our Liege Lady the Queen within the said Borough, touching the death of John Oliver son of David Oliver of Store St Manchester Blacksmith of the age of 13 years late an inmate of the said Gaol.

Joseph Twiss second warder of the said Gaol saith. A little after six on Saturday night I commenced lighting the Gas on that side of the corridor where deceased cell is. It is in the C wing - When I got to his door I let the falling door down and put the light to the gas light - with the light shinning into his cell I saw him hanging against the wall. The hammock girth was fastened round his neck and to the water pipe, just under the ceiling - His toes were completely off the ground - He must have got upon the table - It was the left hand wall - I called out, and persons ran up and the assistant surgeon Mr Bennett came in immediately. I had cut him down at once. He was quite dead but not cold - I was in the cell between three and four. I spoke to him and noticed nothing particular in his demeanour. He appeared as usual - not depressed as far as I noticed, and he said nothing about his punishment. He had been before the Governor for not having picked the efficient quantity of wool. Mr Ryan had reported him - I was present when his punishment was [awarded]. It was two days bread and water - I did not know what work was deficient. He said nothing when his punishment was stated by the Governor. I conducted him back to his cell. This would be between ten and eleven in the forenoon. The two days were to commence at supper. I took him some dinner. Prisoner had no work to do when under this punishment. Books are taken away also in case of neglect of work. They had all be taken away from him as I had been rather busy. I cannot tell at all what has led him to this act- He had been convicted at [the] August Sessions of felony and imprisoned for twelve months - he had three time been in this prison and went out last October � He has the same quantity of of wool to pick as any adult. They have all the same quantity. Boys can get through their work better than grown up men perversely.

Joseph Twiss

Charles Henry John Lane Governor of this Gaol saith. Deceased was first committed here on the fourteenth of October 1850 - a summary conviction � and sentenced to three days imprisonment and whipping. This is the fourth time that he has been here. The second time for one week and [once] whipped. - Then for (six months) conviction at Sessions. He was repeatedly punished for breeches of discipline and idleness � During his present imprisonment three times for discipline offences and three times for idleness - His last offence for which he received punishment on Saturday morning was for having only pick six [ ] out of nineteen - The task is not a heavy one. He on no occasion complained of not being able to do it - never offered that as an excuse. His character was stolid and stubborn. He is the last boy in this prison that I should have thought would have committed suicide - I have no cause that I can suggest for his doing it, unless the prospect [left him] of present punishment may have him [???] to it. He was not violent of ill tempered.

CHJ Lane


Patrick Joseph O'Leary Chaplain to this Gaol saith ; I have nothing to communicate to the Inquest respecting the cause of the prisoner committing suicide.- I saw him in August last but have no recollection of the interview. I believe that he has had a bad example and has been engaged in theft, at home.

P J O'Leary

John Yeats Schoolmaster saith. I have frequently visited deceased in his cell since his conviction. I attend in the cell two or three times each wek on each boy, for from five minute to a quarter of an hour. Nome of the boys are taught together.

Verdict : That the deceased hanged himself but that there was not sufficient evidence to show in what state of mind he was at the time.


Number 1474

Borough of Manchester in the County of Lancaster to wit Depositions of Witnesses , produced sworn and examined, this fifth day of October One Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty Two at the Manchester Borough Gaol, before me, Edward Herford, Gentlemen, Coroner of our Liege Lady the Queen within the said Borough, touching the death of William Curry of the age of 25, Clogger late an inmate of the said Gaol.

Charles Henry John Lane, Governor of this Gaol upon his oath saith - Deceased came into this Gaol on his present imprisonment upon the fourth of June 1851- He was tried for felony at the Sessions and sentenced to seven years transportation - He was then labouring under some disease which [prevented him from being sent in due cause on a transport] to some other place of confinement. He had been here before � He has been under medical treatment since August last. He has had no hard labour since he has been in the Gaol - He gave up wool picking on the twelfth of July - He has been punished for some breeches of discipline but not since he was considered to be ill. That punishment was with the (end of statement)

C H J Lane


John Bennett assistant surgeon to the said Gaol saith � On deceased admission he appeared pale and thin, and had some ives on the forearm connected with scrofulous disease of the bone. - During the first twelve months he perceived to tenable health - He was put in shoemaking and on his complaining that it was too hard for him it was changed and he was afterwards put to outdoor work mainly to bring him round. He has had no hard labour imposed upon him. - He complained of of the fourth of August and on the thirteenth he was sent to hospital. A few days afire this his was examined and pronounced to have consumption. He was treated for that disease until the time of his death. He was allowed generous diet and every attention that he required. - I was present when he died on Sunday morning when he died about half past one.

John Bennett

Patrick Joseph O'Leary chaplain saith: I saw the deceased last on the Thursday night late. He He had received every attention to the best of my belief. No labour had been required of him since he was known to be a deceased state.

P J O'Leary

Charles Henry John Lane further saith: The male inmates of the hospital are attended by male prisoners. There's [no] female nurses in the hospital. - It is found that the male attendants are sufficient. - I believe this is the practice in other gaols. - A prisoner named Frith was in attendance on the deceased during the [early] part of his illness. He was removed to Mill Bank on Saturday last. - The man named Hammond was only with him on Saturday.

C H J Lane

George Hammond saith: I have been in the hospital about one week. I am employed to clean it [only] when the other man went away, I did about the ward doing little, the deceased died on Sunday morning. About one week ago when he came in I asked him what was the matter with him, and he said it was bad in his inside being lock up for so long (fourteen or fifteen days) on bread and water - I t was for breaking a window. He never said after wards that his illness was was from previous confinement. He had everything that he required [after] he was ill. I was up with him all night on Saturday. He called to me about one o'clock on Sunday morning. I found that he had bled a great deal with his cough. I rang for the surgeon who came directly. Deceased was dead almost immediately.

George Hammond

Charles Henry John Lane further saith: deceased was sentenced to a month's close confinement on the twenty first July - for breaking a window wilfully - He said that his object was to get removed from the Goal � The foof is bread and gruel for breakfast and supper and bread for dinner, and no work is given. He was returned to normal diet on the sixth of August by the Surgeon's recommendation � I had cautioned him for a similar offence on the first of June � The only other punishment would have been flogging, but the confinement was prescribed in consequence of the delicate state of his health. - The surgeon would see him on the same day in the cell.

C H J Lane

Severally sworn before Edw Herford

Verdict: Natural decease.



Very soon after the opening of the Gaol,the number of prisoners incarcerated in the gaol was too great to accommodate, and both men and women had to be sent to the New Bailey Prison, Lancaster and elsewhere. By August 1855 the Borough Gaol Committee had reached the following decision: "Your committee recommended the council to authorise and instruct your committee to take, with as little delay as possible, all the steps necessary to enlarge the accommodation within the the prison walls of the city prison, to the extent indicated upon this plan now submitted, by which it is proposed to give up the whole of the present prison for the confinement of male prisoners only, and to enlarge the wings B and C, so as to obtain 150 additional and separate cells, making the whole number of cells in that prison, 582 and to erect a new building in which 250 separate  cells  shall be provided for the confinement of females: thus making the total number of cells for both sexes, 832 separate cells."

Even after the "new" prison was constructed they were still severe problems. The sewage system was not capable of handling the waste products and the dangers from disease in such a confined environment must have been a constant worry. Below is an extract from the Surgeon's Journal in 1865.

Reg no 30209 died this morning at 5:30 a.m. from typhus fever. She was sent to the gaol on the 13th Oct 1865 for 14 days or pay 18/-. soon after coming into prison she complained (19th) of symptoms of  Febricula and on the 24th was sent to hospital as suffering from fever of a severe type, evidently having its origin in a contagion before she came into Gaol, and developing itself severely in prison, so that at the expiration of her time I did not consider her in a fit state to be removed -- I have for some time felt the want of a Dead House to which bodies could be removed from their cells, and in a case like this, fatal from a very contagious disease, it is very important that some provision be made.


At the monthly meeting of the Visiting Justices on 6th March 1856

Mr Alderman Neild in the Chair.

The Governor submitted reports from first class warder Sykes and Nightwatchman Hill explaining the circumstances which a Prisoner Register Number 11582 had attempted to escape having broken and got through his cell window,


That the circumstances be communicated to the Gaol Committee of the Town Council and that their attention be called to the resolution of the Visiting Justices passed on 1st February 1855 pointing out the insecurity of the cell windows and recommending that they should be strengthened as suggested in the report of the Governor.

Manchester City Gaol

20th July 1859

Dear Sir,

I am directed the Visiting Justices to draw the attention of the Gaol Committee of the Town Council to the insecurity of 423 cell windows in the B, C & D wings, they being unprovided with external wrought iron bars. The Prison inspector in his last report refers to this matter and says "t is very desirable that this defect should be speedily supplied as cast iron window frames are no security to a cell window."

I shall be obliged if you will bring this matter under the consideration of the Gaol Committee at there next meeting.

Clerk to the Visiting Justices.


At the monthly meeting of the Visiting Justices on 2nd May 1861

William Neild Esq in the Chair

The Governor reported that Convicted Prisoner Register No 12733 had on the night of 24th April last escaped from his cell by breaking the frame made of cast iron.


That the insecurity of these cast iron window frames be again brought under the notice of the Gaol Committee of the Town Council, and that they be urged to protect the same by external wrought iron bars with the least possible delay.

Clerk to the Visiting Justices.


At a special meeting of the Justices convened by the Mayor and held at the Court House, Bridge Street, Manchester this 21st September 1867

The Mayor stated that on the arrest of several of the prisoners concerned in the recent outrage upon the prison van. The Governor of the City Gaol represented to him that in the event of their being committed to the Gaol he did not consider that the Gaol was in a safe condition and that he could not be responsible for the safety of the Prisoners .

That he the Mayor consequently applied to Major General Sir John Garbock the Commander of the Northern District for a Military guard to be placed within the Gaol, to which application the General immediately responded and an Infantry Force is now stationed in the Gaol.

It will be evident to the Justices that this Force ought to be relieved at the earliest possible period, and under these circumstances he had convened the Justices to to take the subject into consideration. He had also directed the Governor to report to the Justices in writing, his the Governor's reasons for considering the Gaol unsafe and also his opinion upon the measures to be adopted to render it secure.

The Governor attended and presented the following report:


I beg to report for your information that yesterday at his request, I furnished the chairman of the Gaol Committee the accompanying detail of fittings as indispensable towards rendering the Gaol secure.

Since making that communication I have remembered there are 147 male cells on the upper landing of B, C & D wings, also 249 female cells not fitted with external wrought iron bars, and without which no cell can be considered really secure.

CH Lane


Additional Iron Fittings for the City Gaol:

Door of Hyde Road Turrets to be cased with sheet iron and bar inside.

Doors of Governor's and Chaplain's houses to be cased with sheet iron. Doors and fan lights also barred inside and a very strong wrought iron gate at the back door.

Door of Lodge entrance to have a very strong iron gate and double lock.

Archway entrance for carriages to have a very strong iron gate wicketed.

Door of entrance to hall cased with sheet iron and bar inside backed by a very strong

iron gate.

Side lobby lights to externally carved with wrought iron.

A wrought iron gate to be place at the door to basement near the Debtors' ward and the present door to be cased with sheet iron also barred and a wrought iron gate at the entrance from the Debtors' Exercise Yard, all three to be double locked,

Door of basement A wing near Matron's house to be cased with sheet iron and bar inside, also a wrought iron gated, both double locked.

All the windows at the end of the wings to be externally barred from top to bottom.

Door of Debtors' visiting room to be cased with sheet iron and to be double locked.

Doors of store to cased with sheet iron, properly bolted and double locked. Fan light to be barred.

A strong iron gate to be place externally at all the doors opening to the exercise yards.


That the Justices are unanimously of [the] opinion that immediate steps should be taken to strengthen the Gaol in accordance with the recommendation of of the Governor and with the view of making it sufficiently secure, preparatory to the withdrawal of the Military Force now stationed there.


That the Council be requested to erect and maintain a telegraphic communication between the Gaol. the Town Hall, the several Police Stations and the Police Court.



Tread Wheels or Mills were part of the Hard Labour System which operated in the various prison in the country. As can be seen from the second extract below, in the 1870s each prison's version of Hard Labour was slightly different. The first extract is taken from the document GB127.M9/70/2/3 held at Manchester Archives is a report by the Prison Governor that the Tread Mill was not working properly at the Manchester City Gaol.


Tread Mill at the Borough Prison, Manchester

5th January 1869

I am having to report that our Tread Wheel in not by any means in a satisfactory state. Since the 4th ultimo when it was brought into daily use our efforts have been directed to realising a speed of 55 steps per inmate but this was only accomplished after reducing the water in the Patent Governors to about one half of the standard at which the makers Messrs. Appleby stated it should be maintained. (see copy of the note of the 5th ult).

It was also evident that although the Mill is constructed to hold 100 prisoners the weight of about 28 or 30 alone is sufficient to produce a constant jerking motion in the revolutions as the prisoners change from one step to another. The contractors were I believe of the opinion that the imperfection had been overcome when the machinery was last in their hands, but this fault is now as apparent as ever.

There can hardly be a doubt about the existence of some defect which no care or attention on our own part can remedy. I have duly communicated all particulars to the Fairbairn Engineering Company, and a copy of their reply is also appended. They have since sent up some mechanics for a further examination of the bearings, but no improvement has taken place.

C H Lane


This report by the Governor Regarding Tread Wheels June/July 1870 is  also taken from GB127.M9/70/2/3 held at Manchester Archives.

Being requested by the Visiting Justices to report on the desirableness of altering the time of the Tread Wheel labor (sic) from 10 minutes walk and 10 minutes rest to 15 minutes walk and 5 minutes rest. I am reminded that on the adoption of the Tread Mill Labour in the Gaol I reported that it was not desirable that it should exceed six hours and a half and that 10 minutes work and 10 rest seemed to me a proper mean to aim at, of course my opinion at that time was purely theoretical never previously having seen the effects of this labour upon large numbers. Upon enquiring I find that almost every prison has its peculiarity in the amount of Tread Mill Labor and each has also peculiarities that further modify the effect of this labor.

In Cold Bath Fields Gaol. Prisoners are 7 and a half hours in the wheelhouse, 10 minutes on the wheel and 10 minutes at rest making 3 hours and 45 minutes actual labor.

In Southampton Gaol. Prisoners are 7 hours in the wheelhouse , 15 minutes on the wheel and 15 minutes at rest making 3 hours and 30 minutes actual labor.

In Maidstone Gaol. Prisoners are 8 hours in the wheelhouse, 15 minutes on the wheel and 15 minutes picking oakum. Making 4 hours actual labor.

In Manchester City Gaol. Prisoners are 8 hours and 20 minutes in the wheelhouse, 10 minutes on the wheel, 10 minutes at rest making 4 hours and 10 minutes.

In Holloway Gaol. Prisoners are 8 and a half hours in the wheelhouse, 20 minutes on the wheel and 20 minutes picking oakum. Making a 4 hours and 15 minutes actual labour.

In Wakefield Gaol. Prisoners Prisoners are 6 hours in the wheelhouse, 30 minutes on the wheel and 10 minutes at rest. Making 4 hours and thirty minutes actual labour.

In Liverpool Gaol. Prisoners are 7 hours in the wheelhouse, 10 minutes on the wheel , 5 minutes at rest. Making 4 hours and 40 minutes actual labor.

In Southwell. Prisoners are 7 hours in the wheelhouse, 6 minutes on the wheel and 3 minutes at rest. Making 4 hours and 40 minute actual labor.

In Stafford Gaol. Prisoners are 7 hours and 20 minutes in the wheelhouse, 19 minutes on the wheel and 9 and a half minutes at rest. Making 4 hours and 49 minutes actual labor.

In Salford Goal. Prisoners are 7 hours and 40 minutes in the wheelhouse, 15 minutes on the wheel and 5 minutes at rest. Making 5 hours and 50 minutes actual labor.

In Devizes Gaol. Prisoners are according to class 8, 6 or 4 hours in the wheelhouse, 6 minutes on the wheel and 1 and a half minutes at rest. Making 6 hours and 24 minutes, 4 hours and 48 minutes and 3 hours and 12 minutes actual labor.

In Norwich Gaol. Prisoners are 8 hours and 45 minutes in the wheelhouse, 15 minutes on the wheel and 5 minutes at rest in the winter, 10 minutes on the wheel and 5 minutes at rest in the summer. Making 6 hours and 5 minutes in the winter and 4 hours and 10 minutes actual labor in the summer.

In Taunton Gaol. Prisoners according to class 8 or 2 hours in the wheelhouse, 15 minutes on the wheel and 5 minutes at rest. Making in the highest class 6 hours actual labor and in the lowest 1 and a half hours actual labour.

From the above returns it will be seen that in Cold Bath Fields, Southampton and Maidstone Gaols prisoners are a shorter time on the wheel than in the City Gaol, whilst in Holloway Gaol they are 5 minutes; in Wakefield 20 minutes; in Liverpool 30 minutes; in Southwell 30 minutes; in Stafford 39 minutes; in Salford 1 hour and 40 minutes; in Taunton (the highest class) 1 hour and 50 minutes; in Norwich 1 hour and 55 minutes in winter and the same as Manchester in the summer and in the Devizes Gaol 2 hours and 14 minutes longer on the wheel than in the City Gaol.

These variations in time at the wheelhouse are not by any means a test of actual labor inflicted upon prisoners, and therefore do not indicate the deterrent influence of wheel labor.

To make an exact comparison of the labor in a given number of gaols all the circumstances should be equal whereas there are no alike, in Devizes Gaol three classes are made; in Norwich a difference is made between winter and summer; other minor peculiarities exist which prevent a correct estimate being arrived at without vast labor. I may however illustrate my meaning of the labor inflicted upon prisoners in the Salford and the City Gaols and at the same time shew the Justices that in the City Gaol the wheel labor is not neglected. In the former prison (Salford) prisoners serving 14 days or under are never put upon the wheel; those serving 1 c m to 6 c ms( 1 calendar month to 6 calendar months) serve only one week for each month except when put on by the Governor as a punishment for breach of prison discipline. The revolutions of the wheel (in Salford) are 50 [steps] per minute in the summer and 54 [steps] in winter.

In the City Gaol all prisoners for hard labor when put upon the wheel serve the whole of their time upon it up to 3 c ms. The revolution of the wheels have averaged during the last two months 58 per minute.

By this it will be seen that a prisoner serving 3 c ms in the City Gaol is 300 hours on the wheel during that time, in Salford he is only 105 hours. A prisoner serving 2 c ms in the City Gaol is 200 hours on the wheel, in Salford 70 hours. A prisoner serving 1 c m in the City Goal is 100 hours on the wheel, in Salford 35 hours. Again the increased number of revolutions of the wheel per minute in the City Gaol over the Salford Gaol much increases the amount and severity of of the labor and in my opinion almost equals the time difference in the two gaols in its effect upon prisoners serving long terms and must add to the already additional labor inflicted upon short term men upon whom it is intended especially to act as a deterrent.

I cannot think with this facts before them that the Justices will think it advisable to alter the time on the wheel from 10 minutes work and rest to 15 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest without making some compensating change in the number of revolutions per minute and the duration of time of work in all short time men, because of the hours of labor for a 3 month man would be 900 hours as against 105 hours on the wheel in Salford. A 2 months man 600 hours against 70. A one month man 300 hours against 35 hours which evidently would be destruction to the health of prisoners if the time at present served on the wheel in Salford * has any deterrent or serious effect. [*I think that the Governor should have used the past tense as the New Bailey had closed in 1868 to be replaced by Strangeways.]

In the longer term prisoners I am of the opinion that there is a much greater danger by excessive task labor of producing a serious impairment of the health (which cannot easily be corrected) than there is in short term prisoners because most of the men serving long terms have previously undergone frequent short term imprisonment and the prison diet even of the highest class is not calculated on a scale for excessive and prolonged labor. In this opinion I am fortified by the Medical officer of Taunton Gaol who says he "is of the opinion after very long experience no man deficient in health should work 6 hours daily on the Treadwheel".

The Medical Officer to the Wakefield Gaol says "after an experience of about 70,000 prisoners not many can stand 1st class labor (4 hrs and 30 mins) upon the present diet".

This leads me to another part of the question, as to how far an increased treadmill task would involve a greater number of exceptions which I took upon as being objectionable and likely to lower the discipline of the Gaol when sentences inflicted by Justices are not carried out. In Liverpool where prisoners are only 35 minutes "per diem" longer on the wheel than in the City Gaol "20 to 25 per cent are exempt" whereas, in the City Gaol out of 208 prisoners put on the wheel during the first three months of this year only 10 were removed , or less than 5 per cent which clearly shows that it is an important consideration, and that a change in the wheel labour should not be made with[out] properly considering all points.

In conclusion I beg to say that having given a theoretical opinion on the adoption of the wheel labor in the City Gaol I am now after some experience of [the] opinion that we cannot with safety tax prisoners much more than we do now upon the wheel, without firstly, altering the duration of time served by prisoners in for short terms, secondly , by diminishing the number of revolutions in exact ratio with the increased time, and thirdly by improving the quality of the diet for men serving short terms.

C H Lane


As can be seen from above the Visiting Justices were constantly making reports about various faults in the prison, even complaining about the wrong type of tread mills being installed and the speed at which they should operate (see above). As previously stated the prison was demolished in 1892, but it closed much earlier than that. Many sources state that the building was condemned because of mining subsidence. The following is taken from the South Manchester Gazette dated 7th January 1888  under the sub heading of "The Closure of Belle Vue Gaol":

 The Magistrates' Clerk read the 10th annual report of the Visiting Committee of Her Majesty's Prison, Hyde Road, which stated that on 24th May 1887, all the prisoners were removed from Hyde Road  to Her Majesty's  Prison at Strangeways, and from then until the present time all prisoners committed by the justices of the city have, by the discretion of  the Secretary of State, been sent to Strangeways prison. The books and documents were likewise moved to Strangeways and Knutsford Prisons, as the committee are informed, by which removal the committee are unable to give the usual figures as to the number of prisoners committed and other particulars embodied in their reports. The Mayor said the reasons given for closing the gaol was that it was unnecessary to have three prisons open at Strangeways, Knutsford and Manchester. There was a diminution in the number of prisoners, which was a very happy state of things under the circumstances. Mr Beard asked whether it was not a fact that the foundations of the tower were giving away. The Mayor said he believed it was.

In reply to Alderman Hopkinson and other Magistrates, the Mayor thought that he matter would be best settled in a legal manner. Parliament seemed to have anticipated things and provided for them in the Act. It was a lawyer's question, and rested upon the interpretation of the Act. The city would be relieved of a permanent cost in the matter.

I have recently found a copy of this report and is differs slightly from the newspaper version of events.


Whatever the true reason for closing  of the gaol, I am sure that there would be few people who regretted its demise.


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