THE NEW PRISONS.
At the spring assizes in 1820, Newgate gaol was presented by the grand jury of
the town, "as being out of repair, and inconvenient, insufficient, and insecure." As
both the common gaol and house of correction belonged to the corporation, and the
inhabitants were subjected to the payment of county rates, "doubts were entertained
with whom the legal liability rested of repairing and rendering the same convenient,
sufficient, and secure." In order to obviate these doubts, and to avoid the delay and
expense of litigating the question, application was made to parliament for "An Act
for building a new Gaol and a new House of Correction in and for the Town and
County of Newcastle upon Tyne, and for other Purposes relating thereto."
The different parishes of the town held several meetings on this subject, and at
length agreed to depute Mr. William Coates, cooper and wine merchant, and Messrs.
Joseph Bainbridge and Thomas Brown, solicitors, to watch over the progress of this
bill, in conjunction with Nathaniel Clayton, Esq. the town's clerk. All the clauses
of the bill were amicably settled; and, after passing through the several stages, it received the royal assent 24th May, 1822.
The mayor, recorder, and aldermen, with two persons nominated by each parish
on behalf of the inhabitants, were appointed commissioners for carrying this act into
execution. (fn. 1) Opinions differed respecting the best scite for the intended buildings;
but at length it was agreed to fix upon the south end of the Carliol Croft. As this
situation is objectionable in so many points of view, it would be extremely difficult
to conjecture the reasons that induced the commissioners to make such a selection.
Its comparative nearness to the Town's Court has been mentioned as an advantage it
possesses over other situations, apparently more eligible. (fn. 2) The ground, which measures two acres, was purchased of James Graham Clarke, Esq. for £2000.
The plans furnished by Mr. John Dobson, architect, being approved of by the
magistrates and commissioners, Mr. Robert Robson contracted to execute the masonwork, the late Mr. James Glynn to furnish the cast iron pillars, &c. Mr. Welford of
Gateshead to make the iron doors, and Mr. John Scott the smaller and nicer ironwork. The digging of the foundation, and the building of large sewers underneath
the intended wings of the building, were immediately commenced; and the ceremony of laying the foundation-stone took place at two o'clock in the afternoon of
the 4th of June, 1823. Robert Bell, Esq. mayor, preceded by the regalia of the
corporation, and accompanied by the recorder, aldermen, and sheriff, with the commissioners representing the four parishes, went in procession from the Guild-Hall to
the scite of the intended prisons. A glass vase, containing all the coins struck during the reign of his present majesty, was deposited in a cavity of the stone by William Boyd, Esq. the treasurer to the commissioners; after which, a brass plate, bearing
an appropriate inscription, was inserted. The following is a fac-simile of the inscription :—
being the Foundation Stone of the
NEW GAOL & HOUSE OF CORRECTION
TOWN & COUNTY
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE,
Was laid by the
Rt. WORSHIPFUL ROBt. BELL ESQre.
The 4th Day of June in the 4th Year
of the Reign of his
MAJESTY KING GEORGE IV.
A. D. 1823.
John Dobson, Architect.
The mayor then proceeded to lay the stone with a silver trowel, which he afterwards presented to the architect. He then addressed the spectators in a brief and
energetic speech, which was received with hearty cheers, answered by a discharge
of artillery from the Castle. This was succeeded by the ringing of the bells of the
several churches. The mayor afterwards entertained the magistrates, commissioners,
and others concerned, at the Mansion House.
The architect, in devising the plan of these buildings, has endeavoured to render
them applicable to the three chief purposes of prisons, by providing, 1st, for the safe
custody of the prisoners; 2dly, for their punishment; and, 3dly, for their reformation. By erecting a circular or elliptical building for the residence of the keepers,
from which they can at all times unseen inspect the radiating wings of the prisons,
the barbarous contrivance of dungeons and fetters become unnecessary, and misbehaviour cannot elude observation and instant correction. The committee of "the
Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline," recommended that such wings
be built so as to contain a double row of cells; but Mr. Dobson, who has devoted
much time and attention to this subject, demonstrated the danger and impropriety
of this arrangement, and advised single rows, which they at last approved of. (fn. 3) In
this building, each wing contains but a single row of cells; and the windows are opposite to the blank, back wall of the next wing, so that no telegraph conversation
can be held between the different classes, who will be as completely separated from
each other as if they were inhabitants of different regions. It has also been a leading
object to provide the cheapest accommodations to the prisoners, not imparting injury
to health; for unwholesome cells, or the losing a portion of health, can never be a
proper punishment; nor ought persons who are merely detained in safe custody
until trial suffer any unnecessary privations.
This massive building is enclosed by a thick wall, twenty-five feet in height above
the inner courts. The entrance is by a strong tower on the west side, in which is an
arched gateway, fourteen feet in height. Above the outer entrance is a large stone,
on which it is proposed to cut the arms of the town. Two ponderous gates are to secure this entrance. Between them is the door of the porter's lodge; but he can
speak to persons wanting admittance through a window on the outside. Apartments
above may be used for prisoners detained in default of bail, and other purposes. The
opposite side may probably be appropriated for the reception of vagrants, &c.
On passing the inner gate, the strong and lofty centre tower opens to the view,
the grand entrance to which is ascended by eighteen long steps. Above these is an
arch formed of immense blocks of stone, beyond which is a circular recess, with a
dome roof. The dim shadows of the figures pacing along this covered vestibule
must tend to impress the minds of strangers with feelings of awe and apprehension.
There are also private stairs on each side of this building, which lead to the wings
On the ground-floor, and below the outer stairs, is a large arched cellar for coals,
with ash-holes on each side. On the right hand side is a large, convenient washhouse, with store-rooms, &c.; and on the other side, a warm and cold bath, water
closets, &c.: the whole well adapted for the convenience of a large establishment.
At the extremity of the grand landing-place is the committee-room and office of the
governor, which command, on one side, a view of two of the radiated wings and
airing courts; and, on the other, of the gateway and approaching avenue. The
apartments of the keeper of the house of correction adjoin, and afford a view of the
task-rooms and yards belonging to his department, as well as of the outer gateway.
On the opposite side are apartments for the matron, who can overlook the prison and
grounds appropriated for female prisoners. On ringing a bell, either the matron,
turnkey, or keeper of the house of correction, may be summoned, by a private
passage, into the governor's office. Above is a parlour, kitchen, and back-kitchen,
for the governor; and on the other side, other apartments for the keeper of the
house of correction. The floor above contains the governor's bed-room, dressing
room, and store-rooms. The semicircular part of the fourth story contains the
chapel, which will be lighted from the sides of a dome. The prisoners will be
marched from the upper gallery of their own wing, across an iron bridge, to the
door of the chapel, which opens into their pew. There will be nine doors and
nine pews for the different classes; and the pews being divided by partitions, extending to the roof of the chapel, the view of each class will be confined to the
pulpit. The altar will stand in front of the pulpit, on one side of which will be a
pew for the governor's family, and on the other one for the keeper of the house of
correction. Behind this, and concealed by a screen, is space for another, which may
be appropriated for female debtors. The clergyman, governor, &c. will have a clear
view of all the congregation in their several boxes. One side of this story will contain a large cistern for rain water, and another which will be kept full of water raised
by a force-pump. The other side will contain bed-rooms for the servants. The
stairs of this building are formed entirely of stone.
The first radiating wing on the right hand side is intended to be a house of correction for male prisoners. It consists of four stories, two of which have a day, or
work-room, open to the inspection of the keeper. In the lowest story are four solitary cells, without fire-places, and having but one narrow window. These are for
incorrigible offenders of the worst class. The cells in the second story are for a
better description; and in the third are three light sleeping cells, and a sick-chamber,
with water-closet, &c. The highest story also contains a sick chamber and seven
sleeping cells. Most of the cells in this row measure nine feet by five feet.
The second wing, being on higher ground, is only three stories high; and the
sleeping cells do not exceed eight feet by five feet. The ground-floor contains a
sick-room, with conveniences, and three sleeping cells. On the next floor are a large,
airy work-room, one night-cell, and a sick-room; and on the third story are a sick-room
and seven sleeping cells. This wing may be appropriated to female prisoners consigned
to hard labour. The arrangements of the next two wings are nearly similar. The
wing on the left hand on entering is intended to be the debtor's prison. The cells,
even on the ground-floor, are light and airy; and all the stories above have accommodations necessary for health and cleanliness. The upper gallery, in bad weather, will
afford an airy promenade, the ends being secured only by iron barred gates.
The roofs of the day-rooms in this prison are formed of large stone flags, supported
by cast metal pillars, across which are iron joists. Thus the roof of one row of rooms
becomes the floor of the one above. The highest apartments are also ceiled with
stone, above which is ruble masonry supported along the top of the buildings by
projecting stone cornices. The sick-rooms have no pillars, the roofs being secured by
French joints. All the cells and passages are well ventilated; and, from the narrowness of the windows, and the thick, solid masonry of the walls, the temperature of
the air must always be tolerably mild. When once thoroughly dried, no moisture will
ever penetrate to the cells. All the water-closets are constructed on a new and improved plan, and can never emit any offensive or unhealthy smell. The two yards between each building will be divided by a wall fourteen feet in height. At the south
side of the large airing court for males, a tread-mill will be erected; and should this
mode of punishment continue in fashion, (fn. 4) others may be erected in the private yard
of any particular class. The large airing court on the left hand of the entrance is to
be appropriated to the debtors, who perhaps may be also permitted to walk in the
garden, which will adjoin the felons' gaol. It was once in contemplation to use one
division of the outer tower as a watch-house and temporary night prison.
According to the original plan, these prisons were to consist of six radiating wings;
but the commissioners have resolved to build only five at present. People, in comparing the old and new prisons, are struck by the disproportioned magnitude of the
latter, without reflecting on the greater space requisite for the improved system of
prison discipline, and the classification actually required by act of parliament. Fifty
prisoners, if properly divided, may require as much room as a hundred; as a
particular ward may be occupied by four or five prisoners, though capable of accommodating above twice the number. Besides, a considerable part of the buildings
will be required for persons committed to the house of correction. The old "house of
correction is calculated to hold thirty-two persons; yet, at one time, it has contained
forty. Six or seven persons have been obliged to sleep in one bed!" (fn. 5) Should the
sixth wing not be wanted, about £3000 of the public money will be saved.
It is a remarkable fact, that this vast building has been erected without deviating,
in the smallest degree, from the first plan. A small alteration was, in one instance,
attempted, and, from necessity, abandoned. The whole will be covered in before
next winter, and will, when finished, be the best contrived, the strongest, and the
cheapest prison of similar extent ever erected in this kingdom. The total expense
is limited by act of parliament to £50,000; but it will not much exceed £35,000, of
which the mason-work is estimated to cost about £23,000. The stone has been
mostly procured from the Church Quarry, on Gateshead Fell, from which the stone
was taken to build All Saints' church and the new County Courts; only the material now consists of a lower and better quality. A great proportion of the stones are
of an immense size; and many parts of the walls, when built, cost less than the same
cubic measurement of small stones would be charged undressed. The designs of our
old English architects were often scientific, rich, and fanciful; but they never executed works of such admirable strength and durability as this. In the present day,
scientific conceptions are executed with mechanical skill.