The Borough Prison

The Borough Prison, East Street, South Molton (Present day Nos. 22 & 23)

A new prison was built in 1828/29 at the expense of the Corporation of South Molton. Situated in East Street it contained four cells and two large day rooms, plus two strong cells. There was a good yard attached to the gaol. There was living accommodation for the prison staff. It is described as "a very convenient and good gaol", whereas the old gaol is described as a "wretched place" it contained but three apartments, and was very insecure. The new prison was built at a cost of about £2,000.

Two Serjeants at Mace, acted as gaolers and constables in addition to other duties; they also attended the mayor; the corporation provided them each with a house attached to the gaol, rent free; they received a salary of £5 each p.a. The senior serjeant received 3 guineas and the junior serjeant 2 guineas as inspectors of the market. They were provided with cloaks once every six years and a hat every other year.

There were eight constables appointed by the Mayor. The chief constable received a salary of £10 p.a. One of the constables was the Bailiff who received a salary of £4 p.a. and a house.

The policing of the town was considered sufficient for the protection of the town. Sessions of the Peace were held quarterly before the Mayor, Recorder and Justices; the number of prisoners did not exceed four and frequently there was not one prisoner for trial at the Sessions. The Grand Jury was selected by the Mayor from a list containing the names of the most respectable tradesmen of the town. The Mayor selected the foreman of the grand jury. No member of the Corporation was allowed to serve on the grand jury.

The Petty Sessions were held once in three weeks, or more frequently if required and the Petty Juries were selected by the serjeants-at-mace from the tradesmen of the town. The juries were stated to be very respectable and intelligent.

Source - BPP Government Municipal Corporation Report February 1834

Pigot's Directory of 1830 gives the following entry "George Tepper, governor of the goal and music seller, East Street."

North Devon Journal - December 1841 First police officer appointed – Superintendent Fisher.

Pigot's Directory of 1844 gives the following entry " SOUTH MOLTON GAOL, East Street – George Tepper, governor."

North Devon Jounal April 5th 1849 – Advertisement for Assistant Policeman at a salary of 14/- per week.

White's Directory of 1850 – "The Borough Gaol in East Street was built about twelve years ago, at the cost of about £2000, and comprises dwellings for the gaoler and superintendent of police, and six cells, two large day rooms, and an airing yard for the prisoners."

"Widgery Pp., gaoler, &c"

The Billing's Directory of 1857 gives the following entry " Widgery Philip, gaoler, East Street."

Exeter Flying Post 14/3/1860 - 9c

New Police Station - A new police station for the county is to be erected in Stepper’s-lane in this town and Mr. John Cock jun has obtained the contract. (nb should read Steppa Lane which is present day North Street)

Kelly's Directory of 1866 gives the following entry "Police Station, East Street, William Henry Fisher, superintendent."

White's Directory of 1878 – THE BOROUGH GAOL, in East Street, built in 1828/9, at the cost of about £2000, comprises dwellings for the superintendent of police, and six cells, two large day rooms, and an airing yard for the prisoners. It is now used as a House of Detention only. The prisoners convicted are sent to the county gaol at Exeter".

"Devon Constabulary, 18 North Street; John Wood, suprdt."

N.B. 1878 was the year that the Borough Police were amalgamated with the County Police.

The Diamond Jubilee; An illustrated record of Queen Victoria’s reign of 60 years

"1889 - Free Lending Library started by Town Council in part of old Borough Prison premises."N.B. The library started with the books that had belonged to the Mechanics’ Institute, which together with invested funds of £258.13s 3d had been handed over to the Town Council by the Committee for the specific purpose of forming a free lending library.

White's Directory of 1890 – "The LOCK-UP comprises dwellings for police constable, and two cells, two large day rooms, and an airing yard for the prisoners. It is used as a House of Detention only. The prisoners convicted are sent to the county gaol at Exeter."

The old Borough Gaol in East Street is now converted into an Armoury for the G. Company, 4th V.B.D.R."

The Kelly's Directory of 1897 – "The County Police Station in South Street, is a fine building, with spacious offices, and quarters for sergeants and constables, and was erected in 1894 at a cost of about £2,500."

Researched by Shirley Bray – June 2007

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