by  • June 14, 2013 • Cardigan, Ceredigion, Period, Post-Medieval, Site Type • 9 Comments


    In 1791 John Nash was paid £48.17s. for plans, elevations and estimates for a new Gaol for Cardigan – this was approved in February at the Quarter Sessions. The main contractors were James Rees – mason; Richard Oliver – carpenter; and William Slack of Cheapside – ironmonger. In 1793 Sir Richard Colt-Hoare commented on “…the handsome pile of masonry…” being built, but feared that:

    “…if a palace pleases the eye or the mind better than a cottage, a poor man may be excited thereby to a wish to change his lodgings…”

    T. George of Carmarthen, who took over from John Nash, belatedly completed the building in 1795. That year it was suggested by some that the unpopular prison surgeon, John Williams of Newcastle Emlyn, should be imprisoned here himself. In 1797 John Nash received £81.9s.6d. based upon his original estimates. That year it was written that:

    “…Our new gaol is a masterpiece. It contains six day rooms, six airing yards, five workshops, and every requisite for the due classification of the prisoners of whom it is capable of accommodating 32 in separate cells, and 47 by placing more than one prisoner in each cell…”

    The entrance to Cardigan Gaol, 1860's (Glen Johnson Collection)

    The entrance to Cardigan Gaol, 1860′s (Glen Johnson Collection)

    It was discovered that year that the Gaol had been built on land not owned by the County, to whom it was then sold by owner Thomas Johnes of Hafod for £52. 10s. In 1799 new oak doors were installed as the original doors were not strong enough. On 1st November 1799 Gaoler William Langdon appeared at the Assizes accused of allowing Thomas Thomas, a prisoner accused of forging a bank-note, to escape. The case was dismissed. In 1801 John Hammet, proprietor of the Penygored Tinplate Works, Cilgerran, was paid £18.5s. for new iron gates for the gaol. That year the unpopular prison surgeon, John Williams of Newcastle Emlyn, was replaced by Thomas Edward Pryse Jones of Cardigan. John Williams was reinstated soon afterwards with Alexander Bevan as his assistant. On 30th November 1801 there were thirteen prisoners – including six debtors and five felons. In 1803 James Neald visited and described the gaol. His report was published in 1812 and appears below. It contained a kitchen, an office for the gaoler, a Great Hall 38 ft long and 30 ft wide with semicircular ends for the inspection of prisoners, sleeping cells for criminals, four rooms for debtors and a chapel. Above the latter were two rooms for the sick. Neald described it as being all dirty and lacking a water supply. The nearest water was at Pensarnau Well. 

    “…The new gaol has been in use for six years. The gaoler is a person called William Langdon, and he receives an annual salary of £30…”

    Debtors slept on straw in rooms with fireplaces but no fuel. John Williams of Newcastle Emlyn was the surgeon and Rev. John Evans was the chaplain. On September 26th 1803 there were 4 prisoners – 3 debtors and a felon. William Langdon was not living in the Great Hall as intended, and that room was full of corn which the prisoners were threshing out. In 1803-17 William Langdon was the gaoler and John Williams was the surgeon. In 1808 Samuel Rush Meyrick commented:

    “…At one end of the broad street is the jail, or penitentiary house, erected at the expense of the county, in the year 1793, by Mr. Nash, the architect. It is a very handsome building, and on a good plan. It has a chapel which is kept remarkably clean. The central, or inspection room, is the residence of the jailer. One great disadvantage, however, is the want of a ready supply of water, none being to be had but what is fetched by the keepers from a well at the distance of a quarter of a mile…”

    In 1811 the same observations were repeated, plus mention of the:

    “…central block with two wings, a pedimented fore-building and a small addition in the rear, making an irregular cross plan, the whole enclosed with a high surrounding wall…”

    On 12th March 1812 two convicts escaped. The story was reported in the ‘Carmarthen Journal‘ on March 21st 1812:

    CARDIGANSHIRE. Broke out of Cardigan Gaol, in the night of the 12th instant. Thomas Evans, late of Aberystwith, hawker and horse-dealer, committed for uttering base coin: he is about 36 years of age, and about five feet six inches high; wore a blue frock-coat, leather breeches, and boots; knock-kneed, brown complexion, round face, brown eyes, cocked nose, black hair: T. E. inscribed on the skin of both his arms, with the figure of an anchor, and also a resemblance of a woan, with a glass on one of them.

    And also escaped at the same time, Richard Morgan, committed for theft, of the parish of Ystrade: he is about 40 years of age, black hair, dark complexion, remarkably short sighted.

    Whoever will secure them, in one of his Majesty’s gaols, shall, on conviction, receive a Reward of Ten Guineas, on applying immediately to William Langdon, Gaol-keeper, Cardigan. – Dated 14th March, 1812…”

    In 1812 T. Neild published his ‘State of the Prisons in England, Scotland and Wales’. He made the following entry concerning Cardigan Gaol:

    CARDIGAN, South Wales. The County Gaol, and Bridewell. Gaoler, William Langdon. Salary, 30l. Fees, for debtors and Bridewell Prisoners, 6s. 8d. for Felons, tried at the Great Sessions, 13s. 4d. and for the Conveyance of Transports, 1s. per mile. Chaplain, Rev. John Evans. Salary, 20l. Duty, on Sundays: and at other times, if required. Surgeon, Mr. Williams. Salary, for Debtors and Felons, 10l. Number of Prisoners: 1801, Nov. 30th – 6 debtors; 5 felons; 2 Bridewell. 1803, Sept. 26th, 3 Debtors; 1 Felon; 0 Bridewell. Allowance, to Debtors, none whatever. If the Debtor be poor, he must apply to his parish for relief. To the Gaoler, for the maintenance of Felons and other Criminal Prisoners, 4s. 8d. each per week.

    REMARKS – This Gaol, which is also the Bridewell, was finished and inhabited in 1797, and stands at the North-end of the Town; having in front a paved court, 42 feet by 27, with cast-iron pallisades, which give it a very handsome appearance. On one side of the entrance is the Gaoler’s kitchen, and, on the other side, his office; beyond which, and in the centre of the building, is the Great-Hall, or Inspection-Room, 38 feet by, and four above stairs 30, of a circular shape; It has a flag-stone floor, with two fire-places, and four windows, commanding a view of the four different courts, each of which is 20 yards by 16.

    Were the Gaoler to live in the Great-Hall, he would then have a full and complete view of the whole Prison, from a point the most eligible for effectual inspection: But at my last visit, in September 1803, I found it filled with corn, and two Men were absolutely threshing it out! The six passages, which lead to the Criminal’s sleeping cells, open into this room. For Debtors here are four rooms on the ground-floor, and four above stairs, each 13 feet by 11, and furnished with fire-places; but no fuel allowed, which had rather a tantalising appearance. Straw is the only bedding supplied by the County for Prisoners of every description.

    The entrance to the Felons’ ward is at the lower end of the Great-Hall, and forms a detached wing of the Gaol. They have four sleeping-cells below, and four above stairs, each 10 feet 6 inches by 9 feet, and 10 feet 6 inches high. To this wing are attached two small courts, 15 feet each by 11; but as being out of the Gaoler’s view, the Prisoners seldom have the use of them. The Bridewell part of the Prison comprizes twelve rooms and sleeping-cells, about 10 feet each by 8, with loose straw in them to sleep on.

    The Chapel is properly partitioned off, so that the sexes do not see each other; their respective lobbies leading distinctly to their seats. Over the Chapel are two rooms for the sick, each 38 feet by 30, the size of the Great-Hall below. They are both light and airy, and furnished with fire-places.

    There is no water laid on to the premises of this County-Prison: The Keeper must therefore fetch it from a well, a quarter of a mile distant: Even the inhabitants purchase water for their own use. No bath: The whole Prison is, and must be, very dirty, till some improvement takes place, to supply the means of ablution and cleanliness. Geese, ducks, and poultry inhabited the court-yards. The Prison is a new structure, of little more than ten years standing. A Lunatick was here confined with a Felon! No particular care seemed to be taken of the maniac; although, probably, by medicines, and a proper regimen, some, at least, of this melancholy description, might be restored both to reason and usefulness in life.

    No Table of Fees. No fuel allowed to any part of the Prison. Seldom visited by Magistrates. No Rules and Orders: Neither the Act hung up, for preserving the Health of Prisoners, nor the Clauses against their use of Spirituous Liquors…”

    In 1814 Rev. John Evans of Llanarth was the Prison Chaplain, but neglected his duties. In 1815 a new Welsh Bible and Testament was purchased for the use of prisoners. In 1816 Gaol fees were abolished by Act of Parliament. In July 1816 Thomas Evans escaped from the Gaol. In 1817, as a result of widespread famine since 1816, the Gaol was full of starving beggars and debtors. In 1817 Rees Rees was paid £4.16s. for installing a small pump to bring water into the gaol. Margaret David and Margaret Richards were paid £1. 16s. “…for attending the sick and keeping clean the different apartments of the County Gaol…” Both women were in gaol themselves for petty larceny. On 21st March 1818 the position of Gaol keeper was advertised and by 2nd May 1818 William Langdon had died.

    On 20th April 1818 Evan Evans became the Gaolkeeper until 1848. On 16th July 1818 Rev. Griffith Thomas became the Chaplain. In November 1818 a reward was offered for information leading to the recapture of two escapees – J. Meakin and J. Adkins. The pair were caught at Birmingham in January 1819. In October 1821 Will James alias “Big Will” was executed here. In December 1821 three men were imprisoned here for the murder of blacksmith Thomas Evans of Rhydfendigaid – the only murder committed in the area within living memory, according to the ‘Times’. On 20th October 1823 Mary Evans, wife of the Gaol-keeper, became the Matron. In 1824 the “House of Correction” was enlarged to serve the whole county. In January 1825 tenders were sought for building additions. On 25th February 1825 Thomas Noott became the surgeon. On 14th August 1825 Evan Evans, son of Gaol-keeper Evan Evans and Mary Evans, was christened at St. Mary’s Church. In April 1827 a vagrant named William Andrews was hanged here for stealing some old clothes from a house in Aberporth. John Miles, joiner, conducted some repairs in 1828. In 1828 Evan Evans, gaoler, owned shares in the vessel ‘Ruth’, 46 tons.

    On 15th July 1831 John Evans received £10.13s. for timber for repairs to the goal. On 20th July 1832 Thomas Bowen received £60 for conducting repairs. In 1834 the Gaol was marked on J. Wood’s map of Cardigan. In 1835 Evan Evans was the Governor, Rev. Griffith Thomas the chaplain, and Dr Thomas Noott the surgeon. In 1836 Evan Evans, gaoler, owned shares in the ship ‘Rachel’, 33 tons. On 8th November 1838 John Mathias, joiner of Pwllai, married Evan Evans’ daughter, Maria Evans. In 1839 Evan Evans, governor, owned shares in the Cardigan ship ‘Sarah’, 38 tons. In 1840 Evan Evans, the Governor, leased two cottages on Pendre for demolition and use as building sites, from Philip John Miles of the Priory. On 20th August 1840 Captain John Best Ferrier of Catherine Row married Anne Evans, daughter of Governor Evan Evans. In 1841 the following persons were resident: Evan Evans, 60, keeper; Mary Evans, 60, his wife, matron; Margaretta Evans, 20, their daughter, servant; Evan Evans, 15, son, keeper’s assistant; Mary Jenkins, 15, servant; 20 male prisoners and 2 female prisoners. In July 1841 the Gaol contained 9 debtors and 10 offenders. On 9th March 1843 Mary Anne Evans was christened at St. Mary’s Church. She was the daughter of the unmarried Evan Evans jnr and a single woman named Jane Hasselby of High Street. On 22nd January 1844 Captain Evan Thomas, Master mariner of Aberporth (Master of the ‘Pheasant’, married Margaretta Evans, daughter of Governor Evan Evans.

    On 3rd January 1845 the following appeared in the ‘Pembrokeshire Herald‘:

    “…Amongst other things, it was Ordered— That £ 40 be granted for Repairing the old Jail, at Cardigan. Ordered— That the Treadmill be repaired under the superintendence and direction of the visiting magistrates or any three of them.”

    That year a vagrant was brought before the Mayor of Cardigan for refusing to do his work in the Cardigan Union Workhouse, St. Dogmaels. He was sentenced to 21 days hard labour here instead. On 24th February 1848 Evan Evans, turnkey, son of Evan Evans, married Mary Ann Myers of the Mwldan, daughter of plumber John Myers. The ‘Pembrokeshire Herald‘ for 26th May 1848 includes the following item:

    “…CARDIGAN.—On Thursday, the 18th instant, two prisoners, who were committed for a burglary near Aberystwith, a few days previous, escaped from Cardigan Goal. Their cell was on the first floor. After being served with their supper they retired. They removed some stones, and made a hole in the wall, got through it, and dropped upon the iron gratings that cover the airing yards; then walked. the outer wall which is only about 2 feet 6 inches from the grating. They cut their blankets into pieces, which they tied to the grating”, and dropped themselves over the outer wail. When they were missed the deputy-governor, with assistants and policemen, went in search of them, but up to the present time, they have not been successful...”

    On 26th May 1848, following the arrest of James James, a farm labourer of St. Dogmaels and a spokesman for a ‘ceffyl pren’ demonstration, he was marched here by a Sergeant Guard, followed by an angry mob. According to the press:

    “…Directly they got into the Court yard, in front of the gaol, a volley of stones was thrown at the police and soldiers…If it had not been for the presence of the Military and police, great outrages would have been committed…”

    In 1848 five vagrants were arrested in Cardigan for begging and were sent here to work on the treadmill. On 20th October 1848 R. K. Penson, County Surveyor, found the building in a very poor state within and without, having originally been built in an unsuitable manner using inferior materials. On 13th July 1849 the ‘Pembrokeshire Herald‘ reported the following, from the Cardiganshire Sessions:

    “…The resignation of Mr. Evan Evans, sen., as keeper of he House of Correction at Cardigan, was accepted, and Mr. Evan Evans. jun was appointed pro. tem. in his room, at the old salary, and to find matron and turnkey. It was at the same time ordered that a keeper and matron, at a salary of £ 100 per annum be advertised for…”

    In 1849-70 Evan Evans jnr. was the Governor. On 2nd August 1849 Richard Evans, son of goalkeeper Evan Evans and Mary Anne Evans, was christened at St. Mary’s Church. On 6th February 1851 William Thomas, turnkey, married servant Sarah Lewis, both staff at the Gaol. On 7th April 1851 Mary Anne Evans, daughter of governor Evan Evans and Mary Anne Evans, was christened at St. Mary’s Church In 1851 the occupiers were:- Evan Evans, 25, governor; Mary Anne Evans, 23, his wife; Richard Evans, 1, their son; Mary Anne Evans, 1 month, daughter; Anne James, 21, Nurse; Anne James, 18, house servant; William Thomas, 28, turnkey of the Gaol; Sarah Thomas, 24, turnkey’s wife; Prisoners – Thomas Roach, 21; George Sycamore, 25; David Davies, 30; David James, 14; John Allen, 24; John Thomas, 43; Evan Jones, 46; Edward Samuel, 32; Charles Wright, 21; John Jones, 18; Eleanor Thomas, 58; Mary Williams, 22; David Evans, 55; Owen Owens, 31. In 1851 Evan Evans, governor, owned shares in the Cardigan ship ‘Betsey’, 36 tons. On 28th October 1851 Elizabeth Jane Evans, daughter of Evan & Mary Anne Evans, was baptised at St. Mary’s Church. On 9th March 1852 former governor and father of the then governor, Evan Evans, died aged 72.

    On 18th August 1853 Elizabeth Jane Evans, daughter of Evan Evans, Governor, was buried at St. Mary’s Church, having died aged 11 months. On 3rd September 1853 Mary Anne Evans, daughter of Evan Evans, was buried at St. Mary’s Church, having died aged 2 years, 6 months. On 21st November 1853 Richard Evans, son of Evan Evans, was buried at St. Mary’s Church, having died aged 4 years, 4 months. On 26th November 1853 Ann Davies was buried at St. Mary’s Church having died here aged 20, presumably a servant or an inmate. On 28th March 1855 Mary Anne Evans, daughter of Evan Evans, was buried at St. Mary’s Church having died aged 6 months. On 19th October 1855 the following report appeared in the ‘Pembrokeshire Herald‘ regarding the County Sessions:

    “…The Goaler’s, Chaplain’s, and Surgeon’s reports were read. Mr. David Davies gave notice that at the next quarter sessions application will be made to adopt the recommendation in the report now presented to the court for new roofing the criminal ward and that of the Goaler’s residence; and that a sum not exceeding £ 200 will be applied for to defray the cost. Mr. Davies applied for an immediate grant. The Court considered that the requisite notice must first be given. Mr. Lloyd Davies said the Court had power to grant a sum in case of emergency, and inquired whether this came under that category. A discussion ensued, and Mr. Penson was asked his opinion, who declined to give one, as he had not recently seen the building. The Governor of the Goal was then asked whether he considered there was a probability of the roof falling in before the spring of next year, and replied in the negative. The motion consequently stood over until the next sessions…”

    On 4th July 1856 the following appeared in the ‘Pembrokeshire Herald‘ in a report on the County Sessions:

    “…The Gaoler presented his report, which contained a recommendation from the Visiting Justices that the exercise yard should be flagged to counteract the damp. The yard was unfit for exercise in winter. The probable expense would be £10. Colonel Vaughan said that the roof of the debtors’ gaol was bad, and gave notice that at the next sessions he should move that a sum not exceeding £ 130 be granted for its repair. The Chaplain’s and Surgeon’s Reports were read, but they contained nothing important…”

    On 4th March 1857 Evan Evans, son of gaoler Evan Evans and Mary Anne Evans, was baptised at St. Mary’s Church, Cardigan. On 28th April 1857 Evan Evans, infant son of Evan Evans, was buried at St. Mary’s Church, having died aged 2 months. A daughter, Mary Evans, was born to the Evans’ on 30th June 1858. On 9th June 1860 the following article appeared in the ‘Cardiff & Merthyr Guardian‘:

    “…ATTEMPTED MURDER AND ESCAPE AT CARDIGAN GAOL. We last week briefly noticed this most daring attempt We now give additional particulars from the Welshman. On Sunday morning last about seven o’clock, much excitement was created in this town in consequence of a deliberately planned attempt to escape from the gaol, made by two men, Henry Williams and John Stuart, who stand committed for trial at the next Assizes for a burglary at Lampeter. It appeared from the evidence of witnesses, who were examined at a special petty sessions, held before Colonel Vaughan and David Davies, Esq., two of the visiting justices of the gaol, on Monday last, that the attack was a most determined one. James Jacobs, the turnkey, stated that about six o’clock on Sunday morning be unlocked the iron gate of the passage leading to the cells of the prisoners committed for trial, and entered the passage, locking the gate after him and taking the key, the two men being the only prisoners in that ward. The prisoner Williams slept in a cell down stairs, and Stuart in a cell up stairs. He opened the door of Williams’ cell and the door of the day room where their clothes were kept during the night, and then went upstairs and opened the door of Stuart’s cell, and sent him down to the day room for his clothes. On returning, and while passing Williams’ cell, the prisoner Stuart suddenly attacked him from behind, and tried to force him into Williams’ cell, he resisted and Williams then came out of his cell and seized him by the neckerchief which he twisted with great violence. Williams being an extremely powerful man, a desperate struggle look place. Stuart placed his hands upon the turnkey’s mouth, and to prevent his calling out Williams held him tight by the twisted neckerchief, with one hand, while he beat him terribly about the head with the other. Williams has stated that he is a prize fighter. In the struggle Jacobs got one of Stuart’s fingers into his mouth and bit it, which obliged the fellow to withdraw his band, and Jacobs instantly shouted for help, and fortunately his cries were heard by the maid-servants of the gaol, who were just going out to milk. Ellen Ellis, one of the girls, ran to the iron gate and saw the struggle going on, Jacobs being forced on his knees. She ran to the stairs leading to her master’s bedroom, and called for help, stating that the prisoners were murdering Jacobs. Mr. Evans, the governor, and his wife, instantly got out of bed, and Mrs. Evans took a revolver pistol, and, in her night clothes, rushed to the iron gate of the passage, where the men were still struggling. She presented the pistol through the gate, and told  Williams to loose Jacobs or she would shoot him. Upon hearing her Williams let go his hold, and Jacobs was in a few seconds able to arise. The governor of the gaol followed his wife immediately, but, having to run to the room used as an office, for a duplicate key of the passage gate, he was momentarily detained. When the gate was opened Mr. Evans found Jacobs in a very exhausted state, breathless and speechless, with blood running from his nose and mouth. Mr. Evans immediately went to the place where the prisoner Williams was standing, and ordered him to his cell; Stuart had already run upstairs to his cell. After some trouble, and threatening Williams that he would use a sword if he did not obey, he compelled him at the point of the sword to retire to his cell, where he was locked in. Upon returning to Jacobs, the poor fellow was recovering and just able to say, “Oh, Governor, they have just murdered me.” Further assistance was obtained, and both the prisoners were placed in irons, Williams being secured by heavy leg-irons and handcuffs. On searching the sleeping cells’ of the prisoners two large pieces of hard fire brick, which had been forced from the fire place, were found concealed in Williams’ bed—one piece, about half a brick, being securely tied up in an old stocking, which would have been a terrible weapon to strike with. Had the fellows secured Jacobs in the cell, there is no doubt Williams would have used the brick, but Stuart not being strong enough to force Jacobs in singly, Williams was obliged to go and assist him, and then was unable to return to the cell for his missile. The escape of Jacobs appears miraculous. Mr. Noott, the medical officer of the gaol, and the whole of the witnesses having been examined, the evidence was read over to the prisoners. Williams did not deny the charge, but made a long rambling statement. Stuart voluntarily said the scheme was planned by Williams. Stuart was to force Jacobs into Williams’ cell, they were then to secure him, and take the keys, and make their escape. Sunday morning was selected as the most favourable time, the governor of the gaol not being on duty as on other days, and less people being supposed to be about. There is no doubt that if the servant girls had gone away before the struggle commenced, nothing human could have saved Jacobs from being strangled, and if the fellows had secured the keys, and got out of the passage, it is impossible to surmise what mischief they would have done. The magistrates directed the evidence to be submitted to the Secretary of Slate for the Home Department for instructions, which Mr. R. D. Jenkins, the clerk to the Justices, has accordingly forwarded…”

    In 1860 Evan Evans, Governor, joined the newly-created Cardigan Company of Rifle Volunteers. In 1861 the building was occupied by the following persons: Evan Evans, 35, governor; Mary Anne Evans, 33, his wife, matron; their four daughters – Maria M. Evans, 7; Elizabeth Jane Evans, 5; Mary Evans, 3; and Annie Evans, 1; 4 staff and 16 prisoners. In the winter of 1862 there were 60 prisoners, of which 32 were vagrants. On 9th January 1863 Mary Evans, daughter of governor Evan Evans, was buried at St. Mary’s Church, having died aged 4 years, 6 months. On 12th January 1863 Annie Evans, daughter of Evan Evans, was buried at St. Mary’s Church, having died aged 3. In 1865 it was claimed that the Gaol was out of date, and £100 was given towards improvements. On 3rd July 1866 it was being debated whether the building should be repaired or closed down. The debate continued into the following year. On 5th July 1867 it was suggested that the Gaol should be replaced. On 11th October 1867 the following appeared in the ‘Pembrokeshire Herald‘:

    “…CARDIGAN COUNTY GAOL.—On Friday last, a great number of the magistrates of the County met at the Gaol for the purpose of ascertaining whether this gaol should be altered, so as to meet the requirements of the Prisoners’ Act, and the suggestions of the Government Inspector, who had reported that there were no sufficient accommodations and that the building was defective in ventilation. We are informed that the magistrates are of the opinion that the gaol can be properly altered, and that the county will be saved the immense expense of building a new gaol, which at one time appeared likely to be ordered. It is not yet known what will be the expense of the requisite alterations, and considering that the security is at present heavily taxed, it is to be hoped that the magistrates at the Quarter Sessions will be as economical as possible with the public money…”


    In 1868 Evan Evans was the governor and Mary Anne Evans, his wife, was the matron, Rev. Griffith Thomas was the chaplain and Dr. William Lane Noott was the surgeon. By 21st February 1868 there were strong protests locally at proposals to close the Gaol. On 16th October 1868 Mary Anne Evans, wife of the Governor, was buried at St. Mary’s Church having died aged 41. Further comment continued in 1868-69 on the proposed removal of the Gaol and Assizes from Cardigan, causing fears for the future prosperity of the town. On 9th January 1869 a report on the County Sessions in the ‘Aberystwyth Observer‘ included the following letters:

    “…REPORT OF THE GAOLER OF THE COUNTY PRISON. To Her Majesty’s Justices, Sfc. Gentlemen,—I regret that I am compelled to report to you that during the past sessions the number of committals has been unprecedentedly great. Daring the past quarter 66 prisoners have been committed to my custody, and 35 discharged. Thomas Lewis, who was sentenced to a term of 4 years in a reformatory school, was removed to the Stoke Priory Reformatory. Henry Marsden also, who was sentenced to penal servitude at the last sessions, was removed to the Pentonville prison on the 25th November, 1868. The greatest number at any one time has been 48, the daily average 38, and the least number, 33. The prison is clean, and in good repair. I am, &c., E. EVANS.

    REPORT OF VISITING JUSTICES. Cardigan, January 4th, 1869. To the Chairman and Court of Quarter Sessions at Aberayron assembled, January 5th, 1869. Gentlemen,—We have the honour to report that during the last quarter the number of prisoners has greatly increased, and has exceeded that of any previous quarter for many years past, even more than at the last quarter sessions, when we directed your attention to the subject. In consequence of the great number of prisoners, we have been unable to carry out the hard labour punishment in its full severity. The infliction of a short sentence of 7 days, with the accompanying low diet, has had the effect of diminishing the crime of tearing up clothes in work- houses and lock-up houses for the purpose of being sent to gaol; but the great number of tramps, and consequent increase of crime, require the attention of the court and the legislature. We have to suggest a slight alteration in the diet table for your consideration. We have the pleasure to report that the application of chief warder Williams for an increase of salary has been considered, and also applications from the other warders for an increase and we beg to recommend that Chief warder Williams, having completed 7 years’ service to our entire satisfaction, his salary be in. creased from 36l. to 42l. a year; second warder Evan Morris, having completed over 5 years’ ser- vice, his duties being very onerous, his salary be increased from 30l. to 36l. a year; cook Thomas Jones should receive the like increase upon completion of 5 years’ service. No application having been received from any person capable of fulfilling the duties of matron to the gaol, and there being no accommodation for a matron, except as the wife of a governor, and as the whole staff will necessarily have to be re-organized upon the completion of the new gaol, we recommend that the visiting justices be empowered to make a temporary appointment, as occasion may require, until the gaol is completed, provided that the Inspector of Prisons will sanction such an arrangement. We have the honour to be, Your faithful Servants. JOHN GRIFFITH, Jun.; JOHN V.VAUGHAN…”

    “…REPORT OF THE SURGEON. To Her Majesty’s Justices, Co. Cardigan, January 4th, 1869. Gentlemen,—I beg leave to report to you that the Cardigan county gaol is kept clean and well ventilated. The number of inmates on the sick list has been more than usual during the last quarter, which may be attributed to their being in a state of destitution when committed. William Reynolds, suffering from chronic indigestion, I have been obliged to order him extra diet. I am. Sir., W. L. NOOTT.

    The quarterly accounts of expenditure of the county prison were produced and signed by the visiting justices…”

    On 10th April 1869 the following letters were reproduced in the ‘Aberystwyth Observer‘:

    “…REPORT OF THE MEDICAL OFFICER. Cardigan, April 6th, 1869. To Her Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, acting in and for the County of Cardigan. Gentlemen,—I beg leave to report to you that the Cardigan jail is well ventilated and kept clean. I only regret to say it is too small for the number of inmates we have lately had. Should fever appear I among them it will be a difficult matter to know where to place them we often have to put two and sometimes three in a bed at present. Those on the list suffering from casual sickness, and when able, I take care are worked as much as they can without injury to their health.—I am, gentlemen, yours very respectfully, W. L. NOOTT…”

    “…To the chairman, &c. COUNTY JAIL. To Her Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, Sec. Gentlemen,—Since I last had the honour of submitting to your notice my report, 32 prisoners and 5 debtors have been committed to my custody 34 discharged, and 1 removed to H.M. convict prison at Pentonville. The greatest number in custody at any one time has been 48, the daily average 41, and the lowest 37. Considering the number in association daily in the day-rooms at meal times, the conduct of the prisoners has been most satisfactory. There are now remaining in custody 4 debtors, 4 prisoners for trial, and 36 under sentence. Total, 44. —I have the honour to be, &c., EVAN EVANS, Governor…”

    “…REPORT OF VISITING JUSTICES. To the Chairman and Court of Quarter Sessions. Cardigan County Gaol, April 5th, 1869. Gentlemen,—We have the honour to report that since the last Quarter Sessions the number of prisoners has continued to increase. We have found it necessary to erect a shed, so as to employ the prisoners sentenced to hard labour in breaking stones for the use of the roads, which we have to report has proved advantageous as a punishment as well as remunerative to the county; still it is impossible to carry out this or any other punishment properly, unless we are assisted in our endeavours to do so by the surgeon of the gaol, whose duty it is to assist, and not to put every obstacle in the way of the punishment awarded being properly inflicted. We have the honour to be your faithful servants, J. B. J. JORDAN, JOHN GRIFFITHS, H. WEBLEY PARRY, Visiting Justices…”

    On 8th January 1870 the following article appeared in the ‘Cardiff & Merthyr Guardian‘:

    WHOLESALE ROBBERY AT CARDIGAN GAOL—DISMISSAL OF THE GOVERNOR. At the Cardiganshire Quarter Sessions, on Tuesday, Mr. C M. Griffiths, deputy-chairman, presiding, the visiting justices of the county prison regretted that the governor was totally unfit for his post, owing to imbecility induced by intemperance and they recommended that he be dismissed forthwith. They reported that between the statement of meat supplied to the prison, and the quantity actually consumed by the prisoners and officials, there was a difference of 4001b., or allowing 5 per cent, loss for salting, 3 01b. totally unaccounted for in the last ten Weeks- making an average of 1,8701b. unaccounted for during the entire year. They felt it to be incompatible with their duty to recommend him a pension, as he ought to have prevented the wholesale robbery which had been going on. Not only had he not done so, but he could offer no explanation. His accounts of oakum received and sold were so irreconcilable that they recommended the Court to withhold from him any payment of moneys for the present. The governor, who was absent, had sent in a medical certificate from the gaol surgeon, stating that he was suffering from torpor of the functions of the brain. He also wrote tendering his resignation, asking leave to hold office till April, and begging that a “fair and reasonable pension” might be allowed him. A magistrate, who had seen the governor on Monday night, stated that that officer said it was of no use to tell falsehoods, that the meat unaccounted for had never been brought into the gaol. The Bench conferred in private for nearly an hour, and then summarily dismissed the governor from his office. As warder and governor he has been in the gaol for twenty- eight years…”

    In January-May 1870 George Williams was the acting-Governor. On 28th February 1870 Evan Evans, Governor of the Gaol, as his father had been, died aged 45. On 6th May 1870 Michael Elliot of Wolverhampton and his wife became Governor and Matron. They replaced the treadmill with a loom for weaving mats. On 22nd October 1870 the following report appeared in the ‘Cambrian News‘:

    “…THE COUNTY PRISON. Letters which had been received from the Home Office reflecting on the state of the county gaol, and stating that the parliamentary grant towards its maintenance would be withheld unless satisfactory reasons could be given why certain repairs and alterations had not been carried out, were read to the court. A report from her Majesty’s Inspector of Gaols was also read, which stated that “this (Cardigan) prison remains in the same inefficient state as previously commented on and since the approval of plans in 1868 I cannot find that any steps have been taken to improve it,” The CHAIRMAN, having read the letters, said the matter was very pressing, as it was proposed to withhold the certificate after the present Michaelmas sessions. Colonel PRYSE called the attention of the Court to the fact that in 1869 a report got abroad that the assizes of this and neighbouring counties were to be amalgamated, and consequently it was argued that it would not be wise to proceed with the alterations of their county prison until something definite was known. A letter was therefore sent to the Home Office, and, in reply, it was stated that the Judicature Commission had not reported, and that, under the circumstances, Mr Secretary Bruce would not insist on the expense being incurred before their report was made known. Now, after that letter, he (Colonel Pryse) did not think the Home Secretary would so far stultify himself as to say the county had been neglectful in this matter, and he thought the letter should be recalled to Mr Bruce’s mind. Sir T. LLOYD thought that the chairman, on returning to London, should wait upon Mr Bruce and show him the letter. Ultimately it was decided that a letter recapitulating all the facts of the case should be sent to the Home Secretarv, and The CHAIRMAN promised that he would also see Mr Bruce on the subject. The Governor of the Gaol presented the following re- port to the court:

    To the Magistrates of Cardiganshire, assembled in Quarter Sessions. Cardigan County Prison, 18th October, 1870. Gentlemen,—I have the honour to report for your information that, since the last quarter sessions, sixty-one male and five female prisoners have been committed to my custody. Of these, nine males and two females are for trial in the present sessions, and the remainder were summarily committed as follows: Convicted under the Criminal Justices Act, 7 males; destroying their clothing, 5; vagrancy (begging), 29; offence against the Highway Act, 1 illegal fishing, 1; assault, 1; ditto on police- officer, 1; bastardy. 1; drunk and riotous, 5 males and 2 females malicious damage, 1 female. The conduct of the prisoners has been generally good; their sentences have been carried out, as far as possible, in accordance with the Prisons Act, 1865. The sanitary state of the prison is satisfactory. H. Briscoe, Esq., her Majesty’s inspector of prisons, visited the prison on the 3rd of September. The daily average number of prisoners during the quarter has been 17 males and 2 females. The greatest number of prisoners in custody during the quarter was 27; the lowest ditto, 15. The greatest number of vagrants in custody during the quarter’ was, on the 6th July last, 18; during nearly half the quarter the prison was free from them; to-day there are 3 in custody. Since the 3rd August last vagrants, upon second conviction, are required to use a plank bed for the whole period of sentence (not exceeding one month), subject to the supervision of the surgeon. The estimated profit, to the county from the employment of prisoners in making and repairing prisoners’ clothing, artizan work, &c., &c., and washing, amounts to £13 7s. 2d. The warders are now allowed to go home to their meals, and to sleep out of the prison on alternate nights; also to have leave of absence on Sundays in turn. By an order of the visiting justices, the services of the paid prison barber have been discontinued, and the warders now cut the hair of the prisoners, agreeably with the 29th regulation of the Prison Act, 1865, and only prisoners for trial are allowed to be shaved. This arrangement will be a saving to the county of about £5 per annum. By direction of the visiting justices, on the 4th July last, I applied to the Home Secretary for the loan of four revolvers and ammunition for the use (if necessary) of the officers in protecting the prison. I received a reply, stating that as no special reasons were given for the requisition, the arms could not be supplied by the Government, except on repayment of their cost. At present there are no arms in the prison of any description for use in case of emergency. During the year ending the 29th September, 1870, 206 prisoners were received, being 6 less than the previous year. Their average annual cost was £ 28 16s. 2d., being £ 1 14s. 7d. less than the former year. The total expenditure of the prison for the year 1870 was £ 864 5s. 10d., being £ 143 10s. lid le-8 than the year 1869.-I have the honour to be, gentlemen, your obedient servant, M. ELLIOTT, Governor In compliance with the 99th regulation of the Prison Act, 1865

    I certify that the requisitions of the said Act, with respect to the separation of prisoners and enforcement of hard labour have been complied with as far as practicable in the Cardigan County Prison during the quarter. M. ELLIOTT, Governor.

    The visiting justices reported as follows: Gentlemen,—We have the honour to report for your information that under the supervision of Mr Elliott, the governor, the discipline and government of the gaol have been strictly carried out, and all matters connected with the interior economy of the gaol have been most carefully attended to. The health of the prisoners has been unexceptionally good. The number of vagrants has greatly diminished. Several important reforms have been introduced, by which a saving to the county has been effected, without detriment to the government of the gaol. The stock of clothing and bedding has been increased, and is now on a scale commensurate with the necessities of the gaol. The labour of prisoners has been made available on all occasions, and is remunerative. The reports of the surgeon and chaplain contained no item of interest…”

    Cardigan Gaol from Pendre, circa 1869 (Glen Johnson Collection)

    Cardigan Gaol from Pendre, circa 1869 (Glen Johnson Collection)

    On 28th April 1871 new gates were erected. In 1871 the following persons lived here: Michael Elliot, 35, gaol keeper; Fanny Elliot, 35, his wife; Henry M. Elliot, 9, their son; Charles B. Elliot, 7, son; William E. Elliot, 4, son; Blanche B. Elliot, 2, daughter; plus staff and prisoners. On 30th November 1871 Martha Smith Elliot, daughter of governor Michael Elliot & Frances Elliot, was baptised at St. Mary’s Church. On 23rd December 1871 Martha Smith Ellott, Governor’s daughter, was buried at St. Mary’s Church, having died aged just 7 weeks. In March 1874 Rev. T. Jones became the chaplain. On 19th September 1874 Florence Phoebe Elliot, daughter of the Governor Michael Elliott, was buried at St. Mary’s Church, having died aged 1 year. On 16th July 1875 a prisoner escaped, but was recaptured. In 1875 Michael Elliott was the Governor and his wife, Fanny Elliott, was the Matron. Rev. Thomas Jones was the chaplain and Dr. William Lane Noott was the surgeon.

    On 5th January 1877 the treadmill was abolished. On 25th March 1877 a daughter was born to Mr. & Mrs. Michael Elliot – governor and his wife. In July 1877 the Governor was seeking to buy a harmonium for the prison Chapel. On 2nd March 1878 the following appeared in the ‘Cardigan Observer‘:

    “…SUDDEN DEATH OF A TRAMP IN THE CARDIGAN COUNTY PRISON. On Saturday last, an inquest was held at the Visiting Justices’ Room, in the Cardigan County Prison, before Mr. J. H. Evans, coroner, touching the death of Nicholas Henshaw, a native of Camber, Cornwall, who had been sentenced to 14 days’ hard labour, for begging at Aberystwyth. Capt. Herbert Davies was foreman of the jury, and the following evidence taken Michael Elliott, sworn, said: I am governor of the county prison at Cardigan. On Monday last, the 18th inst, midday, I received two prisoners, brought by P.C. Jones, stationed at Aberayron, who were sentenced to 14 days’ hard labour, the deceased being one of them. On admission the deceased complained of pain in the chest and the stomach; and as he told me his complaint was of three or four months’ standing, and his appearance in no wise indicating danger, I did not send for the surgeon immediately. The surgeon is required to attend the prison twice a-week, oftener if necessary, and see every prisoner after admission. I inform the surgeon, as a rule, on the morning immediately after admission of prisoners. From the hall the prisoner was taken to the bath-room, washed, clothed in prison dress, and treated as other prisoners in every respect Prisoners of his class are allowed 1lb. of bread and 2 pints of oatmeal gruel daily. The dietary scale is sanctioned by the Home Secretary; but the surgeon is authorised to alter or increase the diet of any prisoner as he may think necessary. The labour given to the deceased was picking oakum, and he completed  his task daily, and took his meals. At 10 o’clock on Tuesday morning the deceased was brought into the office, and examined by the surgeon in my presence. He complained of pains in the stomach and chest to the surgeon as he did to me. After the examination, the surgeon made an entry in the official journal, which I now produce, as follows;—”19th February, Henshaw, Nicholas, free of disease, fit for hard labour.” He was not put to hard labour, as we had none, but was given oakum to pick. On Wednesday morning deceased desired to see the surgeon, and the surgeon came, examined him in my presence, and made the following entry:—”Feb. 20th, a visit; all well.” De- ceased had, up to Thursday night, performed his task and managed his food, but he refused his sup- per on Thursday without assigning any reason for so doing. At 10.40 p.m. I heard a cell bell ring, and, in company of the chief warder, went to see what was the matter. On opening the deceased’s cell we found him in a stooping posture, with his hands clasped across his stomach, as if suffering from a great pain. The surgeon was sent for immediately, and on arriving he proceeded to examine the deceased, but failed to detect any symptoms to account for the pain which deceased said he suffered from, but said that the pain had shifted since the previous day, and that he would see him the following morning. Nothing was prescribed to deceased. 1 saw nothing in deceased appearance to induce me to think there was any danger, as prisoners often feign illness. Deceased then left for his cell, and whilst speaking to the surgeon I heard a thud in the hall; went to see what it was, and saw that deceased had fallen on his face on the floor, which accounts for the marks over the eye. He was lifted up, and the surgeon, myself, and the chief warder remained with him until he died, which would be about a quarter of an hour. No stimulants were administered, but the surgeon applied his stethoscope to the heart. With the exception of his breathing, which was short and hurried, the deceased appeared insensible from the moment he fell. His age was 37 years. Joseph Morris, chief warder, corroborated the foregoing evidence. William Gill, a prisoner, who accompanied deceased to prison, said he had known deceased for about three weeks. He was continually complaining of pain in the stomach, and on Wednesday evening had told him that he wished to die, so as to be out of pain. William Davies, sworn, said: I am a duly qualified medical practitioner, and surgeon to the county prison. 1 carefully examined deceased on the 19th, and failed to find indication of organic disease, so as to justify me in altering his diet. He appeared to have been drinking very hard, as the symptoms were visible about the eyes, and his tongue was foul. I considered that a regular diet was all that was necessary to restore him to health. I made the entry in the journal for those reasons, and considered him fit for hard labour. I next saw him on the 20th, but saw no reason to alter his treatment. On the night of the 21st I saw him, as described by Mr. Elliott. I did not think that he suffer much, as his features were tranquil at times. He breathed and spoke freely, and attributed the pain to some medicine he had had elsewhere. His pulse were regular, but his breath was offensive, and I attribute that to derangement of stomach. I did not prescribe for him, but intended doing so had I time enough to go to the surgery. I did not consider his case an urgent one. When he got out- side the office door he dropped down as described by Mr. Elliott. On examining him I found him insensible—so insensible that if stimulants were ordered he could not swallow them. It would have been useless to apply any restorative treatment, and on that account I did not order any. I remained with him until he died. In my opinion the cause of death was apoplexy, accelerated by antheroma of the arteries. I cannot speak with any degree of certainty, and could not do so with- out a post mortem examination. In answer to a juryman, the witness said that he did not consider the prisoner’s death had resulted from the pain he complained of, but from apoplexy. The jury, after a long consultation, returned a verdict of Died from the visitation of God,” and added that the surgeon, seeing his weak condition, ought to have ordered deceased better diet, and prescribed for his complaint.” The inquiry lasted over three hours…

    Closure was announced in April 1878. On 25th May 1878 the following appeared in the ‘Cardigan Observer‘:

    THE COUNTY PRISON WARDERS.-In consequence of the closing of Cardigan County Prison, chief warder Morris and warder Jenkins nave been appointed to similar situations at Warwick Prison, and Mr. Thomas Griffiths, warder, to a situation at Northampton Borough Prison…”

    On 28th May and 23rd June 1880, sales of building plots and materials were held. A further sale was advertised on 4th July that year. The site is now occupied by Bingham House; Llety Teifi (formerly Stanley House); The Highbury (formerly Highbury & Brooklands); and Belmont. Remaining sections of the Gaol are incorporated within some of these properties. A portion of the Gaol was demolished in October 1898.


    None available


    The History & Antiquities of the County of Cardiganshire., Samuel Rush Meyrick 1808

    A Topographical Dictionary of the Domain of Wales, N Carlisle 1811 

    State of the Prisons in England, Scotland & Wales Etc, T Neild 1812

    NLW Morgan & Richardson MSs

    Parish Registers of St. Mary’s, Cardigan

    Pembrokeshire Record Office: Port of Cardigan Shipping Registers

    Cambrian Journal 20/07/1816; 21/03/1818; 02/05/1818

    Pigot’s Directory 1830; 1835; 1844

    Map of Cardigan, J Wood 1834

    Census Returns 1841; 1851; 1861; 1871

    The Pembrokeshire Herald 1844

    Cardigan & Tivy-Side Advertiser 1866-1871; 1875; 1877-78; 1880; 1898; 1912; 1916

    A History of Cilgerran, John Roland Phillips 1867

    Slater’s Directory 1868

    Blank Form – County Prison, Cardigan c1870

    Post Office Directory 1871

    Kelly’s Directory of South Wales 1875

    Cardigan Observer 1877

    A Guide to Cardigan & District, William Edward Yerward James 1899

    The Journeys of Sir Richard Colt Hoare Through Wales & England 1793-1810, M W Thompson 1983

    Ceredigion Vol. XI No. 1 1988-9

    The Gateway to Wales, W J Lewis 1990

    Buildings of Architectural or Historic Interest – Cardigan, CADW 1992

    John Nash – Architect, Richard Suggett 1995

    Cardigan Town Trail 1998.

    © Glen K Johnson 14/06/2013


    9 Responses to CARDIGAN GAOL

    1. Tony Morgan
      August 24, 2013 at 1:47 pm

      from Tony Morgan, the Nash interest again…
      Again, what extensive information
      the Nash gaol building, is it established that a present hotel is formed from a substantial
      part of the original gaol building? either from the east or west wing parts?

      • glen
        August 24, 2013 at 4:11 pm

        Thanks again for the kind comments. The Central Block of Nash’s Gaol is now the Highbury Guest House – Nash’s original windows, now blocked, can be seen to the rear. The North Wing has gone, the South Wing, heavily refurbished, is Llety Teifi, formerly known as Stanley House.

    2. Susan
      April 26, 2014 at 12:40 am

      Great research! My grandfather Thomas roger Evans was born at turnpike house which seems to be located next door or at least nearby the gaol. His family is listed just above the gaol inhabitants on the census. Just for fun I looked up Evan Evans governor of the gaol and found your article and the pictures. Very helpful.

    3. Carol Price
      January 15, 2016 at 10:30 am

      You refer to prisoner Mary Williams 22, in 1851. Do you have more information regarding this prisoner?
      She fits the bill for my g.g grandmother… born Caron Is Clawdd 1828. She was sent to the “house of correction” for 6 weeks at Tregaron Petty sessions – The Welshman reports 31 Oct 1856 for leaving place of employment at Dol Fawr House. I presume it is the same place.
      I cannot determine where she is in 1851, though this is but one possiblity. Her father Evan, lived at Penuwch, at Cwncymarch farm. Thanks, Carol

    4. Mrs Sylvia Dodd
      February 11, 2017 at 3:55 pm

      Hello. Am still fascinated with your report on my Great Grandfathers days at Cardigan Goal. Michael Elliott and his wife Francis. My grandfather was his little boy of 4 years called William . Perhaps I will come and visit from Bath one day again. Have you anymore news of Michael,or a photograph of him please?

    5. Sylvia Dodd
      February 13, 2017 at 9:08 pm

      Dear Glen, if there is anymore information on my Great Great Grandfather ,the last Governor of Cardigan goal .Michael Elliott and his wife Francis please email me. I have been able to follow the family after they left Cardigan when the prison closed and know they retired to Llandudno and are buried nearby.
      Thank you for all the wonderful write up .wish I had asked my Mother about her Grandfather more before she died.

      • glen
        February 18, 2017 at 3:24 pm

        Hi Syvia, I’m afraid what is in the article is pretty much all I have on Michael Elliott – I’ll let you know if I find any more. Nice to hear from someone with such an interesting family connection. Kind Regards, Glen

        • Sylvia Dodd
          February 18, 2017 at 7:31 pm

          Thank you Glen ,it was lovely to receive a reply. I made a mistake in saying Michael was my GG Grandfather as of course he was my Great Grandfather. How I would like to find a photo of him! I found out from your report that they sadly had 2 daughters die in their time at the prison.
          There was another daughter born called Gwendoline Francis and they had Martha 2 years later and a son Percy born in 1880. William my Grandfather eventually joined the Royal Navy so left Wales. Gwendoline had a shop of her own near Llandudno with the name Elliott as she never married. The family lived in a Victorian house in Llandudno after retirement ,run as guest house,it still is!
          But not in our family but the owner would like me to visit.
          Michael died 2 years after retirement in 1892 with ill health he was 56.and Fanny and 3 of her children ran it then.Martha married a well known business man and is buried with him on the Great Orme.
          Michael and Fanny are buried in Conwy

    6. Tony
      February 16, 2017 at 5:25 pm

      Hi, you write…

      In 1791 John Nash was paid £48.17s. for plans, elevations and estimates for a new Gaol for Cardigan – this was approved in February at the Quarter Sessions. The main contractors were James Rees – mason; Richard Oliver – carpenter; and William Slack of Cheapside – ironmonger.

      I have 2 burials of ‘Slacks’; Christiana Slack 1740 and Andrew Slack 1741. It could be just a coincidence but Andrew (b1717 Llanycil) may well be the son of William Slack Ironmonger who married in Chester and was listed as ‘Ironmonger of Bala’.

      I wonder if anyone has any further information to help we trace William and Mary Slack and family.

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