Scope and Content

Includes administration: minutes 1907-1960, governors orders 1929-1962, governors journals 1907-1964, chaplains records 1965-1968, chief officers daily reports 1953-1965, gatekeepers occurrence books 1954-1972, engineers and workmen's books 1886-1945, staff registers c1894-1978, prisoners: Quarter Sessions registers of prisoners 1801-1843, debtors receiving book 1847-1849, Wakefield Female Reformatory School register 1856-1865, register of military prisoners 1871-1875; index to admission registers c1878-1899, admission registers 1879-1964, calendars of prisoners 1872-1915, Visitors Book 1874-1985, Commissioners and Inspectors minutes 1879-1979, Visiting Committee minutes and observations 1960-1979, Board of visitors register of applications 1970-1979, Board of Visitors visiting magistrates 1969-1978, indexes to prisoners names 1945-c1962, copy letter book 1906-1955, registers of staff 1959-1978, registers of prisoners 1941-1964

Administrative / Biographical History

The Prison:

When the House of Correction was established in Wakefield in the 1590s its primary purpose, like that of the other county prisons, was detention, not punishment: most prisoners were held on remand until trial, and after trial were held temporarily until sentence of transportation or death was carried out. Transportation to the American colonies ceased with American independence, and prisons were increasingly used thereafter for the punishment of offenders, as well as for remanding suspects. this new policy increased the prison population, and the West Riding justices built several extensions to the House of Correction culminating in a complete new building in the 1840s. It was responsible for prisoners from all over the West Riding until 1847, when Leeds Borough began to operate its own prison at Armley [see C187].

In the 19th century, increasing central government control over prisons reduced, and finally abolished, counties' control of prisons. The West Riding County justices' administration of Wakefield prison is recorded in the Quarter Sessions' archive [see especially QC2 minutes of the justices' visiting committee 1834-1878 and see also other classes described in the published guide to the Quarter Sessions records].

An Act of 1823 laid down, inter alia, the prison duties of justices', including their systematic inspection of every part of prisons [see C118/1-5]. Also, the governor, chaplain and surgeon were supposed to keep journals of their daily work for regular presentation to the Quarter Sessions [see C118/44-54].

By an Act of 1835, the justices continued to administer prisons, but subject to Home Office regulations. Inspectors of Prisons were appointed to ensure uniformity of penal practice throughout the country.

Central government control was further tightened by the Prisons Act of 1865, which was motivated to some extent by scandals in prisons in Birmingham and Leicester [one effect of the Act was tat a coroner's inquest had to be held on every inmate who died in prison, and that no one connected with the prison could serve on the inquest jury]. Public unease over the way that prisons were run, combined with a demand for lower county rates, prepared the way for total central government control in 1877

The Prison Act of 1877 [40-41 Victoria chapter 21] came into effect on 1 April 1878, when prisoners were vested in the Home Secretary, who exercised control through Prison Commissioners until 1963, when the Commission was abolished, and its functions carried out directly by the Home Office. Of the 113 local prisons taken over, 38 were closed within five years. Wakefield Prison was retained and developed and most of its surviving archives are Prison Commission records.

New Hall Camp, a Detention Centre near Flockton, was constituted a separate prison in 1936, although its visiting committee was the same as Wakefield prison's. It was closed as a prison in 1959 [see C118/5 and C118/51]

The Prisoners:

Most prisoners recorded in the registers [C118/98-242] served short sentences for relatively minor offences [for example drunkenness, assault and petty larceny]. In the period covered by these records there was a considerable reduction of types of prisoner.

Following an Act of 1847, County Court debtors were no longer received [see C118/101]. imprisonment for debt was finally abolished in 1869

juveniles appear in the early registers [C118/98-100] but an Act of 1854 laid down that young offenders [under 16] were to be sent to reformatory school instead of prison [see C118/102]. Records of Calder Farm, the West Riding Reformatory School for boys are held at Wakefield [see RT1]. Records of the girls Reformatory are also at Wakefield [see C465]

Military prisoners were held in this prison under a contract between the county justices and the War Office until the 1870s [see C118/103 and C118/109].

From 1909 young adults [aged 16 to 21] were increasingly sent for Borstal training instead of prison, as a result of the 1908 Prevention of Crime Act.

Female prisoners [See C118/98-100 , C118/109-114 and C118/227-243] were not received after 1914, and short-stay prisoners diminished in the twentieth century [in 1904 more than two thirds of prisoners nationally were serving two weeks or less and more than 99 per cent were serving less than a year: 30 years later the prison population was reduced to less than a third of the 1904 figure by eliminating short-stay prisoners].

Al civilian prisoners were transferred from the prison during the First World War, and from 1916 it was used by the War Office as a military detention centre. It was re-opened for civilian inmates in 1923, and the intermission produced gaps in some record series [see C118/217-218 and C118/225-226].

For further information read 'the Annals of Wakefield House of Correction' by J Horsfall Turner [privately printed 1904] A copy is in the Wakefield Reading room

Access Information

Some records under 100 years old are subject to legal restrictions on access. You will be informed of any restrictions which apply when you contact Wakefield Archives. For further information please see the West Yorkshire Archive Service Policy on Access to Records, which is available on our web site

These records are available from the Wakefield Office by appointment. WYAS uses the CARN readers ticket system, please see our website at http://www.wyjs.org.uk/archives-carn.asp

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements


Custodial History

Deposited in 1977 by Mr Mills, Assistant Governor, Wakefield Prison and in 1978 by Mr S Kirkby, Librarian at the prison Service Staff College, Love Lane, Wakefield

Related Material

Earlier deposits 771006, 781116. Some photographs of inmates are at Z169.

Geographical Names