Prisons and gallows

A History of the County of York: the City of York. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1961.

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'Prisons and gallows', in A History of the County of York: the City of York, (London, 1961) pp. 491-498. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]

In this section


Municipal Prisons

The city of York, like many lesser towns, (fn. 2) may be supposed to have had its own prison from an early date, and a writ of 1248 (fn. 3) may refer to such a prison. It was not, however, granted a prison by the Crown, and the first clear allusion to its prison is to be found in 1278-9. The butchers of the city then guarded it by night and the bailiffs by day. (fn. 4) The building already bore its later name, the kidcot(e), a name no doubt attached to it in jest, (fn. 5) at the time when the 14th-century custumal was copied into the Memorandum Book. It was then used, among other purposes, to confine night-walkers, men and women, clerical and lay, until they could be brought before a court Christian. (fn. 6) It seems almost certain that by 1398 there were two civic prisons, (fn. 7) and afterwards the plural form 'kidcotes' is often found. (fn. 8) The fact that there was both a sheriffs' prison and a mayor's prison, each called a kidcote, is enough to justify the plural. Besides this, however, there was the need to distinguish, as in 1435, between prisons for men and women, (fn. 9) though it cannot be proved that both mayor and sheriffs maintained separate prisons for each sex before 1584. (fn. 10) The sheriffs' prison was presumably for felons and misdemeanants: it is known that the man charged with stealing the keys of Bootham Bar in 1489, (fn. 11) a suspected murderer in 1522, (fn. 12) and persons accused in 1536 (fn. 13) and 1569 (fn. 14) of reviling the mayor were all committed to the sheriffs' care. On the other hand a man found posting slanderous bills in 1536 seems to have been committed to the mayor's. (fn. 15) By 1486 a civic prison was being delivered by the justices of gaol delivery. (fn. 16)

It has been surmised that both kidcotes stood on Ouse Bridge throughout the Middle Ages. (fn. 17) Certainly there was a prison there in 1278-9 (fn. 18) and there were two by 1398. (fn. 19) By 1435 a set of 'cells', probably for men, stood beside the doorway of a chapel. (fn. 20) There can be little doubt that this was the chapel of St. William. In later times the crypt below this chapel served as the felons' kidcote and the body of the chapel that surmounted it became the offices of the corporation. (fn. 21) It is not exactly known when all this came about. Although the chapel began to be dismantled in 1550 (fn. 22) there is nothing to show that it was then destined for a civic purpose and in 1556 mass was once again being celebrated within it. (fn. 23) Perhaps the rebuilding of the bridge, consequent upon the flood damage of 1565, was the occasion for adapting the chapel and adding other civic buildings. The rebuilding was complete by October 1566, (fn. 24) and by 1569 the 'low prison' of the sheriffs upon the bridge is mentioned; (fn. 25) this was probably within the chapel. By 1585 it is unquestionable that certain 'chambers' in the chapel were occupied by prisoners. (fn. 26)

In 1574 a 'new house' and 'chambers over the Exchequer of the . . . bridge', which seem to have been built that year, (fn. 27) were designated gaols. (fn. 28) These were the mayor's kidcote, or debtors' prison as it was later called, which stood on the opposite side of the bridge to the felons' gaol. (fn. 29) In the same year this prison was leased to John Trewe at £6 a year. (fn. 30) Certain prisoners in the 'chambers', who had contributed to the repair of their prison, were protected in their lodging, until their death or enlargement, in return for a small annual rent. (fn. 31) It seems that this building was safer than the sheriffs' kidcote. It was discovered in 1584 that a seminary priest had been conversing with recusants confined in the sheriffs' kidcote and to check this abuse such prisoners as were there 'for religion' were removed into the mayor's kidcote, the debtors in that prison being transferred to the sheriffs'. (fn. 32) In 1655 the debtors' prison was rebuilt. (fn. 33) In 1724 this building and an adjacent house were bought from the corporation out of a fund jointly subscribed by the city and The Ainsty and a new 'free prison' for both areas put up on the site. (fn. 34) Drake thought that, considering the narrowness of the site, the new prison was 'as commodious and convenient' as any in the land. (fn. 35) Prisoners in the kidcotes, as elsewhere in England, had the right to beg from passers-by, a right first granted to them in 1579 (fn. 36) and still exercised in 1729. (fn. 37) About 1776 they were selling nets, purses, and laces. (fn. 38)

In Howard's day the felons' prison consisted of two rooms below ground, one each for male and female felons, with various 'horrid caverns' still lower down. At ground-level there was a more recently built and well-lit room for prisoners awaiting trial. The building was subject to flooding, for some of its barred windows, as may be seen from Halfpenny's drawing of 1807, (fn. 39) were well below the roadway. The debtors' prison comprised four 'convenient chambers', a 'free ward' and a room to the street, presumably what was called 'the debtors' hall'. Howard condemned the building as bad. In 1779 there were 12 debtors and 2 felons. (fn. 40) After the new City Gaol had been opened in 1807 (see below) the felons' kidcote was abandoned and was taken down in 1810; (fn. 41) the debtors' kidcote was turned into three dwellings (fn. 42) and demolished with the bridge about the same time. (fn. 43)

Before turning to developments in the 19th century it may be noted that in the 16th century the city maintained other prisons besides the kidcotes. One of these stood near the city moat, in the region called the Bean Hills, about mid-way between Fishergate and Walmgate Bars. It was for both men and women, and was used at one time for recusants and in 1606 for beggars and vagrants. (fn. 44) Perhaps it was actually in the guard room of Fishergate Bar, later called Bean Hills gate. (fn. 45) In 1577 Monk Bar was made into a prison (fn. 46) and was so used in 1583. (fn. 47) A prison on the King's Staith for trespassers at the staith was ordered to be made in 1585. (fn. 48) These new prisons may have been temporarily needed to cope with the flood of convicted or suspected recusants. (fn. 49)

After Howard's visitation a few towns began to rebuild their prisons. York was among them and was one of only six to spend upon that object any substantial sum of money. (fn. 50) It took its decision in 1801 and chose a site adjacent to the Old Baile, now covered by Baile Hill Terrace, Falkland Street, and parts of Newton Terrace and Kyme Street. (fn. 51) The building, called for some years afterwards the City Gaol, was begun in 1802 and finished in 1807. Peter Atkinson (the younger) was the architect. Like its predecessor it was in the beginning designed for both the city and The Ainsty. Enclosed within a brick wall, ¾ mile in circumference, it was a stone building of two stories and an attic, adorned with a cupola and vase. On the ground floor were cells for male and female felons and misdemeanants, day rooms, two yards, and a bath-room. On the floor above, reached by a flight of steps, were large sleeping rooms for debtors and a gallery 170 feet long, and in the attic four more debtors' rooms and a chapel. There were gardens at back and front and in the front garden debtors were allowed to walk. The governor's lodgings were mainly in an 'outshot' building behind the prison. (fn. 52) In the early years of the century the corporation seems to have managed the prison well; it employed a chaplain and surgeon, before the law directed it to do so, and it kept the building clean. (fn. 53) The prison, however, was little used, and in 1836 contained, apart from debtors, only two prisoners awaiting trial. (fn. 54)

York was one of 17 towns whose prisons were brought within the terms of the Gaol Act of 1823, a statute primarily designed to regulate the gaols of counties. (fn. 55) To meet the requirements of that Act, which included the classification of prisoners, the corporation spent upon enlarging and refashioning the building a sum roughly equal to the cost of constructing it. (fn. 56) Early in 1838, however, the city felons were transferred to the castle, and between August and November of that year the new gaol was converted into the city House of Correction, (fn. 57) and that establishment closed. Though the amalgam was still apt to be called 'the City Prison', its character as a house of correction was paramount henceforth.

Upon amalgamation the corporation at once removed the 'heavy stone building' in front and lowered the walls between the airing yards, thus reducing dampness. (fn. 58) Never again, however, did it make any extensive alterations, and in 1857 the Inspector of Prisons described the building as 'straggling and inconvenient'. (fn. 59) No attempt was made to adapt the prison to the more stringent demands of the Prisons Act (1865), and between 1867 and 1869 it was closed for good. (fn. 60) It was demolished in 1880. (fn. 61)

After 1838 the health of the prisoners and the cleanliness of the buildings were always commended, although in the forties the diet was inadequate. (fn. 62) In other respects the prison was not a good one. The staff, which in 1835 had consisted of a keeper, underkeeper and porter, and matron (fn. 63) had not been increased by 1851, (fn. 64) though it numbered three more in 1864. (fn. 65) There was therefore insufficient supervision, resulting in lax discipline and constant communication between the prisoners. No schoolmaster was ever appointed and the prisoners either taught one another (fn. 66) or received occasional lessons from the chaplain. (fn. 67) In the forties, too, there was not enough work to do (fn. 68) and the only form it took at any time was breaking stones and cutting wood. In 1848 and 1850 the prison was looked upon as a place of refuge by impoverished inhabitants of York and Irish vagrants resorting to the city, who deliberately committed offences so that they might be consigned to it. On arrival they received food and shelter and on discharge sums of money and new clothes. (fn. 69)

Parsimony was one reason for the inefficiency of the prison. Another was divided control. The city magistrates were nominally responsible, but the city council provided the funds. Both authorities visited the prison and issued conflicting instructions to the staff. (fn. 70) The annual daily average of prisoners in this period ranged from 48 in 1851 and 1853 (fn. 71) to 27 in 1855 (fn. 72) and 1865. (fn. 73) In 1848 committals were only for petty thefts and vagrancy, more serious offenders going to the castle. (fn. 74) This rule, however, does not seem to have been adhered to, for in 1863 the inspector found it necessary to recommend that no prisoner sentenced to a longer term than two months should be sent to the House of Correction. (fn. 75)

Houses of Correction

The close connexion established in the 16th century between misdemeanour and idleness, idleness and poverty, makes it natural to speak next of the city's houses of correction. By 1551 arrangements were already being made to use part of St. Anthony's Hall as a poor house, (fn. 76) and in 1567 the corporation decreed that a weaving-shop for the able-bodied poor should be established within it. (fn. 77) In 1569 both St. George's House and St. Anthony's were furnished as weaving-shops and two overseers were appointed, each of whom was to set to work the able and willing poor of two wards. The idle were to be reported to the mayor and aldermen. (fn. 78) In 1576 St. George's was converted into a house of correction (fn. 79) and next year both it and St. Anthony's were provided with mills for the forcible employment of the roguish. (fn. 80) In 1586 St. Anthony's was repaired and part of it converted into a second house of correction, (fn. 81) but in 1598 its mills and looms were moved to St. George's House. (fn. 82) Perhaps St. Anthony's ceased to be used as a house of correction in the earlier 17th century, but by 1655, (fn. 83) if not before, (fn. 84) its lower story was equipped or re-equipped for that purpose and a house of correction remained within the Hall until 1814. When Howard paid his visit (c. 1776) there were two day-rooms for men and women separately, and five night-rooms for men and one for women, but no court, no water, and no sewer. The premises were 'dirty and offensive'. In June 1779 there were eight prisoners. (fn. 85) By the time of Neild's visits (1802, 1809) conditions seem to have been somewhat better; at any rate there was then an infirmary. (fn. 86)

How long St. George's House lasted as a house of correction after 1598 has not been established, but it was at least long enough for its name to have been corrupted into Jersey House. The timber building still stood in the later 19th century. (fn. 87)

In 1814 a new house of correction was opened on Toft Green. Designed by Peter Atkinson (the younger), it was mainly of white brick and consisted of four distinct buildings surrounded by a high brick wall. One of these buildings, octagonal in shape, was the governor's residence. This contained a chapel, and from the chapel doors open galleries led into the other three buildings. Each of these consisted of 'two distinct prisons' and each was equipped with four lodging-rooms, a day-room, a work-room, a solitary cell, and a yard with water pipe and water closet. This subdivision enabled prisoners to be carefully classified. Round the buildings was a garden. (fn. 88) The prison was staffed by a keeper, under-keeper and porter, and matron, and the services of a chaplain and surgeon were shared with the City Gaol. (fn. 89)

The prison was built at the joint cost of the city and The Ainsty, the city defraying three-fifths of the whole, and at first served both areas. (fn. 90) The number of prisoners varied a good deal, rising to 124 at Michaelmas 1823 (fn. 91) and falling to an annual average of 22 in 1836. (fn. 92) Race week, presumably the one in August, was said to crowd it out. (fn. 93) The reannexation of The Ainsty to the West Riding in 1836 (fn. 94) reduced requirements, and the Inspector of Prisons reported that he thought one prison was enough for the city. (fn. 95) By 1838 the corporation had closed it and disposed of the site and buildings. The misdemeanants were transferred to the City Gaol, which thus became primarily a house of correction, and the debtors to the castle. (fn. 96)

Davy Hall

Davygate takes its name from Davy Hall, a building now demolished, and Davy Hall in turn from the family of David the larderer. This family was one of high antiquity, tracing its ancestry back to the early 12th century if not to a remoter time. (fn. 97) It exercised by inheritance the function of stocking the king's larder in York with both game and domestic animals, (fn. 98) and kindred rights and privileges which may have been implicit in that function or have subsequently accrued to it.

The first of the York larderers known by name was called John. To him and to his son David (I) King Stephen confirmed between 1135 and 1137 certain unspecified socage tenements, together with the larderership, as father and son had held them in King Henry's time. (fn. 99) Presumably the lands had been given in recompence for the burdens of office. A larderer of York is not mentioned again until 1173 when the Crown began to pay David the larderer, presumably the same as the foregoing, a livery of £7 12s. 1d. a year, or 5d. a day, out of the issues of Yorkshire. (fn. 100) David's son Thomas succeeded to that wage and continued to receive it until 1189. (fn. 101) In that year the sum appears twice over in the pipe roll, once as a livery and once among the terre date. This suggests the intention to transmute the annual payments into a territorial reward. But whatever the intention may have been, the sum drops out of the pipe rolls completely for some time to come, so it must be supposed that, if the larderership went on, its only profit was the land that King Stephen had confirmed.

It is not until 1219 that the evidence about the larderership is resumed. David (II) the larderer, Thomas's son, then appears as the keeper of the gaol of Galtres Forest, and the vendor of those beasts which had been taken in distraint for the payment of the king's debts. In 1226-8 the reward for this serjeanty is defined as a plot of ground (unam terram) in York, and the value of the serjeanty is expressed as 5s. (fn. 102) Presumably this plot was Davy Hall, (fn. 103) which was to become the prison of the larder. In the pipe roll of 1230 the daily wage of 5d. recurs, though now it issued out of the city farm, (fn. 104) and the same sum was allowed out of the same issues for centuries to come. (fn. 105) Later documents declare this wage to have been paid to the larderers for keeping the forest gaol, (fn. 106) though in 1252 it was said to be due for selling the distresses. (fn. 107) The wage is actually the same as that that had been paid since 1130 to the warden of the Fleet Prison, so at first sight it looks like the rate appropriate to a gaoler of the better sort. (fn. 108) More probably, however, the earlier statement is the truer, and after the larderer's functions as the salesman of distresses had been swept away, (fn. 109) the wage was justified upon the other ground. At all events David was now a gaoler in fee, an uncommon though not a unique figure in 13th-century society, (fn. 110) in hereditary charge of almost the only special forest prison known to history. A little later on we learn rather more about the history of the prison building of which he was in charge. It seems to have been a royal building, repaired in the shrievalty of Geoffrey de Neville (1216-22) out of the king's revenues and with timber from the forest. After Geoffrey's day its custody was conveyed to David by charter, but the responsibility for its repair was left in doubt. After a public inquiry in 1247 the cost of maintenance was firmly set upon the Exchequer in 1248. (fn. 111)

About the time of this award David started proceedings against the citizens of York in the King's Bench, with the idea of asserting the privileges of his serjeanty, some of which the citizens were challenging. (fn. 112) The matter was referred to the justicesin-eyre, who in the eyre at York in 1252 secured from a local jury a statement of the rights and duties of the larderer's office. The statement showed that David and his ancestors were required to 'make' the king's larder, to have the measurement for the king of all corn sold in the city, to look after the forest 'prisons' and to act as the king's purveyors. All these functions were said to have been authorized by charter. David himself laid no express claim to the third and fourth of these rights or duties; perhaps they were burdensome and unprofitable. He claimed, however, to take from every baker, bread shop, alewife, and flesh shamble in the city certain fixed weekly tolls, either in cash or kind, and similar tolls from carts and packhorses entering the city laden with sea fish. (fn. 113) He also said that it was his privilege to distrain for the king's debts within the city and take 4d. for each distress. (fn. 114) The jurors admitted that David exercised all these further liberties, and that since the days of Henry II his ancestors had exercised them, as parcel of their serjeanty, 'until they were hindered therein'. They expressed no view, however, about the authority for their exercise. In the upshot the suit was compromised, David accepting 20 marks from the city in return for releasing all the liberties not grounded upon a charter.

David died in 1271. He was then seised of a house in York, his 5d. a day, two yearly rents within the city, lands in Bustardthorpe (W.R.), and land called 'Cotteburn'. All these he held by the serjeanty of keeping the gaol and the larder and selling the king's distresses. For every such sale 2s. 8d. was due to David. (fn. 115) The third of these liberties was one that had been released to the city in 1253. Evidently it had since been revived. More than this, David was now exacting at each distress eight times the original levy. David was succeeded by David (III) (d. 1280) (fn. 116) and he by Philip the larderer, whose right to the levy was challenged by the Crown in 1293 upon a quo warranto. (fn. 117) Indeed by this time Philip was taking 3s. 4d. or ten times the original levy at each distress, even when the money raised by a sale did not exceed the levy. The Crown confiscated the liberty and amerced the offender. Philip also failed to claim on the first day of the eyre his rights to the custody of forest prisoners, his daily fee, (fn. 118) and estate (landam) in the forest, and his rights to chase hares and foxes, and these lands and rights were likewise confiscated. Whatever the effect of this forfeiture may have been, Philip died in 1305 seised of Davy Hall, his daily fee, and a rent in Bustardthorpe, all which he held by keeping the prison. (fn. 119) David's practice of exacting tolls from the catering trades and deducting brokerage upon the sale of distresses, and Philip's resumption of the second of these practices, easily give rise to the suspicion of extortion. Such an imputation may be just. It is, however, also possible to infer that the duties attaching to their offices were out of proportion to the covenanted rewards. Their estates were never large, and their daily fee, settled in 1173-4, had probably lost its value with the progress of inflation.

When Philip died his lands were partitioned between his daughters Margaret and Ellen. (fn. 120) Margaret married Ralph de Leek (fn. 121) and Ellen, John de Clifton, (fn. 122) who predeceased Leek. (fn. 123) When Ralph died in 1353 the property, as defined in 1305, was being held jointly by him and by John de Wythornsee, husband of Ellen's daughter Alice. The premises in York were then worth no more than the cost of maintaining the gaol. (fn. 124)

Ralph left no children, and Robert, John de Wythornsee's minor son, became heir to Margaret's purparty and presumptive heir to Ellen's also. The property is next heard of in 1369 when John de Thornton died seised of both purparties in right of his wife Alice. (fn. 125) It seems clear from this that Robert never succeeded to his inheritance. John de Thornton like John Wythornsee married an Alice, so perhaps the two are the same person. If not the descent of the lands upon John de Thornton remains unexplained. John was succeeded by Robert Thornton, 'of Davygate', who died in 1425 seised of 'the manor' of Davygate, called the prison of the larder, and rents in Bustardthorpe and Hessle (E.R.). He continued to keep the prison, but it was then ruinous and worth nothing. He also drew his daily wage from the citizens of York, and enjoyed vert, venison, and hunting rights in Galtres. (fn. 126) The property descended to Joan his daughter and her husband John Thwaites and from them to the Fairfax family by the marriage (ante 1519) of Isabel Thwaites to Sir William Fairfax. (fn. 127) In 1679 Henry, Lord Fairfax owned it. (fn. 128)

By Philip and Mary's time Davy Hall was being treated as a 'liberty' into which the city officers had no right of entry. (fn. 129) By 1679 this immunity had attracted a 'poor class' of artisans, chiefly shoemakers, for whose benefit the hall had been split up into tenements, and who, to the dismay of their 'respectable' fellow tradesmen, produced or sold within it undressed or ill-tanned leather and illmade footwear. Probably in consequence of continuing abuses the corporation began in 1719 to treat for purchase and 'a few years after' concluded with the owner. (fn. 130) In 1744 they ordered its demolition. Part of the site was turned into a new burial ground for St. Helen's, Stonegate, and part into a new road, New Street, in which Charles Mitley and William Carr erected in 1746 six houses called Cumberland Row after the Duke of Cumberland. (fn. 131)

Of Davy Hall as a prison very little is known. Philip the larderer was in effective custody of venison trespassers in 1289 (fn. 132) and the prison was being used for like offenders in 1370 (fn. 133) and 1389. (fn. 134) By 1392, however, a person suspected of a forest offence was shut up in York castle. (fn. 135) In any case it would be rash to assume that forest offenders were always enclosed in the larderer's prison, even in its prime.

Peter Prison

From early times the chapter exercised an independent jurisdiction over their tenants both within the city and without. When Howard visited the gaol of the liberty (1776-9) the jurisdictional area comprised 9 'places' within the city and The Ainsty, 62 in the East Riding, 40 in the West, and 51 in the North, 7 in Nottinghamshire, and 1 each in Devon, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, and Northumberland. (fn. 136) By 1836 the liberty was gradually falling into abeyance but constables, and innkeepers seeking licences, still travelled from 18 to 50 miles to attend the sessions of its courts. (fn. 137) In 1789 these courts comprised quarter sessions, a three-weekly court for civil pleas, and a twice-yearly court leet and view of frankpledge, called the sheriff's tourn. To keep these courts the chapter employed their own officers, who included a steward, and a clerk of the peace and under-steward. (fn. 138) In 1810 the county justices were given concurrent jurisdiction within the liberty, (fn. 139) which must have abated the chapter's privileges very greatly. (fn. 140)

Attached to this liberty was a prison, called in early days 'Seyntepetreprisons'. This prison at first stood where Stonegate enters the Minster Yard (now Minster Gates, Deangate), and is first mentioned in 1275. (fn. 141) In 1311 the chapter granted it in fee farm to Richard Tunnok of York, who was to pay yearly rents for it to the Prebendary of Osbaldwick, the chapter itself, and St. Leonard's Hospital. (fn. 142) It was being delivered by the king's justices in 1376 and was therefore presumably used for felons at that time. (fn. 143) It is a curious fact that though testators in the late 14th century left money to its prisoners (fn. 144) those in the 15th and 16th centuries do not seem to have done so although they remembered the prisoners in the castle, the kidcotes and the archbishop's prison. In 1570 Peter Prison appears to have possessed a chapel. (fn. 145)

The prison was moved at an unknown date to a site lying within the Lop Lane gate of the precincts. (fn. 146) In Howard's time and later it formed part of the 'hall of pleas', for the liberty, to which access was gained up a flight of steps. The 'hall' consisted of a court room and jury room at the top, and below two day and two night rooms for prisoners and two cells. The gaoler's dwelling had been added to the court house and prison shortly before Howard's visit. Howard found the building out of repair, Hargrove deplored its 'wretched state', and the Inspector of Prisons in 1836 declared that it was 'without a single requisite for a prison'. (fn. 147) The actual numbers imprisoned were 4 in 1818, 10 in 1820, and 1 in 1832. (fn. 148) By 1838 the prison had been pulled down and the jurisdiction was in abeyance. (fn. 149)

Archbishop's Prison

The archbishop had a gaol in York by 1351 (fn. 150) — the 'bishop prison' or 'convict prison' as it was sometimes later called. Presumably it was for criminous clerks and those who had successfully pleaded clergy, (fn. 151) and to the prisoners in it bequests were made until at least 1550. (fn. 152) After that they cease perhaps because the great reduction in clergiable offences about that time made such a prison no longer necessary. The prison was in the archbishop's palace by 1385. (fn. 153) Its more precise location is not known with certainty, but it is likely that the crypt below St. Sepulchre's Chapel was used for the purpose. (fn. 154) At all events, when the chapel, long since converted into a public house, was demolished in 1816, an underground room (32×9×9 feet), fitted up as a prison, was discovered beneath it. (fn. 155)

Drake thought the archbishop's prison was within the Old Baile, but gave no reason for that view. Possibly a second prison, for lay offenders, once stood therein. (fn. 156)

St. Mary's Prison

By 1289 the liberty of St. Mary contained its own gaol, (fn. 157) which was being delivered by the king's justices in 1322. (fn. 158) The abbey's right to keep this gaol was expressly granted by charter in 1448. (fn. 159) After the Dissolution the liberty was preserved, and its privileges confirmed to its steward by charters of James I and Charles I. The privileges, which included the maintenance of a debtors' prison beside the north gate of the abbey, were continued until the death in 1722 of Thomas Adams, Recorder of York and steward of the liberty. Thereafter the stewardship was left unfilled. By 1736 the prison of the liberty was 'neglected' and the adjacent court room had almost disappeared. (fn. 160)


According to a story often repeated but of questionable authenticity, the citizens of York first used as their place of execution the gallows of the liberty of St. Mary's Abbey (see below). In 1379, however, in consequence of a dispute with the monks, they determined to erect a gallows of their own. This was placed 'where the gibbet post stood' on the west side of Knavesmire opposite York Moor (i.e. Hob Moor), and acquired the name of the York 'Tyburn', presumably in imitation of the London gallows of that name. (fn. 161) From the earlier 16th century until 1801, (fn. 162) the gallows seems to have been used by both the city and the county. But was it used uninterruptedly? The evidence, such as it is, is not easy to interpret. Drake says that the county gallows first stood within the castle, (fn. 163) and Hargrove that a gallows was erected on Knavesmire in 1708. (fn. 164) Drake's statement need only mean that the gallows had been in the castle before 1379. Hargrove's is more puzzling, for it is tolerably clear that county executions were taking place at Tyburn up to 1699. (fn. 165) Perhaps the truth is that there was once a single gallows on Knavesmire for city and county, that, for a while, only one gallows stood there, and that after 1708 a second gallows was erected near the first. Late 18th-century references to the 'old gallows' outside Micklegate Bar suggest that there were then two constructions. (fn. 166) The Knavesmire gallows was (or were) removed in 1812. (fn. 167) When the castle buildings were being enlarged at the beginning of the 19th century, (fn. 168) a 'drop' was constructed between the castle wall and St. George's Field. It was first used in 1802, (fn. 169) altered in 1870-1 so as to exclude it from public view, (fn. 170) last used in 1896, (fn. 171) and dismantled in 1930. (fn. 172) A 'drop' behind the city prison was in use in 1809 and 1821. (fn. 173)

St. Mary's own gallows is first recorded in 1444-5. (fn. 174) The site and gallows may have passed to the chapter. (fn. 175) The gallows may still have been standing in 1733, (fn. 176) but had been demolished by 1802. (fn. 177) Its site was at Gallows Closes, Burton Stone Lane. (fn. 178) St. Leonard's Hospital also had a gallows which stood at Garrow Hill in Green Dykes Lane. Recorded from 1374-5 (fn. 179) until 1444-5, (fn. 180) it was out of use by 1500. (fn. 181) It was again in use in 1571, (fn. 182) and was often used until 1676. (fn. 183) It was removed in 1700. (fn. 184)

A few other gallows may be mentioned. Besides succeeding to St. Mary's gallows, the chapter also had a gallows at White Cross Hill in the Horsefair near the present junction of Haxby and Wigginton roads. (fn. 185) It was in use in 1690, and was rebuilt in 1693. (fn. 186) The archbishops are said to have once had a scaffold on Foss Bridge. (fn. 187) A gallows belonging to Holy Trinity Priory had been covered by St. James's Chapel as early as 1150-4. (fn. 188) A gallows in the Hull Road, at a point called Gallows Hole, had been abandoned by 1693. (fn. 189)


  • 1. For the prison in the castle see pp. 523-8.
  • 2. R. B. Pugh, 'The King's Prisons before 1250', Trans. R.H.S. 5th ser. v. 11.
  • 3. Close R. 1247-51, 27.
  • 4. See pp. 34, 36.
  • 5. Other northern prisons, e.g. at Gainsborough, Lancaster, and Wakefield, bore this name: O.E.D.; Wright Engl. Dialect. Dict.
  • 6. York Mem. Bk. ii. 254.
  • 7. A testator then left money to prisoners in the castle, in each prison on Ouse Bridge, and in the prisons of St. Peter and the 'bishop'—all the then prisons in the city: Test. Ebor. i. 220. See also below, p. 496.
  • 8. First noticed in 1430: Test. Ebor. ii. 8.
  • 9. Assoc. Archit. Soc. Rep. and Papers, xxxiii. 213. The phrases 'the man kidcote' and 'the woman's kidcote' are juxtaposed in one document in 1529: Test. Ebor. v. 271.
  • 10. York Civ. Rec. viii. 72-73, where there is a reference to the sheriffs' kidcotes and the mayor's kidcotes, both in the plural.
  • 11. Ibid. ii. 41.
  • 12. Ibid. iii. 86.
  • 13. Ibid. iv. 2.
  • 14. Ibid. vi. 151.
  • 15. Ibid. iv. 12.
  • 16. B.M. Add. MS. 35205; Cal. Pat. 1485-94, 72.
  • 17. A. Raine, Med. York, 217.
  • 18. J.I. 1/1057, m. 55d.
  • 19. Test. Ebor. i. 220.
  • 20. Assoc. Archit. Soc. Rep. and Papers, xxxiii. 213.
  • 21. Widdrington does not mention the location of the kidcotes and Drake and Hargrove write of them without precision. It was apparently Caesar Caine, Widdrington's editor, who first declared that the crypt of St. William's Chap. harboured felons: Analecta. 72 n.
  • 22. York Civ. Rec. v. 39.
  • 23. Ibid. 147.
  • 24. See p. 516.
  • 25. York Civ. Rec. vi. 151.
  • 26. Ibid. viii. 100.
  • 27. Hildyard (Antiquities of York, 81) says that the prison 'anenst the kidcoate on Ouse Bridge' was built in 1574.
  • 28. York Civ. Rec. vii. 98.
  • 29. Drake, Ebor. 281.
  • 30. York Civ. Rec. vii. 98.
  • 31. Ibid. 99.
  • 32. Ibid. viii. 72-73.
  • 33. Hildyard, Antiquities of York, 112.
  • 34. Hargrove, Hist. York, ii. 196.
  • 35. Drake, Ebor. 281.
  • 36. York Civ. Rec. viii. 23.
  • 37. A. Raine, Med. York, 218.
  • 38. J. Howard, State of the Prisons (1780), 367.
  • 39. J. Halfpenny, Fragmenta Vetusta, pl. 22.
  • 40. Howard, State of the Prisons, 367-8; cf. J. Neild, State of the Prisons, 609 n.
  • 41. Hargrove, Hist. York, ii. 195.
  • 42. Ibid. 197.
  • 43. See p. 517.
  • 44. A. Raine, Med. York, 298.
  • 45. T. P. Cooper, York, the Story of its Walls, &c. 312.
  • 46. York Civ. Rec. vii. 161.
  • 47. Ibid. viii. 67.
  • 48. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 29, f. 3.
  • 49. See p. 154.
  • 50. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Engl. Prisons under Local Govt. 63-64.
  • 51. Knight, Hist. York, 583.
  • 52. Hargrove, Hist. York, ii. 161-3; E. Baines, Dir. Co. York, ii. (1823), 65; W. White, Dir. W.R. York and Hull, ii (1838), 549.
  • 53. Hargrove, Hist. York, ii. 162-3.
  • 54. Rep. Inspector of Prisons (1836), [89] (N. and E. District), p. 114, H.C. (1837), xxxii.
  • 55. 4 Geo. IV, c. 64; Webb, Engl. Prisons, 74-76.
  • 56. Rep. Inspector of Prisons (1836), p. 114; App. to 1st Rep. Municip. Corp. Com. Pt. III, H.C. 116, p. 1750 (1835), xxv. The details of reconstruction have not been ascertained, but the dimensions of the cells in what was called the 'New Prison' differed from those in the 'Old Prison'.
  • 57. York Corp. Rec., Min. Bk. 1835-7, f. 315; 1838-42, ff. 8, 9, 39.
  • 58. Rep. Inspector of Prisons (1836), p. 114; (1838), [199] (N. and E. District), p. 107, H.C. (1839), xxii.
  • 59. Ibid. (1857), [2328] (N. District), p. 64, H.C. (1857-8), xxix.
  • 60. Ibid. (1867), [4029] (N. District), p. 125, H.C. (18678), xxxiv; ibid. (1869), [C. 259] (N. District), pp. 5-6, H.C. (1871), xxix.
  • 61. T. P. Cooper, Hist. Castle York, 267.
  • 62. Rep. Inspector of Prisons (1840), [339] (N. & E. District), p. 157, H.C. (1841, Sess. 2), v; ibid. (1843), [517] (N. & E. District), p. 131, H.C. (1843), xxv and xxvi; ibid. (1845), [675] (N. & E. District), p. 13, H.C. (1845), xii.
  • 63. App. to 1st Rep. Municip. Corp. Com. Pt. III, p. 1751.
  • 64. Rep. Inspector of Prisons (1851), [1600] (N. & E. District), p. 109, H.C. (1852-3), lii.
  • 65. Ibid. (1864), [3520] (N. District), p. 114, H.C. (1865), xxiii.
  • 66. e.g. in 1843 and 1853: ibid. (1843), p. 132; ibid. (1853), [2129] (N. & E. District), p. 98, H.C. (1856), xxxiii.
  • 67. e.g. in 1851 and 1855: ibid. (1851), p. 109; ibid. (1855), [2250] (N. & E. District), p. 60, H.C. (1857 Sess. 2), xxiii.
  • 68. Ibid. (1848), [1055] (N. & E. District), p. 31, H.C. (1849), xxvi.
  • 69. Ibid. pp. 32-33; ibid. (1851), [1355] (N. & E. District), p. 68, H.C. (1851), xxvii.
  • 70. Ibid. (1841), p. 159; (1845), p. 14; (1851), p. 67.
  • 71. Ibid. (1856), p. 97.
  • 72. Ibid. (1857), p. 64.
  • 73. Ibid. (1865), [3715] (N. District), p. 127, H.C. (1866), xxxvii.
  • 74. Rep. Inspector of Prisons (1848), p. 33.
  • 75. Ibid. (1863), [3326] (N. District), p. 68, H.C. (1864), xxvi.
  • 76. York Civ. Rec. v. 64.
  • 77. Ibid. vi. 129.
  • 78. Ibid. 143, 148.
  • 79. Ibid. vii. 120.
  • 80. Ibid. 146, 148.
  • 81. Ibid. viii. 114-15.
  • 82. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 31, f. 373.
  • 83. J. S. Purvis, St. Anthony's Hall, York (St. Ant. Hall Publ. no. 1), 8.
  • 84. Knight (Hist. York, 467) gives 1646 as the date of reconstruction.
  • 85. J. Howard, State of the Prisons (1780), 369.
  • 86. J. Neild, State of the Prisons, 605-6.
  • 87. Davies, Walks through York, 91; for the name, see p. 483, n. 55.
  • 88. Hargrove, Hist. York, ii. 179-80: E. Baines, Dir. Co. York, ii (1823), 65; W. White, Dir. W.R. York & Hull, ii (1838), 549.
  • 89. App. to 1st Rep. Municip. Corp. Com. Pt. III, p. 1751.
  • 90. E. Baines, Dir. Co. York, ii (1823), 65.
  • 91. Gaols, Reps. and Schedules, H.C. 104, p. 300 (1824), xix.
  • 92. Rep. of Inspector of Prisons (1836), p. 119.
  • 93. Ibid. V.C.H. Yorks. ii. 507-8.
  • 94. See p. 320.
  • 95. Rep. of Inspector of Prisons (1836), p. 119.
  • 96. Ibid. (1838), p. 107.
  • 97. In 1293 Philip the larderer claimed that his right to sell the king's distresses rested upon a charter of Wm. I, Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 207. Nathanael of Leaveland, 12th-cent. keeper of the Fleet, claimed a like antiquity for his keepership: Trans. R.H.S. 5th ser. v. 18.
  • 98. Yorks. Fines, 1246-72, 192.
  • 99. E.Y.C. i. 197.
  • 100. Pipe R. 1175 (P.R.S. xxii), 164; the payment is for 2 years.
  • 101. Pipe R. 1189 (Rec. Com.), 75.
  • 102. Bk. of Fees, i. 247, 356.
  • 103. To be distinguished from Davy Tower: see p. 514.
  • 104. Pipe. R. 1230 (P.R.S. N.S. iv), 267.
  • 105. The payment was still being made in 1668: Davies, Walks Through York, 29; an attempt by the citizens of York to withhold part of the payment was frustrated by the Exchequer in 1331: York Mem. Bk. i. 174.
  • 106. The first statement is in 1353: Cal. Inq. p.m. x, p. 12.
  • 107. Yorks. Fines, 1246-72, 192.
  • 108. Trans. R.H.S. 5th ser. v. 18, 21.
  • 109. See below.
  • 110. Trans. R.H.S. 5th ser. v. 17-20.
  • 111. Yorks. Inq. i. 9; Close R. 1247-51, 32; the responsibility of the Exchequer was reiterated in 1249: Cal. Lib. 1245-51, 229.
  • 112. Yorks. Fines, 1246-72, 191-3, where an abstract of the final concord and a translation of the inquest enrolled on the eyre r. (J.I. 1/1046, m. 63) are printed together; the text of the inquest seems slightly corrupt; a deed precedent to the fine is printed in York Mem. Bk. i. 118.
  • 113. The jurors added that he also levied toll on carts laden with flesh.
  • 114. The jurors added that the larderers were aldermen of 'Menestrell', an unexplained phrase.
  • 115. Cal. Inq. p.m. i, p. 244.
  • 116. Cal. Fine R. 1272-1307, 133.
  • 117. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 207-8.
  • 118. Here stated to be 4d.
  • 119. Cal. Inq. p.m. iv, pp. 184-5.
  • 120. Cal. Close, 1302-7, 357.
  • 121. Cal. Inq. p.m. x, p. 12.
  • 122. Ibid.
  • 123. Ibid. p. 91; this seems a more correct version than that given ibid. p. 12; cf. York Mem. Bk. i. 174.
  • 124. Cal. Inq. p.m. x, p. 12.
  • 125. Ibid. xii, p. 403.
  • 126. Widdrington, Analecta, 254-5; Ralph de Leek died seised of property in Hessle; Cal. Inq. p.m. x, p. 91.
  • 127. Widdrington, Analecta, 257; Complete Peerage, v. 229: Herald and Geneal. vi. 396.
  • 128. Davies, Walks Through York, 28.
  • 129. Widdrington, Analecta, 258.
  • 130. Davies, Walks Through York, 27-28.
  • 131. Hargrove, Hist. York, ii. 406.
  • 132. Widdrington, Analecta, 256.
  • 133. Cal. Close, 1369-74, 159.
  • 134. Cal. Pat. 1388-92, 117.
  • 135. Cal. Close, 1389-92, 446.
  • 136. Howard, State of the Prisons (1780), 369-70.
  • 137. Rep. of Inspector of Prisons (1836), p. 121.
  • 138. Hargrove, Hist. York, ii. 132.
  • 139. W. White, Dir. E. & N. Ridings (1840), 83.
  • 140. Hargrove, Hist. York, ii. 132.
  • 141. See p. 39.
  • 142. Cal. Pat. 1307-13, 431; its bounds are there defined.
  • 143. Ibid. 1374-7, 275.
  • 144. Assoc. Archit. Soc. Rep. and Papers, xxviii. 850; xxxi. 319; Test. Ebor. i. 220.
  • 145. [C. L. Burdekin and W. Knipe], Criminal Chronology of York Castle (York, 1867), 5; for a criticism of this book see note 62 below.
  • 146. See p. 339.
  • 147. Howard, State of the Prisons (1780), 369; Hargrove, Hist. York, ii. 130-1; Rep. of Inspector of Prisons (1836), p. 121; Returns of Places of Confinement . . . which do not come under the Gaol Act, H.C. 485, p. 123 (1833), xxviii. J. Neild (State of the Prisons, 606-7) also describes the prison in unflattering terms.
  • 148. Return of Gaols, &c. (1818), H.C. 135, pp. 54-55 (1819), xvii; (1820), H.C. 400, pp. 58-59 (1821), xxi; Returns of Places of Confinement, p. 123.
  • 149. Rep. of Inspector of Prisons (1838), p. 107.
  • 150. Test. Ebor. i. 63.
  • 151. For escapes of such see Cal. Pat. 1388-92, 328; 1396-9, 466.
  • 152. Test. Ebor, i. 63, 220; ii. 8, 26; iv. 28; v. 38, 102, 271; vi. 245; North Country Wills (Sur. Soc. 116, 121), i. 83; ii. 21, 207.
  • 153. Assoc. Archit. Soc. Rep. and Papers, xxviii. 830; cf. Cal. Pat. 1396-9, 268.
  • 154. See p. 338.
  • 155. Hargrove, Hist. York, ii. 126-30.
  • 156. Drake, Ebor. 265; cf. York Mem. Bk. i. 152 n.
  • 157. Cal. Close, 1288-96, 4.
  • 158. B.M. Add. MS. 35205; Cal. Pat. 1321-4, 127.
  • 159. Cal. Chart. R. 1427-1516, 110.
  • 160. Drake, Ebor. 574-5; the date of Adams's death is given ibid. 341.
  • 161. Crim. Chron. 1, repeated by Cooper, Hist. Castle York, 254. The form in which this story is told casts doubt upon its truth, but the alleged facts are not inherently improbable; the sources for the book are not stated in it, but there is little reason for questioning the later events that it records.
  • 162. Crim. Chron. 139.
  • 163. Ebor. 398.
  • 164. Hist. York, ii. 512.
  • 165. Crim. Chron. 45.
  • 166. e.g. in 1784: ibid. 95.
  • 167. Ibid. 150.
  • 168. See p. 526.
  • 169. Crim. Chron. 139.
  • 170. Rep. Inspector of Prisons (1871) [C. 372] (N. District), p. 157, H.C. (1871), xxix.
  • 171. Yorks. Gaz. 22 Mar. 1902.
  • 172. Ibid. 12 July 1930.
  • 173. Crim. Chron. 149, 161.
  • 174. Drake, Ebor. 245.
  • 175. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 42, f. 174.
  • 176. 'place where the gallows stood': ibid. 46, f. 427.
  • 177. O.S. map 1/10560 (1853).
  • 178. Ibid.; York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 42, f. 174.
  • 179. York Mem. Bk. i. 20-22.
  • 180. Drake, Ebor. 245.
  • 181. 'place where formerly were the gallows': York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 8, f. 106.
  • 182. Crim. Chron. 6.
  • 183. Crim. Chron. 38.
  • 184. Ibid. 45.
  • 185. Ibid. 43.
  • 186. Cooper, Hist. Castle York, quoting York Minster fabric rolls.
  • 187. Ibid. 256.
  • 188. E.Y.C. i. 262.
  • 189. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 40, f. 9; O.S. Map 1/10560 (1853).