Skip to main content
Hide Articles List

11 articles on this Page








A GLANCE AT OLD CARDIFF. A correspondent writes:—The references in- cidentally made in your columns a. week or two since to St. Mary-street, Cardiff, fifty years ago, induce me to think that some par- ticulars respecting the old county prison, which subsequently became the borough police-station, and which stood nearly oppo- site to the present Town-hall, may be of in- terest to your readers. The old county prison was a very ancient structure, having been built, with the cottages adjoining it, in the early part of the last century. It wa.s origi- nally a dwelling-house, and its plastered front had been many times repaired by the prisoners and the interior was also repaired by them from time to time. The prison for felons was erec- ted at the back,and consisted of wings for male and female prisoners, opening seperate r yards, enclosed with walls, with a large yard in the c( ntre used as a. playground for the [ debtors, baseball being a very common pJS- time. It has hitherto been generally under- r stood that this building was the property of the Cardiff Corporation, and rentoU from them by the county justices, but I now understand thac this is not correct, and that the premises, cottages. and gardens adjoining, were bought by the county, as was the case with the old prison at Swansea. This seems to be correct, as the coi poration records contain no entry of rent received, nor the county records of rent paid. If this be so, then the ground upon which the present market is built belongs to the county. The prison wings for male and female felons stretched nearly to Trinity i street, which was then a narrow lane. The d(btors' prison faced St. Mary-street, next to i the cottages, and the apartments for the t governor and hia family were on the other side of the entrance, and adjoined the pre- mises of Messrs. Cross Bros., ironmongers. t After the building became a police-station, r Mr. J. B. Stockdale, Major Bond, and other t heads of the Cardiff polioe-force resided there. Captain Breton, who was appointed governor ) of the prison in 1819, had the garden which now forms n.early the whole of the site of the [ present market. Access to this garden was obtained by large wooden doors, which also led to some stables. These stables were in > close proximity to the Borough Arms. The rents for them, and also the rents for the cot- tages, were collected by the gover- nor of the prison, and were. I understand, never received by the corporation until sub- sequent to the time when the old prison became a police-staibion. One of these cot- tages was Used as a barber's chop, and another was used as a public bakery. The prisoners all mingled together in the day- rooms below, but were locked up at night in cells, the windows of which overlooked the garden, but a high wall, surmounted with iron spikes, intervened, and at night a watch- man was on duty here, or was supposed to be, to prevent prisoners from escaping. A nuirfber of prisoners, or rather con- victs, succeeded in effecting their escape, bhe general period being after sentence of transportation had been passed, and while they remained in prison a,wa,iting the arrival, in the Thames or at Plymouth, of a transport vessel to convey them from the country. The convicts were frequently assisted by their friends outride. The old prison records contain entries that, in the early part of 1820, t.wo women under sentence of transport-at-ion escaped by cutting their blankets into strips, and so getting over the wall of the garden, while the watch- man was asleep. They were taken down to the Golate by their friends, placed in a ship, and conveyed to Bristol, where, months after- wards, on getting into trouble there, they were recognised and brought back to Cardiff. In June the same year another convict, named John Martin, escaped, and two others at- tempted to do so by filing the bars of thp cell windows. On the night of Christmas Day the same year three other convicts escaped in the same way. but two were re-captured in the street: the snow having fallen heavily, their leg irons served as a trace. The third, who escaped, had his irons, it was said, re- moved ait Dusky Forge. In the high wall which separated the prison from the garden was a wooden door, heavily locked and ba.rred. but which was opened when executions took a, the cuhirit w:i^ l'rol1Q'ht the doorway to a scaffold, and hung to a beam, which afters ards lonneu pun oi llil: enhance to the old market house. The chain and hook to which the rope was attached remained perma- nentlv suspended from the beam, and timid people on a dark tiight-tlie streets were not then lighted with gas—were afraid to pass the spot unless the old smi'thy, which stood at the corner next the Town-hall, where the London and Provincial Bank is now, was open to light up the street there. The prison proper was in a very insecure state even in 1819, and Captain Breton, on his appointment, reported that, with the exception of two cells, there was not a. single lock that was safe. He also stated that tne prison occupied by the male debtors consisted ,)f two day-rooms, fronting the street. He pro- posed to give up two of his back bedrooms, which would give sleeping accommodation for ten persons. Removing the debtors from the street view would, in his opinion, materially idd 'to the peace of the gaol. Debtors, under the. old Debtors Act, if they were in a position to do so. received their food and drink from friends outside, and they were frequently drunk at night, and this caused disturbances among them. I hose who could not afford their food were supplied by the coun'ty, and each had a q-iart of beer daily, while, if they had too much jread, etc-, they .sold it to the turnkey for beer. This was regularly done up to 1819. Captain Breton was a very modest man, and when he found the apartments lie occupied ui a dirty condition he asked 'the visiting justices to allow him to get the ceiling of his sitting-room upstairs whitewashed and the walls coloamh He was also a man of great economy, and on one occasion, when the prisoners complained that the potatoes were rotten, a,nd one of the visitin<f justices ordered two sacks of sound potatoes, he protested against the waste, as the rotten potatoes would have done (he wrote) very well with an additional quantity of oatmeal. Up to 1820 no religious services were held in I the prison, and Sunday was often a day of debauchery. Then a clergyman was appointed but the debtors refused to attend Divine Ser- vice, and appealed to 'the visiting justices. Among them were the late Marquess of Bute, Mr. J. Bruoe Pryce (father of the late Lord Aberdare), Mr. Ktmys, Mr. Wyndham Lewis, Mr. Walter Coffin, M.P., and others- They were divided in opinion, as some of the debtors were Nonconformists. TJie visiting justices then re- modelled the Church Service, took out all 'that appeared to them as belonging to the rites of the Established.Church, and then reports'! that no person^ of whatever religion he unght be, could object 'to attend services where such prayers were read. The governor had the power of stopping the supplies when any pri- soner, debtor or felon, became disobedient*, and this he had done. The com- plaints ceased, but whether from the stoppage of the &upplies or the alteration in the prayers is not stated. Mr. J. B. Woods was appointed governor in 1320. At that time the assizes were held at Swansea and Cardiff idter-'iately, and the prisoners for trial were taken from Cardiff to Swansea in a wagon drawn by four and sometimes six horses. Mr. Woods rode in fiont, v,d so did Mr. Thomas Dalton, the clerk of the peace. At Tumbledown Dick all got out, prisoners n.vid all, and walked by the side up the hill. Friends met at Cow bridge and other halting places, and they were very often treated too well. Convicts on the return jour- rey were leg-ironed. A few \ears after Mr. Woods's appointment the prison becams so dilapidated that steps wtre taken to erect a rew one. The Maiquess of Bute gave the land, and Mr. Wyndhsm Lewis the roadway leading to it. The new prison was then actually outside Cardiff, and in old legal documents it was called the county prison, near Cardiff." Owing to the still more ruinous condition of the town prison under the old To vn-hall, prisoners and deb- tors were placed under Mr. Woods's charge. Then, as the new prison progressed, prisoners ] were removed from the old to the new one, and Mr. J. B. Stockdale took up his residence there as head of the borough police force, and the members of the police were drilled in the remnants of the old workhouse opposite. The old prison continued to be used as a police- station a.Tid residence, of the head-constable up to a very recent period, and as a last resource was for some time a cabman's shelter. The 1 prison proper was pulled down when the old < market was built, and the cottager adjoining ( were at one period let at Is. M. per m-ek, but s were often unoccupied. ]