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Law and Order in Scarborough

The Story of Scarborough Gaol

For over 150 years efforts have been in place to thwart all those who had criminal instincts. Scarborough’s record is shown in a whole range of crimes, some of which today, we would regard as very petty. One example being in August 1861 the Hon. John Bruce Oglivie brought a charge at the Police Court held at the Town Hall, St.Nicholas Street. This was against a Robert Sandwith of Peasholm who had struck Ogilvie because he believed he had set his dog on his cat. Sandwith was fined seven shillings and six pence plus twelve shillings and sixpence costs. The exact nature of the crime was shown in the year end summary of the Borough’s Magistrates. These included assaults on women, cruelty to animals, larceny, begging, ‘incurable’ rogues and a great number being disorderly and drunk.

Prior to this time in 1843 a gaol was built at the cross roads of St. Thomas St. and Castle Road.. However by 1863 it proved to be unsatisfactory since it had no individual cells. The gaol committee looked for a new site and decided on Gallows Close in Falsgrave but this received opposition from the local residents. Consequently it was decided to site the gaol on a field near Cemetery Road belonging to the late Edward Nesfield. In April 1864 William Baldwin Stewart’s plans went to the council for approval. Since this would be too costly he was asked to redesign the plans on a less costly basis.

Laying Foundation Of New Gaol In 1865

Laying the Foundation Stone of the new Borough Gaol was a significant occasion for the people of Scarborough. It took place 24th.October 1865 when the mayor Ambrose Gibson laid the corner stone. The council members offered their civic robes and other possessions. A procession took place led by the police superintendent William Pattison. Everyone paraded on foot to the new gaol. The Vicar of Scrarborough together with other dignitaries proceeded to the gaol. Under the corner stone a large earthenware jar was placed. Its contents included a copy of the two local newspapers the “Mercury” and “Gazette”, The Burgesses’ Roll, A Plan of the town in 1865, Theakston’s Directory of Scarborough - 1865,Crosby’s Guide to Scarborough -1865, Report of the Amicable Society’s Schools, A Theatre Bill for the Theatre Royal in St. Thomas Street, Report of the Cliff Bridge Company and photographs of well known figures in the Borough. When the new gaol was finally ready a celebration dinner was arranged. It was agreed that the occasion was the best ever seen in Scarborough.

Now the Gaol was to more adequately provide a deterrent for the wayward characters of the community. The building was to provide better amenities for it was to accommodate 52 prisoners with the basement in the central building having receiving rooms, an itch cell, bath, fumigating closet, W.C., clothes store. The Ground floor of the central building had the Governor’s and Porters office, waiting and visiting rooms. Other floors housed the chapel, library, chapel, infirmary, surgery and cells for debtors.

The male prisoners’ wing had cells for 36 prisoners and the female wing had beds for 12 prisoners. According to a contemporary report of 1866 there is no mention of cells in the female wing. The Governor and Warder had their own separate houses. The Chief Warder and his deputy were given a salary of £70 per annum and the Under Matron £30.Per Annum with rations. The old gaol was to be converted into police offices and the session’s court.

Opening Of New Gaol In 1866

The opening of the new gaol took place Tuesday 9 October 1866. On this day 22 male and 12 female prisoners were escorted by the police from the old gaol on Castle Road to the new Gaol on Cemetery Road. A few days later in the 14th.October 1866 there was an escape. Thomas Scott was awaiting trial for robbery on Belmont Terrace. By using a piece of steel from a gas bracket, he unscrewed an iron plate from the water tap and used it to scrape away the mortar by the ventilator. He then removed bricks which were not yet properly set and slid down a drainpipe into the yard. He then used an old bedstead, a pole and a rope made from strips of blanket, climbed over the back boundary wall escaping across the common.


Unfortunately the Gaol only remained open for twelve years. Prisoners were transferred to York and Hull. The local corporation were offered the gaol for its own use for a little over £3000. It remained empty for a number of years. In the 1890’s a portion of the building was used as a home for stray dogs and another part used as an isolation hospital for infectious diseases. By 1899 the Engineer’s Department stores was transferred to the premises.

Colin Langford


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