BACK now to Middlewich and to detail what was once there but is long gone.

In the 1600s, most towns had a tiny lock-up to house their miscreants, but it was another matter for full prisons.

Chester had the central jail in the castle, and then in 1808, a large prison was built as part of Chester Northgate. This then became the most important prison, although there was a house of correction already extant at Middlewich.

Hangings in Cheshire up until 1801 took place at Gallows Hill in Boughton; this hill is still there but is now called Barrel Well Hill.

The last felons to be hanged were Thompson, Morgan and Clare, who were ‘Turned Off’ for forgery. After that date, felons were sent to Northgate Gaol to be hanged. At first publicly, at the time using gallows on the prison roof in full view of the crowds, later within the prison.

Building work on the Middlewich House of Correction commenced in the late 1630s but was not completed until 1641.

It was built to hold 60 prisoners, although up to 180 were held there in 1818. It was constructed to replace an ancient house of correction at Northwich that was falling into decay.

I can find no record of the death sentence being carried out there; its purpose was to house prisoners guilty of misdemeanours. They were usually sentenced to a period of hard labour.

It was built in Queen Street, then known as Dog Lane, on the present police station’s site and was a full gaol, but the more serious offenders were sent to Chester.

The building date was just short of the start of the English Civil War, and this area was a battlefield during the first and second battles of Middlewich.

It was not opened as a prison until 1641 at the start of the war, which ran from 1642 to 1651.

Several poor families took up residence there; most remained for about two years before moving on.

Although the locals had no complaints about this use of an unoccupied building, now called squatting, the magistrates thought differently. They called upon the locals to assist with removing these felons.

After the Civil War, the house’s primary duties were to reform the minor criminals with hard labour. One of the lesser crimes that resulted in many of the female prisoners was the offence of bastardy. That was the offence of getting pregnant out of wedlock. Another interesting case was as follows.

On May 5, 1818, a man attended at Macclesfield market with his wife wearing a halter around her neck; he was offering her for sale!

A deal was struck, and he sold his wife for between three and four shillings.

The Mayor of Macclesfield ordered that all parties be arrested, and the three of them were remanded to Middlewich House of Correction until the next Quarter Session. This was the first offence of this kind to be brought to the notice of the police.

Another case involved an escapee from the House of Correction: Dated Friday, December 19, 1802.

Joseph Gibson, late of Over, was charged with killing and stealing a sheep; he lived with his wife and large family at Chester-Lane-End in Over. There was a reward of ten guineas for his apprehension.

This would be paid by Mr William Harrison, Keeper of the Middlewich House of Correction.

Interestingly 10 guineas would be worth more than £1,000 today.

On completion of their sentence, men would be whipped in the nearby bullring.

In 1818 Knutsford prison/house of correction and bridewell was built, meaning that the Middlewich prison was no longer required.

It remained open for a very short time until Tuesday, April 24, 1821. At this time, an auction was to be held in the Court House in Middlewich. It would be to sell all of the house of correction building materials consisting of hundreds of thousands of good bricks, slates, and timber, then the building was demolished, and that was the end of Middlewich’s gaol.

Now Middlewich houses one of the two new bridewells/custody suites for the Cheshire constabulary. It is in Pochins Way, Middlewich, and the other one is at Chester.