By Leah Mellors, Curator, Ripon Museum Trust
Ripon Prison & Police Museum tells the story of the police and prisons services in Yorkshire and the Humber since the early 1800s. The museum is housed in a complex of buildings that served first as Ripon House of Correction, then Ripon Liberty Prison and finally Ripon City Police Station.
Houses of Correction were established after the passing of the Elizabethan Poor Law in 1601. They used hard labour to punish and reform people convicted of minor offences, such as petty theft, vagrancy, prostitution, and disorderly conduct.
The original House of Correction in Ripon was established in 1684 in the building adjacent to the museum. The minutes of Ripon Council from 31 March 1683 read “[it was] ordered and agreed that the mayor and other justices of the peace [of Ripon]…shall set up a workhouse and house of correction for setting the poor here on work and punishment of such as by law are there punishable.”
In 1816, the House of Correction was incorporated into the newly built Ripon Liberty Prison, which was housed in what is now the museum. The nine cells on the ground floor of the prison were used for the House of Correction, holding up to 18 prisoners, whilst the cells on the first floor were used to hold debtors.
Those held in the House of Correction were sentenced to hard labour, usually for one calendar month. At Ripon House of Correction, this included walking the treadwheel and cleaning the building. Prisoners were expected to work 10 hours in the summer and seven hours in the winter. Prisoners also carried out work to create produce that could be sold, such as picking rope fibres into oakum that could be sold for ship-building. In 1877, the total earnings from this produce was £331 15s 9d, the largest amount of prison earnings throughout England and Wales (Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 15 October 1877).
In the collections of Ripon Museum Trust, there are a number of documents that reveal how Ripon House of Correction operated. There are court orders for the payment of salaries or pensions of a gaolor, a chaplain, a barber and a surgeon. We also know that there was a governor, and a matron to oversee the female prisoners. Two notebooks in the collections reveal the amount of bread and oatmeal purchased for the prisoners – for example, 665 lbs of bread and 12 quarts of oatmeal in the first quarter of 1848. The prisoners were also fed beef, treacle, flour, cheese, potatoes and onions.
Much of the information we have about those held at Ripon House of Correction comes from the local newspapers, which published regular reports on the offenders held. For example, in the year ending 29 September 1877, there were a total of 134 males and 23 females committed to the House of Correction. 38 of these were committed for being drunk and disorderly; 11 were committed for assault; four were committed for trespass in search of game; and 72 were committed for vagrancy (Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 15 October 1877).
For further information, visit: https://riponmuseums.co.uk/museums/prison_police_museum/