Taunton Gaol

The Lent Assizes for the County of Somerset were held at the assize hall in the Castle of Taunton. Thus there was a gaol at Taunton that was used to hold the prisoners close to the Castle so that they were convenient for their Trial at Taunton Castle. The gaol was erected in 1754, expanded in 1815 and later became part of the Police Headquarters for the town of Taunton.[1]

The Gaol at Taunton was assessed once in 1803 and once in 1806 with details of the layout written up at the time. Mary Stevens was in the gaol at Taunton, also known as Wilton Gaol, for at least some of her 18 months or so imprisonment in Somersetshire. It is uncertain how much of that time she would have spent at Taunton and how much of that time she would have spent in the gaol at Ilchester.

 Taunton Police Station. Part of the original Taunton Gaol. Taken 2008. Tauntonbuff http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php?topic=315870.0

Taunton Police Station. Part of the original Taunton Gaol. Taken 2008. Tauntonbuff http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php?topic=315870.0

Whilst in the gaol at Taunton Mary would have been allowed half a quarter loaf per day and a dinner of meat once a fortnight. On this meagre allowance she would have had to survive for the duration of her time at Taunton, unless she could afford to supplement her food. If she had no way to pay for additional food then any extras she may have obtained would have been reliant on the good nature and bounty of others, possibly even her family, if they visited her.[2]

The women at Taunton had a day-room which had been a Chapel prior to being converted to the woman’s day-room. Over the day room there were two rooms. One of those contained beds, the other straw for sleeping on. To be able to sleep on a bed the prisoners had to pay 1 shilling per week. Otherwise they slept on the straw on the floor, even if they were ill.[3]

If Mary’s clothes were “ragged or offensive” she would have been provided with a Gaol Uniform to wear. In winter the rooms were cold and in summer probably hot. The only heating allowed were coals in the day room. The rooms would also have been very dark, with the upper parts of the windows glass and the lower parts shuttered.[4]

Like Ilchester Gaol, at the time Mary Stevens was at Taunton Gaol there was no employment for the inmates. In many cases the prisoners were also kept in irons. It was also noticeable that in the gaol they displayed the Act for Preserving Health on the walls, but had not included the clauses on “Spirituous Liquors”.[5] Not that it would have mattered as many of the prisoners could neither read nor write, including Mary who signed her marriage certificate with a cross.[6]

Mary Stevens

[1] Google Books. Toulmin, J. The history of Taunton, in the county of Somerset. Printed for J. Poole 1822. Original from the University of Michigan. Digitised 18 Dec 2006. P. 585.

[2] Google Books. Neild, J. 1812. State of the prisons in England, Scotland and Wales …: together with some useful documents, observations, and remarks, adapted to explain and improve the condition of prisoners in general … Original from University of Minnesota. Digitised 1 Jul 2010. P. 555 https://books.google.com.au/books?id=SwEMAQAAMAAJ&pg=PR64&lpg=PR64&dq=Taunton+Castle+gaol&source=bl&ots=6ykeJlDCAa&sig=bEdW-GzP54yIG8oPGga9iMlVBQw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiaq6XWyoXNAhWIv48KHQf_AZgQ6AEIRTAJ#v=onepage&q=Taunton%20Castle%20gaol&f=false (Accessed 1st June 2016)

[3] Google Books. Neild, J. 1812. State of the prisons in England, Scotland and Wales …: together with some useful documents, observations, and remarks, adapted to explain and improve the condition of prisoners in general … Original from University of Minnesota. Digitised 1 Jul 2010. P. 555 https://books.google.com.au/books?id=SwEMAQAAMAAJ&pg=PR64&lpg=PR64&dq=Taunton+Castle+gaol&source=bl&ots=6ykeJlDCAa&sig=bEdW-GzP54yIG8oPGga9iMlVBQw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiaq6XWyoXNAhWIv48KHQf_AZgQ6AEIRTAJ#v=onepage&q=Taunton%20Castle%20gaol&f=false (Accessed 1st June 2016)

[4] Google Books. Neild, J. 1812. State of the prisons in England, Scotland and Wales …: together with some useful documents, observations, and remarks, adapted to explain and improve the condition of prisoners in general … Original from University of Minnesota. Digitised 1 Jul 2010. P. 555 https://books.google.com.au/books?id=SwEMAQAAMAAJ&pg=PR64&lpg=PR64&dq=Taunton+Castle+gaol&source=bl&ots=6ykeJlDCAa&sig=bEdW-GzP54yIG8oPGga9iMlVBQw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiaq6XWyoXNAhWIv48KHQf_AZgQ6AEIRTAJ#v=onepage&q=Taunton%20Castle%20gaol&f=false (Accessed 1st June 2016)

[5] Google Books. Neild, J. 1812. State of the prisons in England, Scotland and Wales …: together with some useful documents, observations, and remarks, adapted to explain and improve the condition of prisoners in general … Original from University of Minnesota. Digitised 1 Jul 2010. P. 555 https://books.google.com.au/books?id=SwEMAQAAMAAJ&pg=PR64&lpg=PR64&dq=Taunton+Castle+gaol&source=bl&ots=6ykeJlDCAa&sig=bEdW-GzP54yIG8oPGga9iMlVBQw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiaq6XWyoXNAhWIv48KHQf_AZgQ6AEIRTAJ#v=onepage&q=Taunton%20Castle%20gaol&f=false (Accessed 1st June 2016)

[6] NSW BDM 1809 893/1809 V1809893 3A John Leese and Mary Stephens


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