Alnwick House of Correction

Alnwick House of Correction later became a courthouse, a police station, and is now a Youth Hostel. 150 years ago it was one of the most expensive prisons in England.

From the Alnwick Mercury, Jan 1870: …the Saturday Review of last week makes the following startling statement: the average charge for each prisoner is £37 a year. The county prisons of Alnwick and Oakham show a large excess above the average, the cost of a prisoner at the one being £82 and the other £93 a year. It is not stated whether these costly inmates are nourished on game, poultry, and pudding throughout the year; nor whether crime is checked in Northumberland by a luxurious prison diet”

The diet was not luxurious. At a weekly cost of 2s 4d per head, prisoners in Alnwick were given:

  Male Female
Bread 4lb. 1oz. 2lb. ½oz.
Meat 3oz. 3oz.
Porridge 14 pints 14 pints
Potatoes 2lbs. 11oz. 2lbs. 11oz.
Soup 1 pint. 1 pint
Treacle in porridge 22 ozs. 22 ozs.
Suet pudding 1 lb. 1 lb.

The reason Alnwick House of Correction was relatively expensive was that there were not many prisoners. Fifty years earlier, over 200 prisoners a year were being committed to Alnwick House of Correction. Although it sometimes held no prisoners, it commonly held around six, and at one point thirty. But a new gaol opened in Morpeth in 1828, Tynemouth House of Correction was extended in the 1830’s. By 1838 the prison inspector reported ten prisons in Northumberland, including small lock-ups at Rothbury and Belford. By the middle of the 19th century only around 50 prisoners a year were sent here, and the number held was normally one or two.

By 1870 the cost of maintaining the building, and paying a keeper and matron was disproportionate. It closed as a prison in 1871, though the cells continued to be used by the police. A number of smaller prisons were closing around this time That wasn’t just because of the high costs – it was also becoming difficult to recruit suitable staff.

The present keeper has held his situation about 18 months, and was before that time chief officer of the Alnwick police. He is 32 years old. His salary is £54 per annum with a free house. He appears in some respects to be well qualified for his situation, but his want of the habit of speaking the truth on all occasions is a very serious defect.

Prison History, on 19th century prisons <here>.

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