Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 02, 2016.
Webpage updated: March 02, 2016

To go to the Home Page          To go to the A-Z Contents Page



Following the failure of proposals for Plymouth and Devonport to share a prison, Devonport Corporation let the tender for the erection of its gaol at Pennycomequick in April 1849.  The contract went to the cheapest, that of Messrs Symons, Hoskins and Jenkins, in the sum of 11,803 10s 9d.  The prison was completed in June that same year and contained a total of 70 cells, 44 for males, 12 for females and 14 for debtors.

The Prison Act of 1877 required that all gaols be passed to State control and consequently the Devonport Prison was closed from April 1st 1878 and the remaining prisoners were moved to Plymouth Prison.  At first they advertised the premises for letting but then in November 1880 authorised its sale.  At the auction on Friday December 17th 1880 the highest bidder, at 4,200, was Mr John Martin.   The Devonport Corporation sub-committee in charge of the disposal were not happy with that and instructed the Town Clerk to bid the reserve price of 7,500.  The following month the sale was withdrawn and Mr Martin made a revised offer of 4,800.   This they also turned down and made him an offer of the property at 5,500, which he accepted.  He formally took possession on Wednesday February 9th 1881.  Subsequently all the buildings were pulled down, except for the gatehouse and offices, which remain standing today.

On Friday August 9th 1878 the Secretary of State, Mr Cross, made an order under section 33 of the Prisons Act 1877 for the closure of Plymouth Gaol as from August 31st.  It was in effect closed on Saturday August 24th because from Sunday August 25th the local Justices could only commit prisoners to Bodmin Gaol.   On the following day, ten male prisoners were moved to Bodmin, the eleven female inmates were moved on the Tuesday, and the remainder of the male prisoners were moved on the Wednesday and Thursday.  The Governor, warders and the chaplain had no idea what was going to happen to them.

Devonport Gaol had already closed (on Monday April 1st 1878) so the closure of the one at Plymouth caused much consternation within the Borough of Devonport.  If the Borough now had to send its prisoners to Bodmin, involving a rail and road journey, who was going to pay the cost involved?  The Prison Commissioners certainly were not interested so it was to presumably fall to the local ratepayers.   Furthermore, the Mayor asked, what if a person was sent to Bodmin "on remand" only.  Did they have to send a Constable down to Bodmin with the prisoner and then wait at Bodmin to bring him back to court?  The Mayor hoped that the Council would follow the example already set by the County of Middlesex and not pay the bills incurred in such situations.

But Plymouth did retain its Gaol in the end and it did not finally close until 1930, when the remaining prisoners were transferred to the County Gaol at Exeter.  The building was then converted into the new headquarters for the City of Plymouth Police, who moved here in 1935.