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Bitter Porridge Text  This is the start of a report of 1789 by the famous penal reformer John Howard on the grim conditions in the county gaol of Stafford.

“No alteration in this crowded prison. Only one small day-room for men and women. In the dungeon for male felons, I saw fifty-two chained down, hardly fourteen inches being allowed to each. The moisture from their breath ran down the walls. I need not intimate the heat and offensiveness of this dungeon, and the paleness of the prisoners. The women were in irons, and lay in another dungeon. Last year, seven of the felons died in their dungeon of the gaol-fever; and the free ward, or county chamber, being directly over it, nine out of thirteen of the poor debtors died.”

At this period, the population of the gaol consisted of debtors - who had committed no crime but who might languish for years if their debts could not be paid off - persons awaiting trial, and those awaiting sentence such as transportation. In addition, in Stafford and other towns there was a House of Correction or Bridewell, where vagrants and vagabonds would be held and, in theory, put to productive work such as cotton-picking, shoe-making, tailoring and gardening.

Things did gradually improve for prisoners, as you can find out by clicking on Prison Rules

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