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Menacing mugshots and prison records of hardened criminals go online

More than 180 years of Gloucestershire prison records published online by Ancestry

  • Records reveal fascinating details of habitual criminals, crimes committed and albums of prisoners’ photographs
  • Photographic collection gives a glimpse at the faces of criminals from as far back as 1870 – including children as young as seven
  • Christopher Rachford and John Hughes, the first men to be killed by hanging at Gloucester Gaol, appear in the records

More than 235,000 records, revealing details of Gloucestershire criminals, debtors, and trial prisoners from the last 180 years, have been published online by Ancestry, the leader in family history and consumer genomics.

Digitised from original records held by Gloucestershire Archives, the Gloucestershire, England, Prison Records, 1728-1914 collection contains registers of prisoners from several gaols and houses of correction (institutions set up for the punishment and reform of those convicted of petty offences through hard labour).

Searchable by name, age, type, date and location of crime, these records contain vital information and fascinating details for anybody looking to find out more about the county’s historic offenders or a black sheep in their family tree.

The records also contain around 450 photographs of prisoners, which were passed between local police forces to identify habitual offenders and give a glimpse of the faces of some of the most tumultuous criminals in Gloucestershire's past. In addition, the collection features detailed descriptions of those awaiting trial.

The photographic records begin in 1870, and include pictures of James Hyde, sentenced to penal servitude for stealing pigs cheeks, and 18-year-old Samuel Taylor and his 14-year-old brother Alfred, who served hard labour for stealing rabbits. There were young women too, such as Elizabeth Crowder (14), a servant from Cheltenham, whose hard labour came as a result of stealing a purse “from her master”.

Indeed, prisons held criminals of all ages – from children to octogenarians. The youngest in the records was seven-year-old Edgar Kilminster. When imprisoned in 1870, Edgar was only 3 feet 10 inches tall, described as having brown hair, grey eyes, a light complexion and a scar by his left eye. He was sentenced to seven days hard labour and given twelve strokes with the birch for stealing sweetmeats alongside his nine-year-old brother Joseph.

The oldest prisoner photographed at Gloucestershire Gaol was 79-year-old William Lord, charged with stealing timber. He had been known to the police for 20 years and had been jailed for stealing before, so was sentenced to six months hard labour and seven years of police supervision. However, due to bad health, he was later given a pardon from Her Majesty.

Other interesting stories in the records include:

  • Christopher Rachford and John Hughes – Londoner Rachford and Irish-born Hughes were sentenced to death for two highway robberies in November 1791. They stole valuables including copper halfpennies, a horse-whip and a silver watch case[i], and were hanged for their crimes – the first ever hangings to take place at the new county gaol
  • Mary Ann Barry and Edwin Bailey – In 1874, Barry and Bailey were executed for the murder of 10-month-old baby Sarah Jenkins. Edwin Bailey, the alleged father, had been faced with a court order for the maintenance of Sarah, which he resented. Together with his employee, Mary Ann Barry, he tricked the baby’s mother into poisoning the baby with Soothing Powders – a mix of chemicals and rat poison, which caused a quick death.[ii]

Gloucester Gaol was converted from Gloucester Castle in the 17th century. However, a new prison was later built on the same site in 1791, which contained a gaol, penitentiary and house of correction. Until 1878, the Gaol was under control of the Gloucestershire Quarter Sessions, but it was turned into a men’s prison in 1915.

Ancestry’s Senior Content Manager Miriam Silverman comments: “This collection provides rare insight into prisoners and their convictions, as well as providing astonishing imagery of habitual offenders, helping us to get a better understanding of the stories and lives of people in Gloucestershire during the 18th and 19th centuries.”

“Whether you’re looking to find more information about a crime in your family history or discover more about some infamous criminals, these records can help add colour to Gloucestershire’s criminal past.”

Ray Theodoulou, Gloucestershire County Council Cabinet Member on behalf of Gloucestershire Archives, said: “We’re thrilled that these fascinating archives in our care are now accessible worldwide. Also thanks to this relationship with Ancestry, people in Gloucestershire have free access to Ancestry at their local library, at the Gloucestershire Family History Centre and at Gloucestershire Archives itself. The collaboration is also supporting our ‘For the Record’ project so that we can continue to preserve and share Gloucestershire’s wonderfully rich documented heritage.”

The Gloucestershire, England, Prison Records, 1728-1914 collection is launching alongside two other Gloucestershire collections: The Gloucestershire, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1974 collection, which contains yearly registers listing the names and residences of those eligible to vote in elections; and the Gloucestershire, England, Land Tax Records, 1713-1833 containing records of property owners and tenants liable for land tax – a means for raising government revenue.

To search any of these collections, and more than 17 billion other historical records worldwide, visit www.ancestry.co.uk.

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