A gift for the High Sheriff.
The Hidden Buckinghamshire Project began in April 2018 and will run for two years. The aim is to catalogue over 11,000 items collected by Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society (BAS). Many of these items are deeds to property, others are more unexpected: among the items acquired by the society in 1928 is an assignment from the outgoing High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, Robert Harvey, to his successor Henry William Mason, made in February 1829. Now a largely ceremonial role, the High Sherriff was traditionally responsible for law and order. As his term expired Harvey handed over the responsibilities of his post to Mason, in this case people - the prisoners in the county gaol [reference D-BAS/28/1018].
At this date the gaol was part of the original County Hall complex, the court house, and other administrative parts of which still front the Market Square. The gaol stood behind, partly occupying the site of Old County Offices on Walton Street stretching down as far as the Waterside Theatre. Robert Gibbs in his History of Aylesbury published in 1885 as this to say of the gaol in the early 19th century: "A further defect in the Aylesbury prison was the utter impossibility of proper classification and separation of the prisoners. Convicted and unconvicted, old offenders and comparatively innocent youths were all huddled together. The construction of the Gaol buildings was such that this could not be avoided, notwithstanding the alterations and additions constantly made. In 1824-5 there was a considerable outlay on the Gaol; a new chapel, capable of holding 200 persons, was built; sleeping rooms were erected over the laundry and the day rooms of the Datchet ward, and other improvements and extensions made".
The prison was far from secure, Gibbs tells us: "Outbreaks were of frequent occurrence; indeed, amongst other defects of the Gaol, that of insecurity was not the least; outbreaks are again and again reported, from the earliest period up to the last years of the existence of the Gaol. There is a case of novelty, where some lawless fellows actually broke into the Gaol". There had been escapes in 1821 and 1822. So it was evident that a new, purpose-built prison was needed and the present prison building in Bierton Road would be built between 1844 and 1848.
The assignment was divided into three parts. Firstly was a list of debtors, then a list of felons in the prison (sub-divided into those awaiting trial and a second category containing two men who were "detained during His Majesty's pleasure". A third category was reserved not for people but for an outstanding writ issued against a man for bankruptcy.
At this date there were just two debtors in the prison, awaiting a resolution to the legal process brought by their creditors. One was Thomas Woodbridge, in an action brought by Hugh Richards and George Woollett in the Court of King's Bench in London for £95 and upwards, the process had begun on 31st January 1829. The other prisoner was James Austin, held in an action brought by Charles Beaver, gentleman in King's Bench for a debt of sixteen guineas (£16.16.0). This was not quite such an insignificant sum as it sounds, representing modern figure of, perhaps, £2,000. The legal process in this case had begun on 12th February 1829. Before 1808 a debtor's financial woes would have been compounded by having to pay the gaoler for maintenance. In that year this practice was abolished but a debtor still had to pay the not insignificant sum of 2 shillings 6d for release. During their incarceration the debtors, and other prisoners, were allowed, Robert Gibbs tells us, "one pound and a half of best wheaten bread every day, and a pint of soup twice a week".
In some prisons, debtors were allowed to exit the prison up to a certain, defined distance and were allowed visitors in order to carry on their business (in hopes that they would the more quickly pay off their debt). Gibbs tells us that at Aylesbury: "Prisoners who were debtors were allowed "the liberty of the stones", that was, the privilege of parading the frontage of the County Hall within the boundary posts, where they could communicate freely with their friends and the public".
The two prisoners detained during His Majesty's Pleasure were both guilty of violent offences. James Brooks had been convicted the previous year of maliciously shooting at a man named John Wood. The other prisoner was Charles Lynn. He had been convicted in 1825 of the notorious Whaddon Chase Murder in which he had killed his companion, Abraham Hogg, by beating with the butt of a gun. He was spared the hangman's noose due to his obvious insanity, having attempted suicide a number of times whilst in gaol, and would die there.
There is quite a long list of 63 people awaiting trial. Their offences are mostly poaching, burglary or larceny but also include highway robbers William Thomas, Timothy Wood, Joseph Dell and John Portsmouth.
The outstanding writ had been brought in Court of King's Bench at the suit of John Treacher against William Woodward for a debt of £30.3.9 and the process was to be resumed on 6th May. The writ was described as a Writ of Latitat and was made on the assumption (true or not) that the person against whom it was made was in hiding, latitat being Latin for "he lurks"!
Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies