By Anne Bayliss

(This article first appeared in Staffordshire History in Spring 2005 and is reproduced with kind permission of Staffordshire History and the author)

In the October 1846 Sessions Order Book (Q/SO 1846) it was recorded that an Engineer was to be appointed to Stafford Gaol 'at weekly wages not exceeding forty shillings'. In the same document Prison Wardens' remuneration was not to exceed 20 shillings per week.

In 1840 transportation of convicts to New South Wales was discontinued with the result that English prisons had to expand to accommodate the extra prisoners. Stafford Gaol had been very much enlarged since the new building had opened in 1793. The most recent development was a new block opened in December 1846, designed by Joseph Potter junior, son of the County Surveyor. This provided separate cells, as introduced at Pentonville Prison, and the design included a workshop for the Gaol Engineer.

The man appointed to this post was a 32-year-old Londoner, Hugh Shelley Bailey. This man was my great great grandfather. Oral family history maintained that, before coming to Stafford, Bailey had worked on the construction of the Grosvenor Bridge in Chester with the Staffordshire Architect and Civil Engineer, James Trubshaw (1777-1853). This was built between 1827 and 1833 and at the time of its completion was the largest single span stone arch in the world. Hugh Bailey was also said to have worked on Buckingham Palace Gates made by H & MD Grissell, of Regent's Canal Iron Works and erected in 1850.

Hugh Shelley Bailey was born in Lambeth on 2 March 1815, the son of an Excise Man. After his marriage in St. Mary's Church, Newington, Surrey in December 1834 to Martha Sheppard, the family lived in Lambeth until about 1840 when they moved to Chelsea. When his second son, also Hugh Shelley, was born in December 1840, HS Bailey senior gave his occupation as 'blacksmith'. By 1845 the family had moved to Westminster and his occupation now being described as 'smith'.
With his background, Hugh Shelley Bailey arrived in Stafford in 1847 to take up the post of Prison Engineer. His duties at this time included keeping in good repair and working order ventilation and warming apparatus, water conduits, gas fittings etc. around the prison. The design of the new block had included a gas supply to each cell. In addition tread wheels had to be kept in good order and there were numerous staircases and long corridors etc. with iron gates needing large keys for the locks which had to work at all times. In 1849 the Committee report on the Gaol stated that the duties of the Engineer were 'great'.

By the end of 1850 £45,000 had been spent enlarging and improving Gaol buildings. There were now 657 prisoners including 90 females. There were 2 tread wheels for 32 men for grinding corn and 6 tread wheels for pumping water from deep wells to reservoirs and cisterns. The County Surveyor, who would overlook this work, was Charles Trubshaw, the younger brother of James Trubshaw.

In the early 1850s, more land was bought for the expanding gaol and a new chapel of cruciform shape was built, which opened in 1852. Between 1852 and 1854, the female prison was demolished; replaced by a divided mixed block. In the mid 1860s, the Crescent building of 1832-3, which had been designed by the then County Surveyor, Joseph Potter, was altered and enlarged to give separate cells. These alterations were designed by current County Surveyor, Robert Griffiths. Yet more land was acquired and a large circular kitchen was built 1866-7. It was thought that the prison building was now complete. New tread wheels and watermills had been fitted and the public were allowed to have their flour ground by the prisoners. By 1868 the prison's population had risen to 732.

When the Bailey family first arrived in Stafford, they lived in Dottell Street, soon moving to Foregate Street. In 1850, at the birth of his fourth son, HS Bailey described himself as an 'engineer'. In 1853 his salary was 28 shillings per week and in the following year his job title was 'Superintendent of Engine Smiths'. The family moved to 12, County Road an address even nearer to the Gaol.

In 1865, HS Bailey was awarded a bonus of £25 by the Magistrates. This was to acknowledge his superintendence of the introduction of bell and gas fittings, the erection of baths and the iron plating of doors. The following year. Bailey's salary was 35 shillings per week (£91 per annum) and he was considered to be entitled to a residence in the Prison 'free of charge or rent'. Naturally, the family took up this offer and moved into the Gaol. Oral family history held that my great grandmother, Martha Bailey, was born in one of the towers of the Gaol. This was obviously not true because in 1852, when she was born, the family were still living in Foregate Street.

Hugh Shelley Bailey not only had to contend with heavy duties but there were other disturbances to the running of the Gaol. Between 1853 and 1866 there were 10 hangings at Stafford. Particularly disruptive must have been that of the Rugeley surgeon William Palmer, when half the country descended on Stafford to watch the execution 14 June 1856. The local area around the gaol was blocked with stands, some even erected on house roofs, which could only be used once the Town Surveyor had certified their safety. After the hangings the bodies were buried in lime in the Chapel Burial Ground in the precincts of the Gaol.

In the 1871 census, on 2nd April, Hugh Shelley Bailey's wife, Martha, was present in their Gaol accommodation, described as 'wife to Head', together with their daughter Martha Catharine and a granddaughter. However, Hugh Shelley Bailey was not at home nor was he elsewhere in Stafford (where was he?).

In the report of the Visiting Justices of the Gaol at the October Sessions 1871, it stated that 'Hugh Bailey, the Engineer, proposed to resign at Christmas next from ill health' and he had applied for a pension. The Order granting Hugh Bailey a pension reported that he was resigning his office 'by reason of confirmed sickness' supported by a Medical certificate 'of such incapacity'. There were also testimonials of his good conduct during his service. For having 'served the County faithfully for twenty-five years' Hugh Shelley Bailey was awarded an 'Annuity of Eighty Pounds per annum... for his life... to be payable out of the general County Rate'. John Pinson was appointed Engineer in place of Hugh Bailey.

Another family story was that, after leaving Stafford, Hugh Shelley Bailey had worked at Winson Green Prison, Birmingham. It was not possible to confirm this as the Home Office stated that all personal records for prison staff prior to 1900 had been destroyed. However Hugh and Martha Bailey, having to give up their free accommodation in the Gaol left Stafford and by 1881 were living in Stone House, Handsworth. In the census of that year, Hugh now aged 66, gave as his occupation 'Engineer at Institution'. Was he indeed working at Winson Green prison, which is quite close to Handsworth?

Hugh Bailey did eventually retire and after his wife Martha died, 19th April 1890, he lived for a short time with his second son, Hugh Shelley, a Refreshment Contractor of Iron House, 133 & 134, Moor Street, Birmingham. In the 1891 census Hugh senior gave his occupation as 'Retired Civil Engineer'.

In March 1893 Hugh Shelley Bailey married Mary Turner nee Marsh at the Register Office in Aston, the couple living at 318 Birchfield Road, Handsworth. At this time Hugh's occupation was given as 'Superannuated Mechanical Engineer'. In the 1901 census Hugh, aged 86, is now described as 'gaol pensioner'. Hugh Shelley Bailey died 10 October 1901 at his home, his death certificate recording his occupation as 'Civil Engineer Retired'. The notice in the Birmingham Post reported that he was 'late engineer H.M. Prison, Stafford' and was interred at Witton Cemetery. This was almost thirty years after being granted an Annuity of £80 for life for his services at Stafford Gaol.


Bayliss, Anne, The Life and Works of James Trubshaw 1777-1853, (1978).
Brodie A, Croom J, Davies J. Behind Bars, The Hidden Architecture of England's Prisons. English
Heritage (1999).
Victoria County History of Staffordshire, Volume VI
Staffordshire History Volume 3, The Chaplaincy of Stafford Prison 1783-1923.
A.J. Standley.
Personal communication from Mr A J Standley.
Standley Manuscripts, William Salt Library.
Census Records.
Reports of the Visiting Justices of the Gaol.
White's History & Gazetteer & Directory of Staffordshire (1851).
Harrod's Directory of Staffordshire (1870).

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