The New Gaol, at Reading. Source: Illustrated London News (17 February 1844): 108. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

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Accompanying article in Illustrated London News

The erection of this new gaol for the county of Berks has excited considerable interest, from its being upon the plan of the Model Prison at Pentoville. The accompanying view is taken from the embankment on the line of the Great Western Railway, The architects, Messrs. Scott and Moffatt, here evinced considerable judgment, not only in the selection of the style of the edifice, but of the carrying out the details throughout of the entire building, both as regards the internal arrangements, and external appearance. Standing, as it does, on the rising ground, at the entrance to Reading, and close to the site of the venerable abbey, this new prison is from every asde the most conspicuous budding, and, architecturally, by far the greatest ornament to the town.

The work at the new prison is being excecuted by Messrs. Baker and Son; still, so far as can be at present stated, the cost, inclusive of fittings, fixtures, fences, engineer's works, cooking, warming, and ventilating apparatus, a Large building for the reception of county stores, fire., will be about £40,000. This seems to bear a very fair proportion to the cost of the Model Prison, at Pentonvile. That prison, including different incidental expenses, has cost, we believe, about £86,000; which, divided by the number of calls about (about 520), wouid give £165 per cell to cover all expenses: while the cost of the gaol at Reading will be somewhat less.

The gaol will he ready for the reception of prisoners abowt the middle of the Spring. It is built, generally, upon the same principle as the New Model Prison at Pentonvile, and contains, inclusive of debtors, about 250 separate cells. On each side of the contral gateway are the Governor's and Chaplain's residences: at each end of the front wall those of the Deputy-Governor and Matron; while the other officers are provided with houses at the remaining angles of the prison wall. Having passed throwgh the outer gateway, we enter a spacious court separating the main prison from the other buildings; and it has in appearance, as well so in reality, the strength adapted for such a building on every side.

The front, or north wing of the pns»n on the east side, contains the apartments for the debtors who, however, have no communication with the other parts of the prison, the reception cells, and various offices, above these is the chapel. The architects have been successful in giving this the appearance of a chapel from the outside—a difficult task when so mixed up in a miscellaneous building.

The junction of the four wings forms the central, or Inspection Hall, from which the Governor, when seated in his office, has a complete command over every cell door in the prison, as well as the different officers on duty. This hall is open to the roof of the budding; it has a groined ceiling, over which is the tower, formed for the purpose of ventilation, and which is externally itself also an ornamental feature.

The ventilation and warming the cells has been executed by Messrs. G. and J. Haden, of Trowbridge, the firm who were employed for a similar purpose at the Model Prison; and, as far as can be judged by experiments, the system will be successful.

The corridors, from east to west, measure 282 feet, and are open the entire height of the three stories and arched over; the floor is laid with black and red Newcastle tiles, in handsome patterns, and has a fine effect when seen from the galleries above.

As at the new prison at Pentonville, each cell is provided with water-closet, washing-basin, hammock, stool, table, and gas-light, and each prisoner has also a communication by means of a gong with his turnkey. The side roofs of the prison have been covered with Claridge's patent asphalte, the gutters and junctions with the water-pipes being all formed with the same economical material aa a substitute for Lead.

It may be mentioned that, however, in the general arrangements, the architects have adhered to those of the New Model Prison; yet in the details and general construction, many useful improvements hare been suggested by the working of that establishment.

The general character of the exterior of the new gaol is funded fan on that of the castellated buildings of the latter part of the 15th century. The actual character and expression of the style is that of strength and defence; and, if it can with propriety be used for any modern building, there is, certainly, none to which it can so amiably be applied as to a priaon.

The building aa inclosed by a high battering wall, very similar to those surrounding castles; at the angles are towers, containing the lodgings of the officers, so placed, not for appearance, but that through their grated windows they may command the flank walls both externally and internally; and thus facilitate the detection of any attempt to escape from within, or to afford aid to such an attempt from without. The gateway is of the same description, having loop-holes in all directions affording means of defence against any attack upon the gates. The flat battlements would also be serviceable under such circumstances; and may be used as the place of public exceutions.

An effective lithograph of this new prison, drawn hy Mr. J. L. Griffiths, will shortly be issued; and now that several prisons are building upon the same system of discipline, the above publication will be acceptable. It may be interesting here to mention, that a copiously illustrated description of the Model Prison, at Pentonville, will be found in No. 36 of our journal.


“The New Gaol at Reading,” Illustrated London News (23 December 1849): 419-20. Hathi Trust Digital Library version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 4 December 2015. The text above was created from the web version with ABBYY FineReader.

Last modified 4 December 2015