Answers to Questions


BOWMAN, South Mimms & St Albans Prison, Late 19th century

April, 2005



South Mimms

St Albans

Sylvia Barns (blackentopper @t of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, writes As a very new researcher and after much research I have found my Grandad George Bowman on the 1891 census in St Albans prison. Quite unbelievable! Please can tell me where I can find out what his misdemeanour was? I was born and breed in New Barnet but seldom am able to get back to look at the local records.

Prison Records are held at the National Archives and the classes of document are listed on their web site. I have no experience of using such records but at least some files appear to be organised in "date of admission order" with no separate name index. You will need to visit the office to view the documents. It is also possible that HALS has court records for Hertfordshire, but you may need to know the court and date of conviction.

So what information could there be to help?

The 1891 census records George Bowman as a 25 year old married gardener born at Dancers Hill, [South Mimms], Middlesex. The following record shows him at Bentley Heath, South Mimms, in  the 1881 census:

Robert BOWMAN   Head   55   Sth Mimms, Middlesex  Ag Lab 
 Mary Ann BOWMAN   Wife   49   Sth Mimms, Middlesex    
 John BOWMAN   Son   16   Sth Mimms, Middlesex   Farm Labourer 
 George BOWMAN   Son   14   Sth Mimms, Middlesex   Farm Labourer 
 Charles BOWMAN   Son   10   Sth Mimms, Middlesex   Scholar 
 Ann BOWMAN   Dau   8   Sth Mimms, Middlesex   Scholar 
 Alice BOWMAN   Dau   5   Sth Mimms, Middlesex  Scholar 

It may be that any information on his wife (and children?) in the 1891 census will provide an address for where the family was living.

The important thing to note is that most prisoners (if not all??) in St Albans Prison will have been sentenced by Hertfordshire Courts, for crimes committed in Hertfordshire. South Mimms was right on the Hertfordshire border (it is now part of Hertfordshire) and if George was still living in the area he could well have committed an offence such as poaching in nearby Hertfordshire. He would almost certainly have appeared in the St Albans, Watford or Barnet courts. 

The second thing is that while some prisoners served sentences of several years for violent crimes there were many very short sentences - perhaps of a week or a month - usually with hard labour. Long stay prisoners were rare as those that would today get life would have been hanged. What was more usual was that a small number of people kept re-offending - see for instance the Stratton family of St Albans.

Around 1891 both the Herts Advertiser (St Albans) and the Watford Observer carried regular reports on the large number of minor cases before the local magistrates. (I am not certain of the situation with regards to Barnet papers.) If you are lucky, and George had only been in for a matter of days or weeks at the time of the census on the night of 5th April, you may well find it easier to track him down in the local press that in the records at the National Archives. There are microfilms of the papers in the central libraries of St Albans and Watford, respectively (addresses on the HCC web site). These and other local papers should be viewable at the British Library newspaper library.

As you will gather from the above, none of the prison/court records are likely to be easily available online to you in Yorkshire. 

November, 2005

Sylvia Barns (blackentopper @t has visited HALS and was able to find records relating to her grandfather's imprisonment. The Quarter Session books for the period showed that at the Petty Sessions on 30th December 1890, George Bowman was charged with John Boxhall for stealing a sheep valued at 3 and committed for trial at the St Albans Quarter Sessions on 6th January 1891. At the Quarter Sessions he and John Boxhall both pleaded guilty to a felony and were sentenced to 6 months and 7 months hard labour respectively. The calendar for St Albans prison records their imprisonment. She comments:   Thank you so much I found this most interesting and cannot imagine what it must have been like for my Grandmother I wondered if he stole at that time of the year around Christmas time to provide for his large family.

July 2010

Linda Wright (linannwri @t of Gloustershire writes: How wonderful to have found this website and been able to find information about my Great x3 Grandfather who was in prison in St Albans with George Bowman. John Boxall the co defendant was my ancestor.  Hopefully the lady who had left a message in 2005 still has that email address and I can contact

If you can add to the information given above tell me.