WILLSON, Governors of Hertford Goal, 1756-1838

May, 2013




Ian Wild (ibwild @t optusnet.com.au) of Oxenford, Queensland, Australia, says that John Byde Willson married Rebecca Jane Morrow at Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria,  Their  Marriage Certificate indicates that he was born in Hertfordshire in 1829 and his parents were William Willson and mother Emma Waldan, and he asked if I could identify John and the family in Hertfordshire.

The basic information you require is available of the FindMyPast web site, which has many (but not all) of the Hertfordshire parish registers online and you should have no difficulty in finding it yourself - once you know where to look.

John Byde Willson was baptised at Hertford All Saints & St Johns on 30th October 1829, the son of William and Emma Willson, William being Governor of the Hertford Goal. The register is available online on the FindMyPast web site - and you will also be able to find the baptisms of his many siblings and trace the family back through earlier generations - at least back to Cornelius Willson who was baptised on 4 September 1739, the son of Cornelius and Susanah Willson, and perhaps even further back.

Because William Willson was Governor of the Goal there are extensive records in HALS (indexed in Hertfordshire County Records volumes) and the following summary comes from Volume IX Session Books 1799-1833.

The post of gaoler was still occupied by the Willson family throughout the period. Cornelius Willson, the first of that family to be gaoler, had been appointed in 1756, adding the post of bridewell-keeper at Hertford in 1775. Charlotte Willson had succeeded him in 1795, and she remained in both offices until 1813, when the name of William Plumer Willson first appears (p. 148); on his death, in 1825, he was followed by his son, William (p. 306). Another member of the family is mentioned in 1823, when Sarah, the wife of William Plumer, was offered the "Office of Matron of the Gaol and House of Correction" at a salary of 20 (p. 275). She did not accept the post, which was taken by Sarah Bentley at a salary of 30 (p. 298).

The salary of the gaoler in 1799 was 100, with the addition of 20 a quarter "in lieu of the Profits derived from the sale of Liquors" (see Herts County Records, Volume VIII, p. xxiv). In 1816, this was increased to 300 "in lieu of all Fees and perquisites, such Fees being abolished by Act of Parliament, of which Notice to be stuck up in the Goal" (p. 177). Further increases were granted, in 1821 to 360 (p. 235), and in 1829 to 397. 10s. (p. 404).

Fees were abolished in the bridewell at Hertford in 1810, when, as the keeper's salary was only 24, and as he had "had on an Average Eighty Prisoners in his Custody for the last seven years, many of whom have not been able to pay their Fees upon their Discharges", it was ordered that "such Fees be not demanded in future and that the said Keeper be allowed 52. 10s. a year ... in lieu of such Fees" (p. 108). This salary was raised to 77. 10s. in 1821 (p. 235).

This allowed me to find the following press cutting (again from FindMyPast)

Oxford Journal, 9th April, 1825

There is a similar account, relating to Cornelius Willson in Volume VIII  Session Books 1752-1799, again with a large number of individual page index entries. The books are, of course, merely summaries of very extensive original documents held in Hertford.

What happened after 1833? The answer is almost certainly in Volume X Session Books 1834-1843 - but I don't have access to that volume. Clearly William lost the post as Governor sometime between 1833 and 1839 when the1839 Pigot's Directory lists G. P. Duins as Governor. In the 1841 census (also on FindMyPast) shows the William was a farmer at Gammels Farm, Rush Green, Little Amwell with his wife and younger children. By 1851 William was Governor of Bishop Stortford Workhouse - and I have already answered a question on this side of the family - see WILLSON, Gamels Hall, Rush Green, Little Amwell, circa 1850

Searches for Cornelius and William Willson in the name index on the HALS site will allow you to buy copies of relevant documents.

I don't know the availability of these Hertfordshire County Records books in Melbourne but because of the interest in transportation I suspect there is at least one big library with copies, and failing that you can probably get access through your nearest LDS family history centre.


I have just discovered a very detailed online government report  with the impossible title Reports from Commissioners: Prisons: Fourth Report: 1 Home District: Session 5 February-27 August 1839:  Volume XX1

As I read it there had been an earlier inspection in the first part of 1838 and major improvements were carried out in improvements during the summer of 1838 - after the appointment of a new Governor Lt. G. P. Duins, R.N. on 9th April 1838 at a salary of 300 plus a house. While the report does not say so it seems likely that William Willson was hurriedly replaced as governor after the inspection!  Undoubtedly the Session Records for 1838  will say more.

 The report includes detailed information on the running of a number of prisons - and in addition to reporting on the Hertford prison and bridewell it also reported on the facilities at St. Albans.

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

May 2013   Page created