The Gaols of Sussex - An Introduction

The main Gaol (jail) for Sussex was based at Horsham and many prisoners were held there for various offences. Of the gaols in Sussex previous to the establishment of the County Common Gaol at Horsham, there appears to be not much information. Mr W. Durrant Cooper (S.A.C., vol. xxiv) refers to the King's Prison at Bramber in 1259, and also to a prison at Pevensey, suggesting at the same time that every rape in Sussex had its prison.

He also gives a reference to the gaol of Guildford, which was the common gaol for Sussex and Surrey. At the end of the thirteenth century, Pevensey Castle was the only place in Sussex where felons might be detained more than three days. At Lewes, and probably at other castles in Sussex, the lords had the right to keep felons for three days but must then send them to Guildford Castle.

One of the earliest Acts of Parliament relating to gaols enacts that " Because constables of castles be assigned to be Justices of the Peace - and by colour of their commissions take people to whom they bear evil will and imprison them within their own castles till they have made fine and ransom witli the said constables for their deliverance, it is ordained and established that none be imprisoned by any justice of the peace but only in the common gaol."

In the Patent Rolls of April 12, 1431, is the entry that Richard Levet of Fletcyng, tanner, is in Guildford gaol; and on December 2, 1484, there is the entry of a commission to John, Duke of Norfolk. Thomas, Earl of Surrey, Thomas Hooe, Richard Leuknore, William Radmylde, John Gorying, the elder, Williain Covert of Twynam, and John Gorying, the younger, to assemble at Cranleigh to deliver the gaol of Guldeford of William Weller, late of Horsham, glover; Richard Payne, late of Horsham, glove; and Robert Bulle, late of Horsham, laborer, prisoners there.

These entries coincide with the fact that there was during these centuries but one Sheriff for both these counties. It was not until 1487 that " at the constant requests of the county " the gaol was established at Lewes Castle by Act of Parliament.

An Act of 1531 provides for the making of common gaols " where none be or where they are weak and feeble." . . " Justices shall tax the inhabitants of the county for and towards the building of the gaol and shall appoint two surveyors to see the gaol building.
Felons shall be imprisoned in the common gaols which shall be kept by the Sheriffs and be paid by allowance out of the exchequer."

It. is perhaps not unreasonable to suggest that the first gaol for the county at Horsham was the outcome of this Act of Parliament. Besides the county gaols, common gaols, of which in the sixteenth century it is estimated there were upwards of two hundred up and down the country under the sheriffs, towns which were counties of themselves and municipal corporations might have their own gaols under their own management.

There were many gaols in England from which the sheriff was excluded. " Private gaols existed in the hands of bishops, manorial lords, and other territorial dignitories who clung to them as income yielding properties."