York Prison


The Executions list
Until 1837 a vast range of crimes in England incurred the death penalty. Many thieves and burglars were sentenced to hang along with the murderers and highway robbers, but in fact most of them were reprieved and had their death sentences commuted to transportation instead.

A last-minute reprieve was not always recorded in the Court Minutes or General Gaol Delivery, so someone may be listed in them as hanged when actually they were not. The best way to confirm an execution is to find a newspaper report giving its date and location. Executions at York were first reported in newspapers from about 1730. From about 1800 local newspapers carried very full reports of arrests and trials for capital crimes, along with descriptions of the executions.

York Prison
York Prison to the right of Clifford Tower (the white tower on the round mound)


John Coldwell

Date: March 1732

Crime: Breaking and entering at night into the house of Joseph Fawcett and his wife Hannah Fawcett of Holbeck, clothier, and stealing money and a silver pint mug.

TNA: ASSI 41/2-95v; ASSI 45/19/2(2-3). London Evening Post, 28 Mar 1732.

Charles Caldwell / Charles Coldwell

Date: 30 Apr 1783

Crime: Forgery – forging an endorsement in the name of David Butler and also one in the name of John Bell upon a bill of exchange with intent to defraud Thomas Sherbrook of Leeds.

TNA: ASSI 41/7. Parker’s General Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer, 9 May 1783. Criminal Chronology, p 94.


The Insolvent Debtors list

Until 1869 debtors who did not qualify for bankruptcy proceedings could be imprisoned indefinitely by their creditors. They were only released if they or someone else paid their debts, their creditors relented, or they could prove to a court that they were insolvent – meaning that they had no financial resources or property.

Before 1813 the government passed periodic acts for the relief of insolvent debtors. Debtors had to publish three notices of their intention to plead insolvency. Notices from Yorkshire appeared in the London Gazette (see Sources), and it is mainly from them that this database has been compiled.

In 1813 a national Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors was established. After this date, notices still appear in the London Gazette but researchers can also check the records of this court, which are held in the National Archives (B 6 and B 8 series).

Imprisonment for debt was very common. If you have lost track of someone before 1869, it is always worth considering this possibility. For Yorkshire, besides York Castle, there were debtors’ prisons in York City (Ousebridge and St Peter’s), Beverley, Halifax, Leeds (Rothwell), Richmond, and Sheffield (Hallamshire). Insolvency notices for these prisons appear in the London Gazette too and regional archives also have lists of debtors intending to claim insolvency. But there is no resource that covers all people imprisoned for debt. Many debtors retained property and so did not plead insolvency. Others were released by acts of charity, and quite a few died in custody.

For more information, see the National Archives’ resource sheet, Bankrupts and Insolvent Debtors, 1710-1869: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/rdleaflet.asp?sLeafletID=145

Thomas Pearson

Date: 1770

Insolvent debtor in York Castle ordered to be discharged at the Lent 1770 Assizes; creditor listed as William Coldwell; damages and costs = £15.

TNA: ASSI 41/6; ASSI 42/8