Maintaining law and order in industrialising Britain became a problem in the late 18th century, especially in the rapidly expanding industrial towns and cities. Prison reform was proposed by John Howard in 1777 in his landmark work The State of Prisons. He argued that prisoners could be reformed and morally improved through hard work, prayer, categorisation according to their level of offence, separation by sex, and separation from the other inmates in individual cells.
New Bailey Prison was one of the first reformed prisons, being commissioned by the Sheriff of Lancashire, Thomas Butterworth Bayley (after whom the site was named) in 1787. The prison was used for minor offences, rather than capital crimes, accommodating initially 150 inmates, but finally over 2,100 prisoners, for up to six months from across south-east Lancashire. It is somewhat ironic that for a progressive prison it incarcerated several members of the crowd from the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, including Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, a radical speaker for working class rights and parliamentary reform. Towards the end of its use the Manchester Martyrs, three members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, were hanged here in 1867. By the 1860s the prison had become outmoded, and unfit for an urban conurbation of more than half a million people. It was replaced by Strangeways Prison, which opened in 1868.The site was sold to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway who demolished it in 1871 and built railway sidings over the site.
Opened in 1790 the first phase comprised a rectangular enclosure surrounded by a boundary wall, within which were the prison gardens, a radial-plan Gaolers Building and a Gate Keeper’s Lodge. The prison was expanded around 1816 to the west. Four structures were added housing the male felon workshops and yards with their distinctive curved plan (excavated in 2013 and 2015), male felon wards, a cook house and a hospital.
A further phase of expansion up to the 1840s included the addition in the western half of the complex of a turn keys’ office, clerks’ office and a new chapel. In the eastern part of the site the original prison building was partially demolished to make way for the construction of a tread wheel (excavated in 2014), stables, mill house, a block of male misdemeanant workshops and yards, a block of male misdemeanant wards, and a block of female felon workshops and wards.
Between 2013 and 2015 the remains of the prison were excavated ahead of redevelopment by the University of Salford. This work was funded by English Cities Fund and managed by Muse Developments ahead of redevelopment (see elsewhere on this blog and Current Archaeology 309 from 2015, see left). A final phase of excavation is planned for later in 2018, again ahead of building work, which will look at the north-eastern quadrant of the prison. This area dates from the 1810s and includes male felon prison cells and workshops. It will also include part of the original 1787-90 block.