Prior to the Prison Act of 1877, the Prison Authority was the Corporation of the City of Bristol. The prison in use was known as the Bristol Bridewell & Bristol Common Prison and was situated close to the River Avon and Bristol Harbour. This prison, built in 1820, was reconstructed after the destruction committed during the Reform Bill riots of 1831. The prison was condemned in 1873 and in the following year the Council acquired the site of a former pleasure garden at Horfield. Whilst the Council were deliberating on the plans for the new prison, it became known that the Government were likely to take over all the gaols of the Kingdom. The Council therefore held its hand until 1877 when the Prison Act became law. Although the Corporation had to pay over £21,000 as compensation for failing to supply the appropriate certified cellular accommodation, they did retain the site of the old gaol which they subsequently sold for £22,500, They were also, of course, relieved of the expense (over £4,000 per annum) of maintaining a prison in the City.
The building of the present prison was commenced in 1881 and the prison was opened in 1883. The average daily number of prisoners at the time of the transfer of responsibility to the Prison Commission was 179. The clock in the tower of Horfield Prison provides an interesting link with the past, it having been transferred from the old gaol.
As originally constructed the prison contained 160 cells. Various structural alterations and additions, notably the opening of 'B' Wing in 1967, increased the certified cell accommodation (excluding Hospital Rooms and dormitories) to 320. A further Wing was added, and other construction undertaken in the mid-1990s.
On November 30th 1953, the first Pre-release Hostel in the country was opened in the prison grounds. It housed five inmates nearing the end of terms of Preventive Detention (a form of sentence now abolished).
The prison has a special place in the history of the Prison Officers' Association for it was at Horfield that the late Harley Cronin, M.B.E., the first General Secretary of the Association, joined the Prison Service.
The records were transferred to Bristol Record Office in April 2000 by the Home Office.
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