H.M Prison Armley

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This is a backup of the West Yorkshire Archive Service's "Off the Record" wiki from 2015. The live went offline in 2016 and remains unavailable.

Armley Gaol was built by Leeds Borough in 1846-7 at the cost of £43,000. The original building, designed by architects Perkin and Backhouse based on the style of Windsor Castle, had 480 cells. A further 30 cells were added in 1857.The first prisoners were admitted to the gaol in 1847. Another wing with 127 cells was added in 1907/8. A further two wings were added in 1994, and a new gate complex was opened in September 2002, providing much needed staff facilities and an improvement to the entry point for all visitors and staff. Most of the older parts of the prison have been extensively refurbished since 2003.

The first governor of Armley Gaol was J Paige in 1847. He was appointed by the Borough Justices who were responsible for the appointments of all staff to the Gaol. In 1878 Armley Gaol was purchased from Leeds Corporation for £9,000 by The Home Office and became part of the Prison Service overseen by the Prison Commissioners. Armley Gaol has become a 'local' prison and holds all prisoners held on remand by courts in the Leeds area. The prison also held newly convicted prisoners from category A to D. It is now a category B men's prison.

Some of the prisoner registers for the Gaol have survived. Indexes to registers survive from April 1948 to December 1950. Nominal registers (admissions to the Gaol) survive from 1851-1853, October 1908- March 1909, June 1913-November 1914. December 1947 to June 1950. There are also volumes of Calendars of Prisoners which record the offence and date of conviction of prisoners. These printed volumes have survived for the period 1882-3, 1905-7, 1927 -1928, 1936 -1940, 1943-1967. There are also some staff records for 1928-1958.

Prisoners were subject to the 'silent system' where they were not permitted to communicate with each other.The single cells was part of the system. Employment in the prison took the form of picking oakum or making matting, similar to the work allotted to workhouse inmates. Tradesmen were allowed to continue their trades and could carry out work for people outside the prison. Prisoners with private means were expected to pay for their upkeep. Only convicts (those who would be transported) were paid for by the Governemnt. The income from this went into the borough accounts.

Between 1847 - 1861 94 executions took place at Armley Gaol, 93 men and 1 woman. From 1864 prioners convicted at the West Yorkshire Assizes were transferred to Leeds, previously they had been sent to Wakefield Prison. The gallows were finally dismantled in 1965. A list survives of prisoners executed between 1903 and 1961. For further information see here.


Besides the Governor there was a chaplin, a surgeon and 2 wardens. Each warden had 6 assistants. There was also a schoolmistress. Militia were stationed at the Gaol until after the end of transportation. These militia helped to maintain order along with the prison wardens, who were also armed. In World War One all prison staff of military age had volunteered leaving the gaol staffed by older wardens. There was a notable increase in the number of female prisoners at this time. Many prisoners on release were marched to the recruiting offices.

The womens wing at Armley Gaol was closed in March 1925, women prisoners went to H.M.Prison Manchester.