We believe these ladders led down to the jail cells located beneath the Town Hall. Apparently the cells were only five feet tall and offenders were passed into the cells through what was then a hatchway in the pavement outside. Can anyone confirm this?
I have just realised that the paving of the whole high street with rather expensive Chinese slabs some years ago will have covered any external signs of the entrance area, so I will try again.
My deductions are based upon the two on line early descriptions of the Town Hall, made by the council library service I presume. There a some differences between them. My other sources are the pictures available on line and my access some 20 years ago when my wife was an Alderman.
In the major changes begun in 1744 the jail or cell was built under the stairway leading to the what is now the 1st floor Conference Room on the south side. This would place the jail in the south west corner or east past the edge of the great doors. Given that all descriptions advise that the south face say the south face was filled by the Great Doors, an entrance to the Sergeant at Mace’s quarter sand four shop windows, there would be no space for a jail (looking at the existing building makes this obvious). So where else was beneath the stairs? 20 odd years ago access to the first floor conference room was via an entrance on the east side of the building and up a stone staircase. This had small stone staircase off the main one which ran north and down. It had built, in the north east corner, a small room which was used occasionally as a meeting room. In the east wall just south of the small room was a the end of a tunnel leading to Corporation Quay. The tunnel must have been built some time after 1788 when prisoners began to be transported to Australia. This was blocked off for safety reasons. This tunnel is not mentioned in the Town Hall write ups for some reason. So far is fact
My deductions are that the small room in the north east corner was originally used by the marker rate collector (or the then used name). Beneath his office were the cell/s. The last thing that the good Burghers etc would want while climbing the stairs to or and then attending a meeting would be the sight and noise of drunks etc being dragged noisily into the cells. Hence the installation of the vertical entrance just outside the wall. The modern steelworK shown on the photograph must have been structurally necessary to cap off the junction of the two holes, close to the meeting under the main wall, at a time when the tunnel was blocked and the original paving was laid outside (about 1970)? Unfortunately, the paving outside and renovations inside the building make it impossible to examine the original area, As some of the changes have happened in the last 20 or so years then perhaps the Borough Engineer may have something to contribute?
My memory is not brilliant and I am not a historian, I stand willing and would welcome criticism in the hope that the true use and position can be established with certainty.
Having written a long article once, then lost it by using WordPress-it always gets me, can you advise where these ladders (which are presumably covered by a manhole cover now) are located relative to the great doors please?
The answer appears to lie within the two on line write ups on the history of ‘Stockton Town Hall’. One description “in Stockton Town Hall History” gives that “after the Restoration prosperity came to Stockton, the thatched cottage (that was the earlier building) was abandoned and a purpose built toll booth was erected to the south of it. The first floor was slightly raised and open to the elements. I will abbreviate slightly. The first floor was built on open arches and contained a long room (now the Committee room) in which tolls were paid etc. The spaces in between the arches were used for market stalls with rents to the Bishops of Durham. The toll booth contained a small lock up or jail for drunks, rowdies etc awaiting transport to Durham for more serious offences. To the west of the toll booth stood the stocks and whipping post. This article in Stockton’s history would clearly imply that access to the small lock up was from the floor close to ground level and somewhere near the great doors. If this were not so, then the lockup would have to be actually in the long room on the first floor. Why the access to origin cell/s still exist and have clearly been maintained I don’t know -perhaps the Borough Engineer has records- could it be to access and inspect an original section of exposed brickwork of the arches of the 1700’s?
Sometime shortly after 1744 the jail must have been moved to it’s position under the stairs mentioned in “Stockton Town Hall”. This position is beneath the north east ground floor level and essentially beneath the east entrance to the Town Hall (the one in current regular use). The remains of the cell still exist as does the blocked off tunnel under Silver Street which once led to Stockton Quay. The tunnel was used to escort prisoners to ships bound for Australia; a method of avoiding building new jails in England, feeding the prisoners and as an aside had the great benefit of populating Australia before someone else did!
What a fascinating idea.
Heritage Stockton confirm this https://heritage.stockton.gov.uk/articles/buildings/stockton-town-hall/ I would guess these cells were more to let drunks sleep off the excesses of market dats than long term confinement.
I wish I could confirm it, but I read somewhere that the ‘offenders’ were drunk and disorderly – and for women who were ‘scolds’ – i.e. nagging wives! It was not for serious crimes. It dates back to not long after the Town Hall was built. It was also licensed to sell beer – the first licensee was Mark Ryder.