City Hall's Police Holding Cells

City Hall's Police Holding CellsPinterest
A measured as found drawing of the jail cells from 1972. Source: Peter Stokes Fonds, Queen's University Archives.
City Hall's Police Holding CellsPinterest
Wooden cell door original to the 1844 construction of City Hall and its police station and attached lockup for prisoners. Source: City of Kingston

Only one of the four cells has a window, and it is yet to be determined if that was a later change. They range in size from 5’10½” x 7’11” to 9’7” x 10’. The smallest may have held only one prisoner, while the largest held two, if for sleeping, or more if for only daytime use while waiting for adjudication. The stingy room sizes and poor ventilation would have made for miserable conditions, especially when the doors were closed with only a tiny barred opening (6” x 6”) to allow light into the cell (it is unknown whether prisoners were allowed candles in the cells for safety reasons) and for guards to visually inspect the cell and prisoners.

The kindest interpretation is to regard these cells as sleeping ones and that, during the daytime, prisoners could be in the communal rooms, namely, Room No. 2, Prisoners’ Room and Recreation Room. There was, indeed, a need for at least three such rooms, because there was no exercise yard, which was considered essential for most prisons and jails. While the lack of a yard may reflect a callous attitude toward those accused of disturbing the good order of the city, it also reflects the the short-term stay of prisoners in the lock-up and teh need to keep the market square for commerce. The recreation room had a good-sized opening into the basement hall, which received light from an open arch fronting Ontario Street. The recreation-room opening must have been well secured with grating to prevent escapes. Also, there were a pair of iron gates, which were likely secured at night over the lower part of the arch. Prisoners being admitted to the jail could have been brought through the duty room’s pair of doors, which opened into an areaway.