Northallerton remembers youngest female convict jailed for stealing loaf of bread

  • Watch Tom Barton's report

A ballad telling the story of an 11-year-old girl jailed for stealing a loaf of bread has been memorialised in a sculpture.

The Ray Lonsdale sculpture was officially unveiled in Northallerton at the Treadmills development, on the site of the town's former prison.

Named the Ballad of Sophia, the eight-foot-high sculpture depicts the youngest female inmate to be incarcerated at the prison.

Sophia Constable was just 11 when she was sentenced to three weeks of hard labour followed by four years in a reformatory for stealing a loaf of bread from a shop in October 1872.

The ballad of Sophia Constable. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Accused of stealing the loaf from a shop in Church Street, Whitby, Sophia pleaded guilty, stating it was only through hunger that they resorted to theft.

The £85,000 sculpture depicts Sophia clutching a loaf of bread, with a prison warden placing a hand on her shoulder. 

The inscription on the plaque reads: "A life without choice, a future restricted, but all the same found guilty - convicted.

"Guilty of stealing by 'devious deception', and the law to be followed, without exception.

"Sophia and her mild transgression, Sophia Constable aged just eleven."

The official unveiling was attended by Sophia's descendants.

Louise Dudman, her great granddaughter, said: "It must have been quite a horrific experience to go through, and quite upsetting to be removed from your mother at such a young age.

"However, that led her on to reformatory school and she moved back to Whitby. She married and had children and turned her life around and it was a great success story. Something good came out of a bad situation."

Mr Lonsdale, famed for sculptures around the region, including Tommy in Seaham, County Durham, said: “Sophia’s story speaks volumes for those times. It was hard – she stole to survive, she was hungry. I try to tell a story and I hope seeing this young child clutching her twopenny loaf while the matron stands behind her is a reminder of how harsh life was then.”

The former prison site has been converted into a retail, business, education and leisure destination.

The Treadmills scheme has been delivered by the Central Northallerton Development Company Ltd (CNDCL), a joint venture between North Yorkshire Council and a leading Yorkshire developer, Wykeland Group.

It features an Everyman cinema, the digital innovation centre, C4DI (Centre for Digital Innovation), Lidl and Iceland stores, a pilates studio, a kitchen showroom, restaurants and a bistro and the educational facility, Campus@Northallerton (C@N).

The sculpture is on the Treadmills development, on the site of the former prison. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...