Ancestry UK

Borough Bridewell, Bideford, Devon

In 1738, a Bridewell, or House of Correction, was erected in Maiden Street (now Meddon Street), alongside a new town workhouse.

In 1831, the workhouse and prison moved to the Colonial Buildings on Barnstaple Street, at the east side of the River Torridge.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons reported on they referred to as the Bideford Town Gaol and House of Correction:

This prison forms part of the workhouse. It is, in every respect, unfit for a gaol, but it might be used in its present state as a lock-up house. It is moderately secure, moderately clean, not very well ventilated, nor very dry. There are no day-rooms here. There are three gaol cells and three bridewell cells. There are no cells specially set apart for females, nor any for debtors. None of the cells have fire-places. There is a very small yard for the prisoners to take exercise in. At the time of my visit, in July, 1836, I found two prisoners, both males; one sentenced to six months' imprisonment, and one to two months, The keeper has once, during six years, had six prisoners here at once; generally he has only two or three, and sometimes none at all.

The prisoners admitted in 1835 were 11 men and boys, 5 women and girls; total 16. Several of the boys and girls were apprentices running away from their employers. In 1834, 18. In 1833, 12.


This gaol is under the jurisdiction of the Mayor of Bideford. The inmates take very little exercise; they go out in the morning to wash, and to the necessary. They are sometimes asked if they wish to go out, but are said often to refuse.

There is no association, neither among the untried nor among the convicted. Silence is enforced, as far as it is in the power of a single individual to compel it, and this individual also engaged as master of the workhouse. There is an entire separation; every prisoner is locked up ill a separate cell, whether untried or convicted. All take their meals in their several cells. The separate confinement has been adopted during six years ; it proves formidable; there are few recommittals, except of runaway boys and girls. Visits can only be made by order of the magistrate, a regulation which extends to all the prisoners. The keeper reads all letters before they are delivered. No rule exists as to the attendance on female prisoners by one of their own sex, but the keeper's wife generally acts the part of matron, without any salary. There is a great want here of precise rules. Too much is left to the discretion of the keeper. There are no debtors here at present.


Keeper — £10. He is also master of the workhouse, of which building the prison forms an independent part: For this he receives a separate salary.


The-only register preserved here is a memorandum book,, which is voluntarily kept up by the keeper.


The keeper is allowed by the town 2s. 6d. per head weekly for each prisoner; he gives the prisoners warm food twice a-day, meat usually three times a-week, broth sometimes, There is no fixed scale for the allowance of bread; cheese is sometimes distributed: Food can only be admitted from without by leave of the magistrates. They have never any fermented liquors. There is no allowance of clothing. The bedding, comprises two blankets, a rug, and a straw mattress. Soap and salt are Considered to be included,under the 2s. 6d.


The hard labour here consists in picking Oakum. Four shillings per hundred-weight is the profit, but old cordage is not so easily procured now as formerly, and the keeper cannot obtain a sufficient quantity for the purposes of the establishment. At the present moment, indeed, there is none in the house. It will be perceived that this sort of labour is not very productive; but all the profit which accrues is devoted to the maintenance of the prisoners. The hours of labour are from seven o'clock in the morning till six in the evening in summer, and from eight in the morning until four in winter. No prisoner is allowed to work at any trade. The untried are only employed when they desire it. Labour is not usually regarded as a punishment; it is often sought after.

Religious and other Instruction.

There is no chapel, and at the time of my visit there was no chaplain. I have made a recommendation on this head, as well as on other features of the establishment, to the mayor, and I believe that there exists every disposition on the part of the authorities to improve their prison.

Care of the Sick, Diseases, and Mortality.

The surgeon attached to the workhouse visits here when his attendance is required. There is no infirmary provided for the sick. According to the statement of the keeper, no prisoner has been ill during eight years. Within that period a female prisoner has once lain in here. During the same time no death has occurred. There is no insane prisoner in confinement here.

Prison Offences

Are punished by a reduction of diet, occasionally down to bread and water. No whipping is inflicted here. There has been no attempt at suicide during six years.

Recommendations to Pardon.

One or two have been so recommended, on the ground of good conduct, during the last six years

The Barnstaple Street prison closed in 1853. The Colonial Buildings are now occupied by the Royal Hotel, where some of the old cells can still be seen behind the hotel ballroom.


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  • Prison Oracle - resources those involved in present-day UK prisons.
  • GOV.UK - UK Government's information on sentencing, probation and support for families.