Ancestry UK

Town Bridewell, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

In 1580, a Town Bridewell, or House of Correction, was established in Master Adams Street (now Bridewell Lane), Bury St Edmunds.

From about 1626, Moyse's Hall, located at the north side of Cornhill, incorporated the bridewell among its other functions.

Moyse's Hall, Bury St Edmunds, 1818.


Moyse's Hall, Bury St Edmunds, early 1900s.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

This, it is said, was in former times a Jewish Synagogue. It has a large work-room: a room for men, and another for women: all stairs. No court-yard: no water. Keeper's Salary £6: and four-pence for each Prisoner's straw: Fees £0: 1: 0.

1774, Dec. 9,Prisoners 2.1779, April 5,Prisoners 2 .
1776, Feb. 8,1.1782, July 10,0.
1776, Nov. 18,1.  

The bridewell's rules from the 1780s were as follows:


To be observed and enforced at the House of CORRECTION, for the Division of BURY ST.EDMUND's, in the County of SUFFOLK.

I. That the several persons committed to the house of correction, to be kept to hard labour, shall be employed (unless prevented by ill health) every day, (except Sundays, Christmas-Day, and Good Friday) for so many hours as the day-light in the different seasons of the year will admit, not exceeding twelve hours, being allowed thereout to rest half an hour at breakfast, an hour at dinner, and half an hour at supper, and that the intervals shall be noticed by the ringing of a bell. Vide Rules prescribed by the act 22 Geo. III. c. 64.

II. That the governor of the house of correction shall adapt the various employments directed by the justices, at their quarter sessions, to each person, in such manner as shall be suited to his or her strength and ability, regard being had to age and sex. — Vide act above cited.

III. That the males and females shall be employed, and shall eat and be lodged in separate apartments, and BURY shall have no intercourse or communication with each other. — Vide act above cited.

IV. That every person so committed shall be sustained with bread, and any coarse but wholesome food; but RULES. persons under the care of the physician, surgeon, or apothecary, shall have such food and liquor as he shall direct. — Vide act above cited.

v. That the governor and such other persons (if any) employed by the justices to aslist the governor, shall be very watchful and attentive in seeing that the persons so committed are constantly employed, during the hours of work; and if any person should be found remiss or negligent in performing what is required to be done by such person, to the best of his or her power and ability; or shall wilfully waste, spoil, or damage the goods committed to his or her care, the governor shall punish every such person in the manner hereafter directed. — Vide act above cited.

VI. That if any person so committed, shall refuse to obey the orders given by the governor, or shall be guilty of profane cursing or swearing, or of any indecent behaviour or expression, or of any assault, quarrel, or abusive words, to or with any other person, he or she shall be punished for the same in the manner hereafter directed. — Vide act above cited.

VII. That the governor shall have power to punish the several offenders, for the offences herein before described, by closer confinement, and shall enter in a book(to be kept by him for the inspection of the justices, at the quarter sessions, and the visiting justice or justices) the name of every person who shall be so punished, expressing the offence, and the duration of the punishment inflicted. — Vide act above cited, last of the schedule prescribed by the act.

VIII. That the governor shall prevent all communication between the persons committed upon charges of felony, or convicted of any theft or larceny, and the other prisoners. — Vide latter part of the first section of Act 22 Geo.III.

IX. That the governor shall employ in some work or labour (which is not severe) all such prisoners as are kept and maintained by the county, though by the warrant of commitment such prisoner was not ordered to be kept to hard labour; and he shall keep a separate account of the work done, by prisoners of this description, and shall pay half of the net profits to them on their discharge, and not before. — Vide S. 7. of 22 Geo. III. c. 64.

X. That the governor, nor no one under him, shall sell any thing used in the house, nor have any benefit or advantage whatsoever, directly or indirectly, from the sale of any thing, under the penalty of ten pounds, and dismission from his employment; neither shall suffer any wine, ale, spirituous, or other liquors to be brought into the house, unless for a medical purpose, by awritten order from the surgeon or apothecary usually attending there. — Vide S. 8. of 22 Geo. III.c. 64.

XI. That clean straw, to lodge upon, shall be allowed to each prisoner weekly, or oftener, if necessary; and the prisoners be obliged to sweep out and clean their rooms every day, and the dust and dirt be conveyed out of the prison daily.

XII. That no person, without permiffion of avisiting justice, or acting magistrate for the division, shall visit any prisoner; and all the prisoners shall, every night in the year, be locked up, and all lights extinguished at or before the hour of nine, and shall, during rest, be kept entirely feparate, if rooms fufficient can be found for that purpose; and, during their labour, as much separate as their employment will admit of. — Vide S. i.

XIII. That the governor may put handcuffs or fetters upon any prisoner who is refractory, or shews a disposition to break out of prison; but he shall give notice thereof to one of the visiting justices, within forty eight hours after the prisoner shall be fo fettered, and he shall not continue such fettering.longer than fix days, without obtaining an order in writing from one of the visiting justices. — Vide S. 11. 22 of Geo.III.

XIV. That every prisoner be obliged to wash his face and hands once, at least, every day, before his bread be given to him.

XV. That each prisoner be allowed a clean shirt once in aweek.

XVI. That the three prohibitory clauses of the 24 Geo. II. chap. 40. be painted on a board, and hung up in some conspicuous part of the prison, together with a printed copy of the rules, orders, and regulations.

XVII. That male prisoners committed on charges of felony, or convicted of any theft or larceny, or other misdemeanor, be, immediately upon their commitment, cloathed at the expence of the county in a dress, consisting of jacket, trowsers, and stockings of yellow and blue; and also that due care be taken to bake, or fumigate, the clothes of the prisoners of the above description, to be returned to them, when going to be tried, or when discharged.

Following the opening in 1805 of the new County Gaol and Bridewell on Southgate Green, use of the bridewell declined but remained in operation to house persons committed for minor offences, and to provide overnight accommodation for vagrants as James Neild wrote in 1812:

Keeper, Thomas Bass; now William Neal, Beadle and Town Crier.

Salary, 6l. and a Chaldron of Coals.

Fees, One Shilling on every Commitment.

Surgeon, when wanted, sent by the Town.

Number of Prisoners,

1801, Oct. 15th, 1, A Boy, then knitting Garters.

1805, Aug. 20th,

1810, Sept. 17th.

Allowance, One pound and a half of bread per day, sent from the Baker's.


This very curious old building, "majestick, though in ruin," exhibits a noble Saxon mansion, consisting of two stories. The second, being the principal one, has, at the South end, a double-arched window, supported by columns. Three of the same double windows occur also on the East side, divided each from the other by pilasters, or projecting piers. It is built of flint and free-stone; and was long since converted into a Jewish Synagogue, by a singularity, which it is now needless to account for. In the old writings it is named "Moses' Hall."

The walls, faced with stone, manifest, at this day, their great solidity; and the style of the windows bespeaks its venerable age,—not less, perhaps, than the era of the Norman Conquest; soon after which period the Jews settled at Bury in great numbers.

In the reign of Henry II. they made this town one of their chief places of residence, and thus, certainly paid no ill compliment both to their taste and judgement, for it is situated in a spot so healthy, as on that account to have been called "The Montpelier of England." It is said, that in the year 1179, they murdered here a boy, by crucifying him, in derision of the manner of our Saviour's death. His name, it seems, was Robert. The story, having been gravely narrated by one Joscelyn, a monk of the Abby of Bury, was so gravely credited, that from this catastrophe, we are told, the lad was canonized, and afterwards reverenced, if not worshiped, as St. Robert the Martyr.

So many assertions, of the like kind, have, from time to time, appeared against the Jews, (but especially in the days of the Grand Crusade) as almost to quash that credence, which they might be intended to establish. Upon some similar occasion, good Sir Richard Baker, (who was not "an Unbeliever,") has very judiciously remarked, that "Writers, perhaps, had been more complete, if they had left this story out of their writings." Possibly it may be esteemed a circumstance more worthy of notice, that when all the Synagogues of the Jews were ordered to be destroyed, in the 17th year of Edward III. (1338) the present structure, though falling accidentally under that description, happened to escape the general devastation.

The ascent to this Prison was formerly by XIX steps, rising from the street, whence it was vulgarly called "The Nineteener." The entrance to it is now made through a lobby, of 13 feet by 10, and leads up a stair-case, which, singularly enough, has as many steps to it, so that it still retains the name of Nineteener. On this floor is the Keeper's residence. The first room communicating with his apartments, is of 37 feet by 26; and from it a day-room has been partitioned off by open wood palisades, for the use of the Prisoners, 21 feet by 18, and 20 feet high; brick-floored, and fitted up with a fire-place, three benches, and a table fixed: a leaden cistern also and sink for prisoners' washing; and in one corner a sewer.

In a passage from this room are two sleeping-cells, of 11 feet each by 7 feet 6; and up a ladder stair-case are two other cells, of 11 feet by 9. All these are furnished with a crib bedstead, a bed, two blankets and a rug, provided by the town.

Water, for the Keeper's family, and for the use of the prisoners, is brought from a publick-house close by; for which the Corporation pay Five Shillings a year.

As the County Gaol and House of Correction receive the Prisoners properly be longing to the Town, persons committed to this Bridewell are for small offences only; and Travelling Vagrants are also here lodged for the night, to whom the Town furnishes straw.

Beneath this Prison are a Guard-House for the Military, the Town-Cage and a room for the Fire-Engine. A Town-clock has been lately placed on the top.

In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

THIS small prison is situate in the centre of the town, fronting an open space called the Corn Market. It is an ancient building, formerly a Jewish Synagogue; the second and third stories only are applied to the purposes of a House of Correction; the lower part serves the several uses of a tavern, watch-house, and engine-house.

Night charges and prisoners under examination are detained here until disposed of by the magistrates.

The utmost term of confinement has, in no instance, exceeded 10 days. Vagrants are sent here also for a night’s lodging and food.

The part allotted to the prison, contains two apartments for the Keeper, and a spacious one, used as a day-room by the prisoners, the lower end of which is divided by a strong stockade of wood and iron, forming a passage to the Keeper’s dwelling, and affording him the means of inspection; it is 22 A feet in length, 7^ feet in breadth, and 14 feet in height.

The sleeping cells are four in number, two on the second and two on the third floor, of the following dimensions:—

Two cells, each 9 feet high, 14 feet long, 8½ broad.
1st upper cell, 9½ feet high, 11½ feet long, 9 broad.
2d ditto 9½ feet high, 12 feet long, 9½ broad.

There is no airing-ground, and the prison adjoins other buildings.

Diet.—One pound and a half of bread. Other articles of food are permitted to be purchased at the discretion of the Keeper.

Vagrants receive 6 ounces of bread and a quart basin of gruel in the evening, and the next morning 6 ounces of bread and half a pint of table beer.

Bedding.—The bedsteads are of wood, and the bedding consists of a straw paillasse, a rug and two blankets.

Medical Assistance.— is always provided when required.

It has been sometimes found necessary to put irons at night upon prisoners, to prevent their escape; these are affixed to the bedsteads. No other irons used.

Whipping is occasionally ordered by the Magistrates. The dimensions of the scourge are, handle 13 inches in length; lashes nine in number, 12 inches in length, of common whipcord, and three single knots in each.

Keeper.—Sixty-two years of age; appointed December 1823. He was 16 years in the militia and a pay-sergeant in the West Suffolk; has a pension of 8d. a day; he is also a beadle in the borough. His emoluments are: Salary as Keeper £6, Ditto as Beadle, Total £12. And a chaldron and half of coals per annum.

The expenses of this establishment are paid by the feoffees of the charities within the borough, to whom the building belongs.

No book is kept for the entry of charges, nor any account kept of the number of prisoners.

Every part of the prison was extremely neat and clean, and appeared to be well fitted for the purposes to which it is appropriated.

By 1839, a police station had been established at the site, with the bridewell cell acting as its lockup. This situation continued until 1892, when the police station moved to purpose-built premises on St John Street.

Moyse's Hall is now home to a local museum.


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • Suffolk Archives, 77 Raingate Street, Bury St Edmunds IP33 2AR. Very few records survive. Holdings include: Lists of prisoners in the Borough Gaol and Bridewell receiving bread (1829).
  • The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU. Has a wide variety of crime and prison records going back to the 1770s, including calendars of prisoners, prison registers and criminal registers.
  • Find My Past has digitized many of the National Archives' prison records, including prisoner-of-war records, plus a variety of local records including Manchester, York and Plymouth. More information.
  • Prison-related records on Ancestry UK include Prison Commission Records, 1770-1951, and local records from London, Swansea, Gloucesterhire and West Yorkshire. More information.
  • The Genealogist also has a number of National Archives' prison records. More information.