Ancestry UK

Town Bridewell, Ipswich, Suffolk

A Bridewell, or House of Correction, formed part of a charitable institution named Christ’s Hospital, established by the Ipswich corporation of Ipswich in 1569. The objects of the Hospital were twofold: to provide for “the poor, the aged, widows, the sick, and others in want; and to establish a place of correction and safe custody for vagrants, beggars, and disorderly persons.” The Hospital stood at the east side of Foundation Street, Ipswich. In 1784, John Howard reported that the bridewell, located in the boys' section of the institution, comprised two rooms, 27 feet by 10½, with no fire-place.

In 1808, James Neild reported:

Keeper, John Peak. Salary, £17 and coals and candles. Chaplain, none; nor any instruction, religious or moral. Surgeon, Mr. Stebbing. Prisoners, October 13, 1801, seven. Allowance, one pound and a half of bread per day, and whatever they can earn by spinning.


The men's court-yard is about 33 feet square. Work-room, 17 feet by 14. Lodging-room, 19 feet by 13, and two upper rooms; one of them 30 feet by 14, the other 17 feet by. 14, supplied with straw-in-sacking beds, one blanket, and two coverlets.

The women’s court-yard is 42 feet by 15. Their day-room and workroom are each 15 feet by 12. Lodging-room, 18 feet by 15, like that of the men. Also two upper rooms, of the same dimensions as the foregoing. Two of the women were employed in spinning. Three of the men out of five were also at work; two of the number were sentenced to two years imprisonment. The whole prison very dirty, though said to be whitewashed once a year. This wretched prison is now-abolished, and tenements built there.

In 1810, the bridewell moved into new premises nearby in Shire Hall Yard. In 1812, Neild provided an updated report:

The old Town and Borough Bridewell having been pulled down, this New Gaol was first inhabited on the 30th of July 1810. It is situate near the Shire-Hall, and stands at the back of the Spinning-School, the Master of which is the present Keeper.

On the ground-floor are a day-room, of 15 feet by 12, having a fire-place, with a large grated and glazed sash window, looking toward the court-yard, (about 68 feet square) and made to open; and also five sleeping-cells, of 12 feet by 8, with similar windows, and an aperture over each door for better ventilation, furnished with iron bedsteads, straw-in-sacking beds, two blankets, and a coverlet. The doors of all these cells, like that of the day-room, open into a spacious lobby, 7 feet wide, which extends to the whole length of the building, and is separated from the court-yard of the Spinning-School by open wood palisades; thus affording an excellent space for air and exercise, when the weather will not permit the use of the Prison court-yard, into which the windows of the day-room and of the sleeping-cells open.

The chamber-story consists of a lobby, a day-room, and the same number of sleeping-cells, in every respect similar to those already described; except that two of them, having blinds fixed before their windows, are called solitary cells.

Sept. 21st, 1810, no Prisoners. The number of Commitments hither, from the first opening of the Bridewell to the time of my visit above mentioned, had amounted to Seven. The sewers are judiciously placed, and the Prison clean.

In 1821, it was reported that:

This prison is part of the ancient building of the Blue Coat School. It consists of a day-room,and a row of cells for the men, on a very damp floor,the passage being sometimes under water; and above stairs there is a set of rooms for the females, who have to pass through the men's department to get to them. No Chapel, no divine service, no Chaplain, are provided for the inmates of this dilapidated Bridewell; and they are seldom visited. There have been as many as ten prisoners confined at one time; some have had sentences for two years confinement in this place. I found two young men and one woman in the former looked dismally forlorn, without any employment, though they are by warrant "to be kept to hard labour." There is one yard, but it is converted into a garden.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

Upon going through this prison in the evening after locking up, I found the prisoners were sleeping two in a cell, although there was ample accommodation for their being separated from each other during the night.

The prisoners were all together in the same day-room, one of them was infected with the itch. The keeper states, "that he allows them to have a little tobacco, it being an excellent thing in a gaol. They receive 1½b lbs. of bread daily, and have permission to introduce provisions on a Sunday, which many of them have no means of providing, having no friends; they are dreadfully bad off and he occasionally gives them a few onions, &c.; he is also allowed to give them a little gruel when he thinks they require it. There is no Divine service performed, nor are the prisoners visited by a minister. One death took place on the 1st of last March, a male prisoner committed for vagrancy. The prison is seldom or ever without an inmate, 198 have been confined there during the year 1838.” The keeper further states, “That at one period during the last winter they were in a horrid mess; he had eight male prisoners and one female; that four of the men, who were married, were infected with the venereal, and the other four with the itch.”

A ward for the nightly reception of vagrants also forms part of the establishment, but since the introduction of a police force in the town their numbers have greatly diminished. As many as 800 have been lodged here during a year, while in 1838 they only amounted to 100.

I recommend most strongly [the establishment's] discontinuance as a House of Correction.

The bridewell appears to have closed by 1843. The building no longer survives.


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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.