Ancestry UK

Soke/Liberty Bridewell, Peterborough, Northamptonshire

A Bridewell, or House of Correction, for the Soke or Liberty of Peterborough occupied premises on Cumbergate, Peterborough.

In 1784, John Howard wrote that the prison:

...has on the ground-floor a large work-shop, and a room lately divided into a part for men, and another for women: no chimney. Up stairs, two rooms or hemp-warehouses: the keeper a hemp-dresser. A small court (9 feet 4 inches wide), not secure: prisoners always within doors. No water. Clauses against spirituous liquors not hung up. Keeper's salary only £8: fees, 3s. 6d. no table.

1774, Oct. 28,Prisoner 1.1779, Sep. 21,Prisoner 1.
1776, Sep. 26,1.1782, May 3,0.

In 1812, James Neild detailed his visit to the establishment:

Keeper, John White. Salary, 8l.

Fees, on Commitment, 3s. 6d. No Table.

Surgeon; if wanted, Mr. Beetham attends.

Prisoners, 1802, Aug. 9th, Three. Allowance, six-pence a day.


This wretched place has, on the ground-floor, a room about 21 feet by 7, formerly a work shop, which opens into a narrow slip, or court, 9 feet 4 inches wide. This being deemed insecure, the Prisoners are always locked up, and have no use of it.

The two sleeping-rooms are 9 feet by 6, close, and ill ventilated. The Soke here, as in the Gaol, allows straw only, with two blankets and a rug to each Prisoner.

No employment; and, indeed, the place is too dark to admit of any. When an offender is committed to hard labour, he beats hemp in a dirty room that leads to the Prison.

No sewer. No water accessible to the Prisoners. No religious attention. Neither the Act nor Clauses hung up.

The whole Bridewell must be more unhealthy, and is not much cleaner, than a pig-sty. It did not appear to have been whitewashed for many years.

In 1837, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

Construction.—This is used as a Watch-house and Lock-up-House, as well as for a House of Correction. It stands in a street, attached to other buildings, without any boundary wall, and is very small and confined, badly ventilated, and dark. During the last 18 years about eight escapes have occurred: all but two were retaken. Since then an. alteration has been made in the wall, and no escape is said to have taken place subsequently. There is one small Yard for all the Male prisoners; their Cells adjoin it: above the Cells is a Work Room. The Day Room is small and dark; whatever cookery is to be done takes place here. The Women have no Yard for exercise; whatever exercise they can get must be in the Men's Yard; the men are sometimes shut up in order to afford the females this privilege; but at the very time when they are thus shut up, they can see the women walking from their windows. The female prisoners are obliged to make use of the privy belonging to the Gaoler and his family. In the petty Chapel there is no division of males from females. This building is utterly unfit for its destination; it is unnecessary to dwell more minutely on defects, in a place where nothing else is visible.

It is under the jurisdiction of the Magistrates of the Liberty and Soke of Peterborough.

Management.—The men sleep two in a bed, and sometimes have slept three in one bed. The women also sleep two in a bed, and sometimes three. The Keeper's wife acts as Matron, as at the Town Gaol, but in neither case are they salaried. The Prison is not very clean. The prisoners appear to be in a state of very indifferent discipline; indeed it is only surprising that one officer can. preserve any subordination among such an assemblage as I witnessed. A disturbance took place here about a month before my visit; the prisoners had fastened the door of their Day Room and would not suffer the Gaoler to enter. The Chaplain was then!sent for, who addressed them, and finally reclaimed them by moral means. When a dark cell is wanted, a shutter is put up in one of the common cells. The only female prisoner was sitting in the Gaoler's 'kitchen. The salary of the Keeper is far too small.

Diet.—The same as at the Town Gaol. The Gaoler expends the value of the loaf in any articles which the prisoners desire, excepting fermented liquors. The prisoners here are not allowed to receive food from their friends without. The Gaoler buys the food at any shop which he prefers, and the Magistrates occasionally inspect it.

Labour.—The only sort of Labour used here is beating hemp. The profit is applied to the support of the prisoners. Sometimes there is no employment. The usual hours of labour are four in the day. The want of hemp occasionally is a source of inactivity.

Religious and other Instruction.—Some information will be found under the same head of the Town Gaol. The Chaplain always performs Divine service here once on the Sunday. There are at present here one Bible, four Testaments, and sixteen Prayer-books.

Care of the Sick Disease and Mortality.—The sick males are transferred into one of the female cells, if no women happen to be there. The Surgeon attends according to the cases which occur, and whenever he is sent for. Some information will be found respecting his office under the same head of the Town Gaol. There have been about three persons reported as sick during the last year out of 71 inmates. One continued ill above two months. There has been no death during the last year. No insane prisoner is confined here at present.

 £.  s.  d.
Keeper (no coals nor candles)30  —  —
Chaplain (including the Town Gaol)40  —  —
Surgeon (ditto, and medicines)15  15  —

General Statistics


The number of Prisoners admitted during the present year 1835, from 1st January to 9th December, was 71, of whom 68 were males and 3 females, The average number of prisoners is represented by the Keeper to be about eight. The number of prisoners at the time of my visit (December 1835) was five males and one female. The greatest number of prisoners in the house at one time during this year has been 18, of whom 16 were males and 2 females.

The Prison is stated to be capable of containing in all cases 17 men and 4 women.


Four prisoners were admitted this year who had been committed hither twice before. Several of the prisoners who come here are poachers.


Twelve prisoners were sentenced to be privately whipped here during this year. Eighteen lashes is the usual number inflicted, with a cat-o'-nine-tails. The Surgeon is present.

In 1844, the bridewell and Peterborough's Town Gaol were both replaced by a new combined gaol and bridewell on Thorpe Road, Peterborough. The old bridewell was then converted for use as a police station.


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.

  • No individual records identified for this establishment — any information welcome.
  • 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.


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