Ancestry UK

County Bridewell, Woodbridge, Suffolk

In 1804, a Suffolk County Bridewell, or House of Correction, was opened at 16-24 Theatre Street, Woodbridge.

In 1812, James Neild recorded:

Keeper, Robert Dowsing; now John Fisher. Salary, 52l. 10s. with coals and candles; also mops, brooms, pails, &c. to keep the Prison clean.

Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Black. Salary, 25l.

Duty, Prayers and Sermon on Sunday, and Prayers on Wednesday and Friday

Surgeon, Mr. Ling; who makes a Bill.

Number of Prisoners,

1805, Sept. 13th, One. 1810, Sept. 22d, Two.

Allowance, one pound and half of best bread per day, sent from the Baker's in loaves of that size, and weighed by the Keeper. In case of illness, the Surgeon has discretionary powers, with respect to the diet of his Patients.


This House of Correction stands on an elevated and healthy spot, just out of the Town, and was first inhabited on the 11th of January, 1805. It consists of two wings, with the Keeper's house in the centre; on the ground-floor of which is the visiting Magistrates' room, and the Keeper's parlour: his rooms have a constant command of the whole court-yards.

On the right side of the entrance are five sleeping-cells on the ground-floor, for Men, and five also for them above stairs. On the left side three, and three more, in the same higher situation, for the Female Prisoners. The latter open into lobbies well ventilated, 31 feet long, and 3 feet 6 inches wide.

The Men's cells open into a lobby 52 feet long, and of the same width as the last mentioned.

Each cell is 11 feet by 7, and 9 feet high; fitted up with an iron bedstead, straw-in-sacking bed, two sheets, a double blanket, and coverlet, all lighted and ventilated by an iron-grated and glazed window, 28 inches square. One cell on each range has a fire-place, to be used as a sick-room in case of illness, at which time coals are allowed. The Prisoners' lobbies open into another passage, leading to the Chapel. This is over the Visiting Magistrates' room, 18 feet 8 inches long by 12 feet 10, and 9 feet high. Prayer-Books are allowed by the District, or Hundred, to all that are able to read.

The Men's court-yard is 52 feet 9 inches long, 39 feet wide; and that allotted to the Women, 39 feet by 31. These are separated by an area, of the width of the Keeper's house, viz. 36 feet 5 inches; and in it is a pump to supply the Prison with water. The courts are on an inclined plane, with gutters properly disposed; and all the water is so conducted, as to run through the sewers into a large receptacle without the Prison walls.

Water is introduced into every court-yard, and towels are provided for the Prisoners to wash, before they receive their bread: they also sweep and clean out their cells every morning. They have the use of their respective court-yards half an hour in the morning, one hour at noon, and half an hour again in the evening.

County clothing is allowed for those who have been convicted at the Assizes, or who come in offensive, or ragged: Their own clothes, are then cleaned,mended, and laid by, against their being discharged. An oven is provided, to purify foul or infected clothes, and a bathing-tub at hand, which is frequently used.

The Prisoners are shaved and clean shirted once a week; their linen is washed at the expence of the Hundred; and fresh straw is supplied to them monthly.

Their Employment in this Bridewell consists of spinning, and the making of garters and nets. Of their earnings one fourth goes to the Keeper, another fourth to the Prisoner during confinement, and the remaining half is paid on discharge; which provides them with immediate sustenance, as well as the means of reaching comfortably and honestly their respective homes.

On looking over the books I observed, that one working Prisoner had received £1. 14s. 3½d.; another, £1. 5s. 7d.; and a third, £1. 0s. 2½d.

The Commitments to this House of Correction, until my last visit in 1810, were as follow:

From April 1805 to April 1806125.
April 1806 to April 180758.
April 1807 to April 180861.
April 1808 to April 180970.
April 1809 to April 181023.
Total    337.

Scales and weights are judiciously furnished by the Magistrates of the Division and, to the honour of the Baker, every loaf, at both my visits, was considerably over weight.

Here are printed Rules and Orders, approved by the Magistrates in Session, and confirmed by the Judges of Assize, in the year 1808.

The prohibitory Clauses against Spirituous Liquors are hung up, but not the Act for Preservation of Health. The whole Prison very clean.

In 1821, it was reported that the prison's capacity of sixteen places was often greatly exceeded. They are merely divided into male and female classes. No regular labour is provided; some of the prisoners are allowed to employ themselves in platting straw, knitting, &c. The produce of their now very trifling earnings, is appropriated thus: one-third to themselves immediately, one-third on their leaving, and one-third to the keeper of the prison, who disposes of the articles at their own prices; the gross amount appears to have been only 18s. 4d. for the last year. A few years ago, these earnings were considerable from spinning wool; so much so,that the share of some are reported in two years to have exceeded £10.

A report in 1824 noted:

This prison contains three classes of offenders; viz, debtors, felons, and misdemeanants. There are two divisions, with two airing-yards; but alterations are to be made for a more extensive classification. There are ten sleeping-cells for men, and six for women. The greatest number of prisoners at one time in the last year was 17; the whole number of commitments was 83.

The employments consist of pumping water for the service of the prison, and in cleaning the rooms, &c.; but this labour is unproductive, and no earnings are allowed. The daily ration is a fourpenny loaf of bread for each prisoner.

The prisoners are supplied with Bibles and other books. The chaplain reads prayers twice a-week, and preaches a sermon on Sundays. A matron is appointed for the women.

No irons were used during the last year; and only one recommittal took place.

In 1836, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

THIS Divisional County Prison stands on an elevated spot at the extremity of* the town. It consists of a Keeper's house and two wings of unequal size,, for male and female prisoners, with airing-yards in the rear. The Keeper's dwelling contains,, in the basement, a kitchen and offices; ground-floor, Magistrates' room and parlour; first floor, chapel, without divisions, and one chamber; second floor, two chambers. The sleeping cells for males are 11ft, by 8ft. 6in., 9ft. high. Female cells, 11 ft. by 7 ft., 9 ft. in height. The building stands on the brow of a hill, the declivity of which is so abrupt as to cause a fall of 4ft. 6in. in the level of the airing yards.

Diet.—A pound and a half of wheaten bread daily, and half a pound of cheese weekly. The bread is contracted for at 1¾d. per lb. and the cheese at The untried are allowed to purchase a pint of small beer, extra bread, cheese, tea, coffee, and sugar.

Clothing.—Prison dress. An untried prisoner was in a partycoloured dress.

Bedding.—Straw paillasse, two blankets and a rug.

Cleanliness.—The prison clean.

Health.—The Surgeon states the prisoners to be very healthy; only one death has taken place in six years, and two cases of scurvy in the same period, which is remarkable, considering the frequently crowded state of the prison. There is no Infirmary, but the sick, when occasion requires it, are removed to a cell, where there is a fire-place. He does not attend corporal punishments when inflicted in the prison. He keeps no Journal. He considers the day-room quite insufficient for the numbers; it is so offensive, that when he visits the prisoners he is obliged to call them out of it.

Moral and Religious Instruction.—The Chaplain performs one full service on Sundays, with sermon, alternately morning and afternoon. He reads prayers, and gives an exhortation, and explains portions of Scripture, on Tuesdays and Fridays, which occupies him for an hour each day. He does not see the prisoners privately, nor in their cells, unless they are sick. The prisoners are supplied by him with books and tracts, but they mutilate them, so that he considers it hardly worth while to give them.

There is no attempt made to instruct the prisoners; their state of ignorance is quite lamentable; and he adopts the most familiar, or colloquial, style in his exhortations. He enters an account of the performance of his duties in a book, but keeps no Journal.

The Keeper says, some of the prisoners occasionally express a desire to learn, but they have not the means in the prison.

Classification.—None. The whole of the male prisoners, of all degrees of crime, tried or untried, who have been as many as 24 in number, pass their time together in a single day-room, 11 feet by 8 feet 6 inches, or in the airing-yard.

Labour.—None. The prisoners are not permitted to exercise their trades. Women are hired to wash the prisoners' linen.

Punishments.—Weight of irons, 6lbs.

Scourge.—Handle 18 inches in length; nine lashes of whipcord, two feet in length, with three single knots in each.

The whipping is inflicted by the Keeper. The Magistrates are present occasionally. The Keeper considers it has a good effect upon boys. If a man is in the prison three or four months, with a sentence of whipping hanging over him, it has always a marked influence upon his conduct, which is invariably good.

Visits, Letters.—Visits by order of the Magistrates. Letters at the discretion of the Keeper.

Accounts, Expenditure, Books.—The quarterly bills are laid before the Magistrates, and paid by the County Treasurer.

Books.—Keeper's Register, arranged with the usual heads.

Magistrates' Visiting Book. One of the entries is, "November 27.—Inspected the prison; eight prisoners, not one of whom can read."

General Discipline.—The only discipline maintained or required is, that the prisoners be orderly in their conduct. They are permitted to purchase candles, and carry them to their cells, to light them to bed. The prisoners are generally of the agricultural class, and female offenders have materially decreased since the alteration of the law respecting bastardy. There are no rules for the government of the prison.

Keeper.—Age 52; appointed 1823; farmer by profession. Salary, 77l. 12s. A garden in the county ground, in the rear of the prison.

Chaplain.—Curate of Coddenham, 11 miles distant from Woodbridge; but the duties are very trifling. Salary, 50l. 12s.

Surgeon.—He sends in his bills for attendance and medicines. No salary.

Matron.—The Keeper's wife. Attends upon the females without any remuneration.

General Observations:—This establishment is only eight miles distant from the County Gaol at Ipswich, where corrective discipline and regular habits can be enforced.

If this prison could be dispensed with, there would be every probability of its being advantageous to the county, both in morals and expenditure; for with such unchecked association, it can be scarcely possible but that prisoners will go out worse than they came in.

The Keeper, being the only male officer, is obliged to leave the prison in charge of his son, when employed, as is occasionally the case, in taking prisoners to magistrates at a distance, for further examination.

The prison closed in 1841 after being deemed surplus to the county's requirements. The building was subsequently used as a police station and later converted to residential use.


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, The Hold, 131 Fore Street, Ipswich, Suffolk IP4 1LR. Holdings include: Register of prisoners (1802-13); Visitation books (1802-42).
  • 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.