Ancestry UK

County Bridewell, Exeter, Devon

In 1637, a County Bridewell, or House of Correction, was erected on the south side of Cowick Street in the Exeter parish of St Thomas, close to where the Sheriff's Ward debtors' prison was located.

In 1784, John Howard wrote:

At my first visits this prison was out of repair: the windows small and glazed; yet no casements. An infirmary.—Keeper's salary, £60: no fees. He was a woollen manufacturer, and did employ some of his prisoners. Others of them might have been employed in the large garden and court at rope making, packthread spinning, &c.

His number of prisoners for three years was in 1772, 92;—in 1773, 163;—in 1774, 144: and from Easter sessions 1779 to Easter 1780, 171;—1780 to 1781, 184;—and from 1781 to 1782, 227. When I was there in 1775, eight or ten of the prisoners were women; and yet the house was dirty. Allowance, two-pennyworth of bread a day (weight in Sep. 1774, 19½ ounces; in July 1782, 18 ounces). The county appointed a chaplain, with a salary of £30, and a house joining to the prison which he let for £6 a year, but lately this house was taken into the prison, and the salary £36 : duty no fixed time.

Soon after my visit in 1775 the surgeon and some of the prisoners died of the gaolfever afterwards the prison was repaired and improved. On the men's side there is a hall or chapel and two large lodging-rooms: on the women's side two rooms and a lodging-room; and the courts are separate. The prison now white-washed twice a year. The rooms and court for the sick are sometimes used for vagrants. No bath: no employment.

1774, Sep. 12, Prisoners 22.1779, Feb. 5, Prisoners 27.
1775, Dec. 24, — — — 34.1782, July 28, — — — 43

In 1808, James Neild reported:

Gaoler, William Ford; salary 70l. Number of prisoners, September 26, 1806, 55. Allowance, at my former visits, 22 ounces of bread, in loaves of that weight, sent from the baker's; but since changed to 11 ounces of bread, and a quart of soup, made of bullocks' heads, oat meal, rice, and vegetables.

This very antient prison, situate in the parish of St. Thomas, is ill constructed, and much out of repair. The Keeper's house commands no part of it.

Here are two court-yards, each having a pump and sewer; but at my last visit, in 1806, the pumps were dry.

Men criminals have a day-room adjoining the Chapel, and two long upper rooms to sleep in. The women have a large apartment, called the Hall, for their day-room; it has two fire-places; and above it are two large sleeping-rooms. To each prisoner a bundle of straw only is allowed per week to sleep upon;, but there are two other rooms, to which the Keeper furnishes beds, at 1s. per week, on barrack bedsteads, which hold six prisoners.

Here are likewise three spacious Infirmaries, with fire-places and glazed windows, to which the County allows coals, and better diet, at the discretion of the Surgeon. These are supplied with wooden bedsteads, straw in sacking beds, two blankets, and a rug.

At Chapel, the men sit together on one side, and the women on the other, both in sight of the Minister, whose desk is placed above.

The employment here is chopping and scraping bark, for which are assigned two large rooms or sheds. I have ever found the greatest part of the prisoners thus occupied; and by it some of them have earned eighteen pence a day. In general, however. the men can earn, upon an average, four-pence, and the women two-pence halfpenny per day. The whole of their earnings are the Keeper's; who told me, that he rewarded the each according to their respective industry.

Mops, brooms, pails, and kettles, are allowed to keep the prison clean, but neither soap nor towels to the prisoners. The Act for Preservation of Health, and Clauses against Spirituous Liquors, not hung up.

I understand that a new bridewell, on a very good plan, adjoining to the High Gaol, is now in building; so that this miserable place of confinement is likely to be soon discontinued.

The new bridewell referred to by Neild was erected in 1807-9, on New North Road, Exeter, adjoining the County Gaol. Designed by George Moneypenny, it was a detached radial layout Neild visited the new premises in 1810 and subsequently reported:

Keeper, William Ford. Salary, 150l. and a considerable portion of the Prisoners' earnings.

Chaplain, Rev. Edward Chave; who is also Chaplain to the Gaol, and to the Magistrates at their Quarter Sessions. Duty, on Thursday, Prayers: on Sunday, Prayers and a Sermon. Salary, for the whole duty, 126l. 10s.

Surgeon, Mr. Benjamin Walker. Salary, for the Gaol and House of Correction, 50l.

Number of Prisoners, 1810, June 21st, 68. Every one of whom is employed in some kind of labour.

Allowance, to each, twenty-two ounces of good wheaten bread per day

This extensive and noble structure, now compleated, is equally admired for the solidity of its construction, the excellence of its masonry, and its handsome appearance, which will remain a lasting honour to the County of Devon. It stands on somewhat more than an acre and a half of ground, and is situate in a field on a fine eminence adjoining to the County Gaol

Its foundation was laid near four years since, and underneath it is placed a tin plate, with the following Inscription:

The Foundation-Stone of this House of Correction was laid by SAMUEL FREDERICK MLFORD, esq. Chairman of a Committee of Magistrates of the County of Devon, in the presence of the said Committee, on the 22d day of August, in the year 1807. Geo. MONEYPENNY, Architect.

The Prison is encircled by a boundary wall, 22 feet high; in the front of which is the Turnkey's lodge, a handsome stone building, rendered very conspicuous by a noble gate of entrance, 16 feet high, and 8 feet wide, adorned with rustic cinctures, and arch-stones of uncommon grandeur; adopted from a design of the Earl of Burlington, as executed in the flanks of Burlington-House, Piccadilly.

Above the gate is a stone cornice, crowned with a tablet; on which is inscribed,


On passing the Lodge, in which are the Turnkey's apartments, amply fitted up with every accommodation, a spacious flag-stone pavement leads through a neat shrubbery to the Keeper's house, an octagon building, situate in the centre of the Prison; on the ground-floor of which are a Committee-room for the Magistrates, a parlour for the Keeper, an office room, and a kitchen: and underneath, in the basement. story, are large vaulted apartments for domestick purposes.

The House of Correction consists of three wings, detached from the Keeper's house by an area 12 feet wide; each wing containing two Prisons, totally distinct; so that there are six divisions, for as many classes of Prisoners, with a spacious court-yard appropriated to each, surrounded by wrought-iron railing, 6 feet high, which prevents access to the boundary wall, and preserves a free communication, of 12 feet in breadth, betwixt the wall and the court-yards.

The entrances to all the court-yards and Prison apartments open from the area round the Keeper's house, through wrought-iron grated gates, opposite the several windows of his apartments.

There are also iron-grated apertures in the arcades of the ground-floor, which open into the area; so that the whole Prison is completely inspected, and the different classes attended to, without the necessity of passing or entering the court yards; the Keeper, from the windows of his own dwelling, having a view into the airing-grounds and work-shops of all the divisions.

In each court-yard, on the ground floor, are spacious vaulted arcades, fitted up as work-shops for light employment, and in which a number of Prisoners are occupied in weaving, picking and sorting wool, beating hemp, cutting bark, &c. Ad joining to the arcade in each division is a day-room, lighted by two large sash windows, and fitted up with a patent kitchen-stove, which answers every purpose of domestic cookery. Between the stone piers that support the vaulted ceiling of the day-rooms are wooden dressers, and benches of wood are placed round the Prisoners have access to the day-rooms only during their meals, and previously to their being locked up.

On the first floor of each division, to which the ascent is by stone stair-cases, are six cells, and on the second floor six others, making in all, seventy-two; each 7 feet by 10, and 10 feet 6 inches high, to the crown of the arch; lighted and ventilated by iron-grated apertures over the doors, of 2 feet 6 inches by 1 foot, without glass. Each cell is fitted up with one, and some with two wooden bed steads, formed like those in the Royal Hospital at Haslar, and to be used in case of necessity. All the cells open into spacious and lofty arcades, guarded by iron rails; and thus a free circulation of air is preserved, which cannot fail to render this Prison always more healthful than it could be with close confined passages, into which the cells and rooms of other Prisons too generally open. The floors of all the cells and arcades are paved with large flag-stones, and the cell doors-lined with iron plates.

On the upper floor, at the back of the right and left wing, are two rooms, each 13 feet 6 inches by 10 feet, and 10 feet 6 inches high, to the crown of the arch, set apart for faulty Apprentices. These rooms are lighted by sash windows, and have afire-place in each: the floors are paved with flag-stones, and each room is fitted up with wooden bedsteads, in the same manner as the cells.

On the first floor of the Keeper's house is the Chapel; an irregular octagon, 38 feet in diameter, and 14 feet high, lighted by eight large sash windows, and neatly divided by framed partition-pews, which are so heightened by crimson blinds, as to prevent the classes seeing each other. The Prisoners have a communication with the Chapel, from the first floor of the arcades, into the different divisions set apart for each class of the Prisoners, which they enter and quit, without mixing with, or being in sight of each other.

This Prison is supplied with fine water from a reservoir, (placed on an arcade in the area, between the back wing of the Prison and the Keeper's house,) which is filled from a well underneath, by an hydraulic pump of excellent contrivance, that is worked by the Prisoners every morning. From the reservoir pipes are laid into all the day-rooms of the Prison, the Turnkey's lodge, and the kitchen of the Keeper's house; and in each of the rooms, eight in number, is fixed a stone trough, with a pipe and cock.

The sewers of this Prison are judiciously placed at the ends of the different wings: they are spacious, lofty, well ventilated, and the vaults are 30 feet deep.

All the areas and walks round the Prison, and the arcades and day-rooms, are paved with large flag-stones, and the six court-yards with fine gravel. The roofs of the whole building are so constructed, as to shelter the walls and the foot-paths round the Prison in wet weather. They project 5 feet beyond the walls, and the Soffit of the projection is relieved by Cantilevers, in the manner of the Grecian Temples; of which the church of St. Paul Covent Garden, is an example.

At the back of the Prison, and communicating therewith, is a spacious work yard, in which are some extensive working-shops, for the purposes of more laborious employment than is carried on immediately within the Prison; such as hewing and polishing stone, sawing timber, cutting bark, &c. In this work-yard are two sewers, and a pump which affords a supply of very fine water.

It is in contemplation to erect a Hospital for the use of the Gaol and Bridewell; which will be a detached building, and contain airy wards for Male and Female Invalids, with hot and cold baths.

The Rules and Regulations for the Government of this Prison are excellent. Their principal tendency is to enforce cleanliness, morality, and habits of industry. The greatest stress is also laid on the constant separation of the Prisoners into distinct classes, arranged according to the respective nature of their offences; so that the more criminal may no longer corrupt those who have been committed for slight offences, and thus render them far more depraved than before their Imprisonment; which was inevitably the case in the Old Bridewell.

In 1853, the House of Correction was formally merged with the adjacent County Gaol on New North Road.


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