Every town has its notable quirks and features that it has accumulated over its lifetime; but not everyone knows the history that you can’t see anymore. This week’s post highlights the Bridewell of Sherborne that is, thankfully, long gone.
Bridewell is an old 16th Century name meaning a prison or reform school. More commonly known as a House of Correction. (Derived from Bridewell Palace that given by Edward VI to the City of London for the housing of homeless children and for the punishment of ‘disorderly women’.)
Houses of Correction were established from the late 16th Century as places for punishment and reform.
They were places built after the passing of the Elizabethan Poor Law in 1601, and were intended for those who were “unwilling to work” including vagrants, beggars, prostitutes, petty thieves and people accused of idle an improper behaviour.
And yes, here in Sherborne there was a House of Correction ~ The Bridewell.
From Long Street, and before it becomes Half Moon Street, at the junction by the shops of Oxfam to the left and Melbury Gallery on the right, turn left into what is now known as South Street.
Almost at the end of South Street on the left is a pleasant little courtyard of five small modern town cottages. The name Bridewell Court appears low down on the right hand side of the entrance.
Few people could read of write and in any case why record such items of distaste. Punishments were severe, and included heavy fines, frequent whippings and restricted food, with the bare minimum of the poorest qualities of food given.
Men women and children were all housed together in various cells in appalling squalor with no bedding and primitive sanitation. There must have been frequent outbreaks of the dreaded cholera, and also sufferings of asthma, ulcers, scurvy, itch, and of course venereal disease.
There was no medical aid, except that a surgeon was frequently called to pronounce a death that had taken place. The body would then be taken to an unconsecrated burial ground, or thrown over the high wall, maybe to the area that now backs onto Culverhayes Car Park. An unrecorded number were hanged at Bow Arch (at the entrance to Church Lane from the Parade, Cheap St.) for the smallest crimes.
During the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 eighteen young men were returned to Sherborne and the hard Chief Justice Jefferies barbarous assizes were held in the House of Correction, or possibly in the ancient house next door, Gainsborough House, which is still occupied as a private residence to this day. All 18 men were found guilty of offences and were all hung drawn and quartered from Bow Arch by the market place.
The Bridewell continued as a House of Correction until 1793 when it was then decided that there was enough room to transfer all the prisoners to the new County Gaol in Dorchester. So Sherborne’s Bridewell was sold at auction in the Half Moon Hotel in 1794. The building was then converted into a Brewery, but within 40 years it was in use as a printing works, and by 1930 it had become a petrol filling station.
The most recent development was in 1984, when the whole site was redeveloped into the housing which can be seen today.
….Enjoyed reading about the Bridewell? Join me for this and the History of South Street as well as more of the ancient life of Sherborne South of the Abbey on Bank Holiday Monday this August!