Articles tagged with: prisoner

LGBT History in Wiltshire

on Thursday, 23 May 2013.

Whilst on my work experience placement here at the WSHC, I was informed that BoBs (Best of Both) Youth Group wanted to know if there was any evidence in the archives of LGBT people living in Wiltshire in the past. My job was to lay some groundwork for the group, in order that they might then come to the History Centre and follow up the leads I had uncovered that they found most interesting. I jumped at the chance – this is a relatively untouched area of hidden history, especially in this county, and I was eager to see what could discover. However, I soon realised that this was going to be a much more difficult task than previously anticipated; they don’t call it ‘hidden history’ for nothing.

 

What has become evident over the course of my research is the unfortunate fact that the easiest place to find evidence of LGBT people pre-1967, when homosexual acts were made legal, is in court records. My first port of call when beginning this exploration was the Court of Quarter Sessions Calendars of Prisoners, dating back as far as 1854. One of the things to remember when searching for ‘crimes’ such as these at this period in history is that the language used to describe homosexual activity is very different to what might be used today and may be shocking to the modern reader; some of the more common terms include ‘unnatural offence,’ ‘abominable offence,’ and offences ‘against the order of nature.’ It is a stark reminder of the overriding attitudes towards homosexuality, especially during the 19th century, and the kind of labels that would have been applied to these people that they may not have been able to escape for the rest of their lives.

The Old Bridewell

on Wednesday, 03 April 2013. Posted in Architecture, Crime

In the centre of Devizes is an unassuming building, not very different from those red-brick houses flanking it. It has large, airy two-by-two pane sashes with typical segmental arches which contain a shaped keystone. Behind the net curtains can be glimpsed a cosy living room, and a pretty garden beyond. This is The Grange and it was once the old Devizes jail, or bridewell, in Bridewell Street.

The Bridewell started life in 1579 as a timber-framed building in the street which now bears its name. It was established after the opening of the Bridewell prison in London in 1556 as a new type of prison to deal with the growing numbers of those regarded as rogues and vagabonds or the idle poor. This example had been followed in Oxford in 1562, Salisbury in 1564 and Norwich in 1565. It was burnt down twice and rebuilt: after a fire in 1619 and another more serious fire in 1630, but still in timber, much of which survives today.

In 1771, the Devizes bridewell was re-fronted in brick: the date appears in studs on the original front door which was reused.

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