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.

The Health of Prisoners Act of 1774 was the first concerted attempt at improving the physical conditions of prisons, although it was often ignored. It ordered that the walls and ceilings of cells and wards were to be scraped and whitewashed once a year. They were to be washed regularly, and constantly supplied with air by means of hand ventilators. Prisoners who were ill were to be provided with separate rooms, and baths were to be introduced. An experienced surgeon or apothecary was also to be appointed to attend the prison, and all the provisions of the Act were to be painted on a board and displayed prominently in the building.

When the prison reformer John Howard first visited the Devizes bridewell in 1774, he reported in his ‘State of the Prisons’ that there were two night- rooms and two day-rooms, a yard, a workshop and an infirmary ‘somewhat recently constructed’. Despite improvements, however, in a later report, Howard revealed that a prisoner, Thomas Platt, had died in solitary confinement, in the Devizes bridewell, through hunger and cold.

In 1808, Richard Ingleman submitted to a gaol committee his design for a polygonal prison as the new County Gaol for Wiltshire to be built at Devizes, based on those he had designed at Folkingham , Lincs., and Southwell. Work began on building this prison in 1810, and the incomplete building opened in 1817. The Old Bridewell was used mainly for detaining pre-trial suspects, and closed as a prison in 1836, beginning a new lease of life as a County Police station.


By the time of the 1881 census the building had ceased to be a police station and was instead being run as a ‘Ladies’ School’ by Jane E. Hollis, aged 47, from Nether Stowey, the Principal. She lived on the premises and was assisted by Eliza Hopkins, 34, from Cheltenham, who boarded with her, and gave her occupation as ‘governess’. Shortly after this date, the school was closed and the building became a home for needy old women of the borough. By 1979 the Devizes Almshouse Trust refurbished it into five cosy self-contained flats for modern-day almswomen. The building, however, has not forgotten those unfortunate enough to be confined here in the early days; on the walls of the exercise yard, now a garden, and in the attics are their laboriously grafitti’d initials.

Margaret Parrott & Dorothy Treasure
Wiltshire Buildings Record

Comments (2)

  • rob smith

    rob smith

    01 January 2015 at 12:24 |
    Good morning

    I'm from near Southwell, Notts where Richard Ingleman was the architect for the House of Correction built in 1808. I know he was the architect for the replacement Devizes prison around 1810-17. I have seen photos of a model of the Devizes prison but have not been able to locate the model. Firstly, do you know the whereabouts of the model as I would like to look at it? Secondly, do you know where I might find architects drawings for the prison? This is for a history project on houses of correction in general and the work of Richard Ingleman.
    Happy New Year


  • Naomi Sackett

    Naomi Sackett

    07 January 2015 at 11:01 |
    Happy New Year to you too Rob.

    We think the model may be in the Wiltshire Museum, but the model maker, John Girvan, can be contacted to establish its whereabouts for certain - just drop me an email and I will give you his address.

    We have a few plans for Devizes prison here that might be of interest. I have copied the catalogue entries and reference numbers below.

    A1 509/13 R. Ingleham(?), Architect: explanation of plans for the Devizes House of Correction. 1808

    A1 509/4 Plans for a Bridewell and House of Correction at Devizes, with explanatory notes; no. 1. ground plan; no. 2. chamber plan; no. 3. a saxon entrance; no. 4. governor’s house, front view; no. 5. cell block; no. 6. cell block; no. 7. latitudinal section through one of the wards (coloured). Architect unknown. 1808

    A1 509/6 Plans for the House of Correction at Devizes; no. 1. transverse section of the treadwheel buildings and elevation; no. 2. plan of the building and marking below the floors and the flypit; no. 4. plan of the gallery floor; no. 7. plan of the floor structure and gallery plates, (coloured). Architect unknown. Early 19th century (n.d.)

    If you are interested in the works of R.Ingleman and Correction Houses in general, we also hold:

    A1 509/2 1817 Plans for county gaol at Fisherton Anger by R.Ingleman

    Hope this is of use!


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