The Old Bridewell, Bridewell Street, Devizes


A Bridewell is a 16th century term for a prison or reform school for petty offenders. It is named after such an Institution  that was founded near St. Brides Church and St. Bride's Well in the City of London. 


Devizes Castle was the prison or jail for the Devizes area until the castle was essentially ruined by the end of the 15th Century. In 1578 the Wiltshire Justices set a county rateto provide a house of correction. They chose Devizes as its seat, because they hoped to site it in a part of the Castle, but its demise was then complete. But by 1579 had built a Bridewell in Devizes and it remained the only county Bridewell until about 1631.  It almost certainly stood from the outset in Bridewell Street where the Grange is now. It was damaged by fire in 1619 and more seriously burnt in 1630. Right is the Grange with an old front door and the Trust for Devizes plaque in 2009.


In 1771 it was refronted in brick. In 1774 there were two night- and two day-rooms, a yard, a workshop and an infirmary somewhat recently constructed. It was reported by Waylen in his history that in 1778  " a prisoner named Thomas Platt, lately died in one of the solitary cells, and the verdict of the Coroner's jury was that he died by hunger and cold". After this the allowance was augmented. The situation was never proper for a jail, being much too confined.The prison was structurally improved in 1784–5  and it was no doubt the improved structure in which between 1801 and 1806 there were six yards, the infirmary as before, a 'small and neat' chapel, and 12 cells.


Left is the current Old Bridewell front door - it looks old!


After the 'New Bridewell' - the Devizes County House of Corrections - was opened  in 1817 the 'old' bridewell was used mainly for detaining pre-trial suspects. 


It was closed in 1836, but re-used to house part of the Wiltshire County Police force. The force was established in 1839 under the County Police Act 1839 and was the first county police force to be formed. Its motto, Primus et Optimus, means "the First and the Best". The police station was in the old bridewell from about 1836 until it was moved between 1855 and 1859 to the Town Hall. But the Superintendent of the County Police and police constables, both married and unmarried occupied numbers 9,10 and 11 Bridewell Street until at least 1871.The photo below right is of 9,10,11 and the Grange on Bridewell Street , the Grange is on the right and the open entrance leads to Bridewell Square the old exercise yard and the scene of the photo below of the policemen .


The police station was in the Assize Courts from 1937 and in Barford House, St. John's Street, the former post office, from 1969. The Wiiltshire Constabulary are now sited in a splendid large complex on the London Road out of Devizes. 


But the Superintendent of the County Police and police constables, both married and unmarried occupied numbers 9,10 and 11 Bridewell Street until at least 1871.



Above:The photo above is the Wiltshire County Police in the mid 19th Century, in Bridewelll Square in Devizes. (Courtesy Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre).


Below is a 2009 photo taken in Bridewell Square; the houses are the rear of numbers 10 and 11 Bridewell Street. A comparison of the brickwork below the roof line on the photo above and below,confirms the identity of the older photograph as the old Bridewell prison exercise yard - now known as Bridewell Square.  




By 1882 the Old Bridewell site was being called the Grange. By 1895 and at least until 1903the Grange was being used as an Infant's Day nursery. In 1895 Mrs Simpson was the lady Superintendent and in 1903 Mrs Emily Simpson was the lady Superintendent. Mrs Fanny E Brown was the Matron in 1895 and 1903 (Kelly's 1895 and 1903 Directories). Subsequently it was a home for old women, with whom for a while the town nurse had her residence. Much of the old buildings survives. Bridewell Square beside it may have been an exercise yard. In 2009 the Grange is owned by the Alms Houses Trust and has five flats for older people.  


English Heritagehas listed the Grange as Grade 2.  IoE Number: 431546

The Grange 11, 11A and12 Bridewell Street on the north side. Devizes, Wiltshire.


Date listed: 19 September 1972. Date of last amendment: 19 September 1972 

1. BRIDEWELL STREET1042  (North West Side)    Nos 11, 11A & 12SU 0061 4/88


It is 17th and 18th Century with 2 storeys and an attic. Number 11 has now been rough cast, The Grange retains red brick stone plinth, stone quoins. Gable end tiled roof. 4 hipped dormers, 19th Century casements, tiled roofs, slate cheeks replacing stone tiles. Wood eaves band. 4 recessed 3 light casements on 1st floor. Ground floor has 3 paired 19 th century sashes. Segmental heads, the ground floor ones with segmental painted stone arches and keystones. C19 Gothic arched and studded central door in plain stone surround. Plain cottage door to left (No 11). Rectangular cellar grills. Nos 1 to 13 (consecutively) form a group.