Sunday, June 28, 2020

Bewdley, Worcestershire

Hard cell

Being stuck at home made me think of this place. It’s a rather impressive lock-up, built at one end of the late-18th century Shambles (market) building in the centre of Bewdley. There are actually three cells, one of which is oriented differently and so not visible in my photograph. The whole complex is now part of Bewdley Museum. As is common with lock-ups of the period, the structure is strong and windowless, with brick walls and – a touch which relates the little building to larger-scale prison architecture – stone door surrounds with heavily rusticated blocks.

Those blocks seem to speak of high security, but their symbolism goes beyond this, I think. Their hint of urban grandeur – with the implication that the town had spent more than the minimum on its small prison – speaks of a place that was said to have had quite a bit of use for a lock-up. In the 19th century, Bewdley apparently had some 30 pubs – a large number in what was then a small town – and a resultant persistent problem with drunkenness. It could be, then, that the main use for these cells was to bang up drunks behind the heavy studded iron-bound wooden doors until they sobered up and dried out.

The doors are in fact replacements, but they give a good idea what the lock-up would have been like (the originals are displayed in the museum too), as do the spartan cell interiors. These have a masonry platform on which was the occupant’s bed, plus a ceramic tiled floor, a tiny fireplace, and not much else. It’s very basic, but then 18th-century prisons usually were. The prevailing view of the architecture and the inmates was no doubt that this was ‘as good as they deserve’. Other times, other ways.


Hels said...

Why was it windowless? Even prisoners and guards need natural light, so some windows could have been high up on the walls.

Joe Treasure said...

Are those grated fanlights above the doors?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Well spotted, Joe!