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Bridewell

The name Bridewell is the generic term for a Town Lock Up, a small prison used to house prisoners arrested in the town, and awaiting their appearance in court. The name comes from a prison for vagrants and petty offenders in London, which was near the church of St. Brides, and also near a well, hence the Bridewell.

The official name of the Bridewell is the Central charge Office, and in Leeds it was situated in the basement of the Town Hall. When the Town Hall opened in 1858 there were police offices, accommodation for the gaoler and his wife, and thirteen cells on the western side of the town hall, with the entrance near the northwest corner.

In 1864, when Leeds became an assize town the prison accommodation was extended and new cells built under the front steps of the town hall. Each cell had a wooden bench, and shackle rings for wrists and ankles fastened to the bench and the wall. The cells, which are still there to-day, are small and dark, with stone flagged floors, whitewashed walls, and no windows. Food was provided through a hatch in the door. It is said (although there appear to be no documents to prove it) that according to the 'Bridewell Charter' each prisoner 'should have half a loaf of bread and a pint of ale together with sufficient straw for bedding'. Each cell could hold up to four prisoners, who would have been cold and very uncomfortable. The cells were later condemned.

The gaoler's rooms were also converted to prison cells. They were situated near the entrance door, and had only barred doors between them and the weather. They were known as 'the Cooler', and were used for violent and drunk offenders. At this time two new entrances to the Police Station were made at the front of the building.

In 1937 the Bridewell was modernised; more cells were added and new toilets installed. Ventilation was improved by making windows in the outside walls. The old whitewashed walls were tiled, and the lighting and kitchen facilities improved.

The Bridewell remained in the Town Hall until 1993, when it was moved to the new Magistrates Courts building.

The Town Hall Ghost
The Bridewell is said to be haunted by the ghost of Charlie Peace, a notorious criminal executed on 25th February 1879. Peace, responsible for numerous burglaries, and for two murders had evaded capture for years. He was finally arrested in London, for the attempted murder of a policeman, and was found guilty. He then was sent to Leeds Assizes to stand trial for the murder of Arthur Dyson. He was held at Her Majesty's Prison at Armley, and at eight-o-clock on the evening of 3rd February 1879 he was taken from the prison to the borough lock-up at the Town Hall, in preparation for his trial which took place the next day. He had already escaped from police custody on other occasions, and this time, handcuffed and in leg-irons, he was accompanied in the horse-drawn police van by six warders. According to newspaper reports he was placed in a large cell known as 'the sick room', and was accompanied by three warders, with a fourth officer guarding the corridor approaching the cell. This time Peace did not escape. He was condemned to death for the murder of Arthur Dyson, and was hanged at Armley Gaol on Tuesday 25th February 1879. He was buried within the prison walls.  
Click images to enlarge
Entrance to the Gaol
Entrance to the Gaol
Door to police station built in 1864
Door to police station built in 1864
Doorway to Gaol from the inside
Doorway to Gaol from the inside
Custody Officer's desk
Custody Officer's desk
Spiked door to cell area
Spiked door to cell area
Entrance to cells under the steps
Entrance to cells under the steps
Later cell door
Later cell door




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© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003