Ancestry UK

City Bridewell, Canterbury, Kent

The Canterbury City Bridewell occupied a room in the city's workhouse, which was opened in 1729 on Stour Street, Canterbury.

After a visit on 5 december 1782, John Howard referred to it as 'a room in the front court of the work-house' — there were no inmates at the times. The workhouse itself he described as 'finely situated, a river running between the two courts; but being an old building, the rooms close , and the cielings low, it cannot be convenient and salutary for the numerous inhabitants.'

The former city workhouse, Stour Street, Canterbury.

In 1812, James Neild wrote:

This Bridewell is situate in Stour-Street; and consists of a room about 12 feet square, in the front court of the Workhouse, furnished with wooden bedsteads, straw-in-hop bagging, and two blankets to each. And in it are fixed the whipping-stocks, and a block for beating hemp.

Here is no court-yard; but a small one might be taken from that assigned to the Workhouse, which is finely situated, as the Stour rivulet runs between the two courts. The Workhouse has two well-ventilated cells, of 10 feet by 7, with sewers, which empty themselves into the stream. These cells are intended for the refractory poor; and very convenient, if a Man and Woman should at one time be committed to the Bridewell.

Keeper, Humphrey Crouch; who is also Master of the Workhouse.
Salary, Two Shillings on each Commitment; one of which the Beadle receives.

Surgeon, Mr. Trimnel. Salary, 75l. for Workhouse and Bridewell.

Prisoners,1803, Sept. 25th,One Woman.
1808, Aug. 14thOne Man.
1810, July 9th,One Woman.

In 1845, the Inspectors of Prisons reported:

This prison is at a considerable distance from the city gaol, and forms part of the city workhouse. There were no prisoners in confinement at the period of our inspection. This is a most wretched prison, and, we submit, quite unfit for the confinement of prisoners for the shortest period. The two miserable cells over the river Stour have not been occupied for the last two years; we are surprised that they were overused at all for the confinement of prisoners. The first object that attracted our attention, on entering one of the three cells for the male prisoners, was the representation of a draught-board chalked on the middle of the floor. This cell had been occupied by three prisoners who were discharged a few days previous to our visit; but how lax must have been the discipline, when this gaming was not detected, either during the confinement of the prisoners or after their dismissal, as the keeper saw the chalking for the first time upon our pointing it out to him. In the next cell which we entered we found that the last occupant had left a lasting memorial of his imprisonment (herein by carving his name and sentence (W. Stockbridge, 7 days), in letters an inch long and a line deep, on the partition boards: and yet this prisoner was not punished for so doing; the keeper excusing himself by saying, that it was not observed till the convict had left the prison: indeed there has been no punishment awarded for any prison offence since the present keeper's appointment 12 months ago. We also observed a hole in the floor of this cell, which, to all appearance, has been made by rats, and the keeper says it has been there for three months without being filled up. The walls bear marks apparently of being spat upon, and, indeed, the whole prison is in an unwarrantably dirty condition. The floors and passage are washed as seldom as possible, as they take a long time to dry, a circumstance which proves that the place is damp, unwholesome, and badly ventilated. The two cells for the female prisoners are situated in a different part of the poor-house premises, and are divided by a thin wooden partition, in which are cut many large holes. The keeper directs a female servant of the poor-house to attend upon the female prisoners, but the keys are always in his possession, which is an infringement of the 2 and 3 Vic., c. 56, s. 6, rule 3, which reads "that the wards, cells, and yards allocated to female prisoners, shall be locked by keys in the custody of the matron." Of course, unrestrained intercourse can be had all over the prison, as the keeper is often absent for hours together, and their are neither books nor labour supplied to the prisoners; consequently they are in absolute idleness, and it is no wonder that they employ their time in gaming, in writing, making figures and cutting their names upon the prison walls. The keeper of this prison frankly admitted, and we believe him, that his duties as master of the poor-house were so extensive as quite to preclude the possibility of his paying that attention to the bridewell which be knew it required. But the union of a poor-house and bridewell is very inconvenient and improper, and ought to be discontinued; and whatever legal obstacles might have previously been in the way of uniting the city bridewell with the city gaol, they now no longer exist, as a special enactment, 5 and 6 Vic. c. 98, s. 16, provides — "And be it enacted. That so much of an Act of the first year in the reign of King George the Second, entitled 'An Act for erecting a workhouse in the city of Canterbury, for employing and maintaining the poor there, and for the better enlightening the streets of the said city,' as relates to providing, maintaining, repairing, and upholding a house of correction by the Guardians of the poor of the said city of Canterbury and their successors, and also so much of the said Act as relates to the maintaining, providing, and allowing one or more masters of the said house of correction, and as provides that the same house "of correction shall be the public house of correction for the said city of Canterbury and county of the same city, shall be repealed; and that as soon as another house of correction shall have been provided for the said city and county, the prisoners in the bridewell shall he removed to such new house of correction, and thereupon the bridewell shall cease to he the house of correction for the said city and county."

The numbers committed to this prison in the course of the year—

In 1842 were42 749
In 1843 were441256
In 1844 were50 656

The greatest number at any one time—

In 1842 were1010
In 1843 were 41 5
In 1844 were 8 8

In 1850, after the workhouse had moved to new premises at Nunnery Fields, the Inspectors made what was to be their final visit to the premises and reported:

The Town Council, without submitting any plans to the Secretary of State for his approval, in accordance with the 3 Vict. c. 56, s. 12, have pulled down the old Bridewell and converted a portion of the old workhouse into what they term a house of correction. The area for men consists of a single room in the upper floor, with three dark dells for sleeping, and the remaining portion of the apartment is used as a dayroom. There is neither privy nor airing-yard attached to it. No chaplain, surgeon, governor, or any officer appointed. The keeper of the union, situated at a considerable distance, has the nominal charge of the prisoners, receiving 2s. a-head on each commitment, which is illegally paid by the guardians out of the poor rate. Upon my visiting the prison, there was no person in attendance to open the doors; the key was, however, at length brought by a policeman from a nail where it had been hanging, and I obtained admission. Shortly after, a pauper from the workhouse made his appearance, who stated—

My name is W. D. I am a pauper in the union. I come here from the union at half-past six in the morning and bring the food down for the prisoners. I stay about half an hour while the prisoners are at their breakfast; return to the union, and bring back their dinners at one: return again to the union and bring thee suppers at six. The prisoners' food is the union house diet for the able-bodied. They pick oakum, about 3 lbs. a-day. I have not seen the master.

In answer to my question as to how the prisoners occupied themselves on the Sundays, he replied—

"Well, I suppose they read if they can: there is no chaplain."

A police station with lock-up is also attached to the building, but the police have no control over the prisoners.

As a consequence of the Inspectors' visit, the bridewell was closed shortly afterwards.

The old workhouse building is now used by Canterbury's Marlowe Theatre.


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • No individual records identified for this establishment — any information welcome.
  • The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU. Has a wide variety of crime and prison records going back to the 1770s, including calendars of prisoners, prison registers and criminal registers.
  • Find My Past has digitized many of the National Archives' prison records, including prisoner-of-war records, plus a variety of local records including Manchester, York and Plymouth. More information.
  • Prison-related records on Ancestry UK include Prison Commission Records, 1770-1951, and local records from London, Swansea, Gloucesterhire and West Yorkshire. More information.
  • The Genealogist also has a number of National Archives' prison records. More information.


  • Prison Oracle - resources those involved in present-day UK prisons.
  • GOV.UK - UK Government's information on sentencing, probation and support for families.