Ancestry UK

Borough Gaol and Bridewell, Great Torrington, Devon

Great Torrington (often abbreviated to just Torrington) had a prison prior to 1687 which housed offenders from other places as well as from the town itself. In that year, however, Bideford, which had previouly made use of the Great Torrington prison, had a petition granted to send its offenders elsewhere as the Great Torrington establishment had been closed and dismantled. In 1737, it was ordered that a Bridewell, or House of Correction be established adjacent to the town's workhouse at the north side of Calf Street. It was to be used "for the setting to work and punishing idle and disorderly persons therein, and looms, turns, cards and other necessary tools and implements" were to be provided for the purpose and a master governor appointed.

By 1835, it was reported that:

The Gaol is an insufficient building. There is a small yard with five cells, very much exposed to the weather, none of the windows being glazed. There is no sufficient accommodation for putting the prisoners to work. The number of prisoners seldom exceeds three or four. Offenders are seldom committed for a longer term than three months.

Two years later, the Inspectors of Prisons wrote of Great Torrington that:

Connected with the old workhouse is a small bridewell, which was formerly used when the sessions existed here, but is not employed as such at present. It has five cells, a yard, and a privy. It would make a good lock-up house, as the present single room under the town hall is totally unfit for the purpose. The master of the workhouse resides on the spot. The bedding in the cells is good.

The prison appears to have been closed at around this time.


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  • 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.