Saturday, 13 July 2013

SOMERSET. Lock-up at Wrington and demolished lock-up detail.

The lock-up at Wrington is quite different to other Somerset lock-ups in that it also incorporated an office or watch area for the Constable. Today it looks just like a tiny cottage squeezed between two other buildings and is now part of domestic accommodation.



Photo by Colin Sinnott


This lock-up is situated in the High Street and dates to 1824.
It does not appear to be a listed building.
It was built by local joiner, James Cook at a cost of £41, having been commissioned by The Vestry and defrayed by and from the Poors Rate.The building contained 2 cells together with an office for the Constable which had the benefit of a fireplace. For once comprehensive information is available about this lock-up.


I am very grateful to Richard Thorn, webmaster of the village web site, for giving me permission to copy the extensive information available on that site, and indeed to Mr & Mrs D James who compiled it.

Sources:  Specification and contract for building a lock-up, 1825;  Xerox copy of original
MS. (Somerset Records Office, Ref: D/P/Wri). Vestry Minutes (Wrington Parish Records)

" On the 3rd December 1824 The Revd. Mr Leeves proposed to the Vestry that a Watch House be erected on the ground where Richard Challenger's stable had stood. The Vestry approved the measure and directed that a Public Meeting be called forthwith.
On 10th December it was resolved, presumably at the Public Meeting, "that a watch
(this word being crossed out) Prison House be erected by the side of Mr Durham's house, Mr, Knowles to furnish an estimate and plan to the next Vestry Meeting".
On Christmas Eve Mr. Knowles submitted his plan and specification of the "intended Prison about to be erected by Mr. Durham's house" ; the meeting approved this, except for moving the fireplace, and flooring with stone instead of boards, and concluded that  "The said house shall be forthwith erected with all possible despatch and the expense to be defrayed by and from the Poors rate".

On 7th January the following year the above decision to build was ratified by the General Vestry Meeting.
Nothing further seems to appear about its completion or first use, either in the Vestry minutes or the Churchwardens accounts. We know, however, that on the 2nd February an agreement was reached - "between the churchwardens and overseers of the Poor and others of the Parish of Wrington on the one part and James Cook of the same parish Carpenter of the other part".

James Cook agrees with the Churchwardens and Overseers "to erect a prison house adjoining Mr. Durham's house at Wrington of the Dimensions and according to the plan this Day produced by him, and signed by the said James Cook and the said Churchwardens and overseers and others with only this alteration that the Wall next to the Penns stable to be twenty inches thick and built quite independent of the said Stable wall, at the price or sum of Thirty six pounds, and also to erect an Iron
railing in the front, fixed into pennant Stone, the railing to be three feet and half high, the standing
bars to be one inch square, and the others three quarters.  The two inside Cells to be pitched with pennant Stone, in lieu of the said James Cook's paving,the front outside with Nailsea stone of a proper thickness, and the aperture against the penns stable to be supplied with iron railing - the said railing, and plinth to be erected at the sum of five pounds. And the said Churchwardens and Overseers agree to pay the said sums of money to the said James Cook immediately on the Completion of this Contract. The whole to be under the superintendence of Messrs. Thomas Cox, John Councell and Charles Knowles ".

The office would have been very cosy due to the fact that there was an open fireplace in the office and due to its position on the dividing wall, prisoners would surely gain some benefit when the fire was lit

"This little building still stands in the High Street, adjoining the premises of Mr. P. F.
Bennett: which in 1824 formed "Mr. Durham's house" already mentioned.
Unfortunately the original plan referred to does not survive; but the specification does, which is as follows :
     1825. January 7th.

"Specification and Contract for Building a lock up house at Wrington joining to Mr. Jos. Durhams. A Double inch Oak Door with large head nails, Oak Frame to ditto 4 X 4, two inch Oak doors for the cells. Ditto to be hung with pivotts, Lock, Bolts and hinges of good materials and Quality. 1½ in. seats with boxes to ditto for the outside room and seats in the cells, the ceiling joice 4½ X 2 the rafters 3½ X 2¼, the purloins ditto 5½ X 4¼, the whole to be of Red Deal and covered with Queen slate and freestone carcase, with 2½ rabetted Battens and Copper Nails, a freestone Chimney piece and freestone chimney head, the wall in front to be faced with Nailsea Pennant and plinth course
under. The wall to be of common stone as the plan directs, the 2 inside cells to be brick arched and plaistered 1 coat, the outside room to be plaistered 2 coats, and ceiled. -A Nailsea step in front, and a good Banwell or Nailsea stone floor, with 2 grates in the cells for sink. 1 stove grate. The whole to be done according to the Plan and in a good substantial and workmanlike manner, to the satisfaction of the Vestry by me James Cook, for the sum of £36".


 " We have, however, been able to produce a plan from the existing building, which was purchased by a local grocer in 1952 and is now used as a store room. The building is in its original condition except that the wall dividing the cells has been removed, and the roof is now tiled. The present owner tells us that when he took over the building, the original wooden beds were in the cells and the Constables' desk was in the outer room. These were, however, removed by the vendor.
It would appear that the inmates must have spent a very miserable time in their cells. There was no ventilation except for about 5 small holes in each door , the size of a five shilling piece, and as there were no windows it must have been pitch black - and of course unheated. Sanitary arrangements consisted of a stone sink at ground level in the corner of each cell. The Constable had, however, the benefit of a fire in the outer office, and an old account book of the Golden Lion Inn records that meals were, occasionally, taken up to the lock-up, although whether for Constable or prisoner is not altogether clear. There is no surviving record of how many people were committed to the cells, but
considering the speed with which the building was planned and erected there appears to have been an urgent need for it ".


There is no definitive list of former lock-ups, many of which were demolished when they fell in to disuse as regular police forces were formed with their own holding cells. There is some information about lock-ups in the following places in  Somerset :

The lock-up at Banwell has long gone. The square shaped building near the Ship Inn was built in 1825.

Beckington had an octagonal shaped lock-up which was demolished c1960 to make way for a commercial garage. A sketch of part of the the lock-up (since demolished) can be seen on page 51 of Some West Country Lock-Ups by Leslie Brook.

The lock-up at Bruton suffered a similar fate and although it had fallen into disuse, it was still extant in 1872 when an unsuccessful appeal was made for its preservation. The small building was situated at the rear of a cottage near to the school playground.

The old roundhouse at Ilminster stood in West Street and was demolished in 1858.

There was a lock-up at Langport as far back as the 17th century known as the 'Little Ease'.

The lock-up at Midsomer Norton was demolished in the mid 19th century. It was a small stone square building with an oak nail studded door.

The lock-up at Taunton was known as 'The Nook'  (Sketch in Leslie Brook's book page 81).

An 1830 description of a lock-up in Taunton describes:
'. . . a hole into which drunken and bleeding men were thrust and allowed to remain until the following day when the constable with his staff of office take the poor, crippled and dirty wretches before a magistrate, followed by half the boys and idle fellows of the town.’[2]
(Wikipedia - Village lock-ups)
It was said to be dilapidated in 1830 and was probably demolished around that time.
The blind house at Wincanton was built in 1791  and was in use until C1856.

At Yeovil the blind house was under 'Le Tolsell' or market in the market square which was known as The Borough. It was also called The Stockhouse and Hell's Gate and dated as early as the 15th century. It seems that later a room in George Court was rented as a guard or watch house which was replaced in 1849 when the Town House was erected with police holding cells in Union Street.



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