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Chapter 17. Bridewell. - John Ashton 1888

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The Course of the Fleet is nearly run, but, before closing this account of the river, we should not forget the residence of the mighty King-maker, the Earl of Warwick, whose pleasant gardens ran down to the Fleet; and there, in Warwick Lane, after the great Fire, was built the College of Physicians, described thus by Dr. Garth, in his "Dispensary":--

"Not far from that most celebrated Place, Where angry Justice shews her awful Face; Where little Villains must submit to Fate, That great ones may enjoy the World in State, There stands a Dome, majestick to the sight, And sumptuous Arches bear its oval height; A golden Globe plac'd high with artful skill, Seems, to the distant sight, a gilded Pill."

Here they were housed until 1825, and, from the Fleet, could be seen the Apothecaries' Hall, in Water Lane, Blackfriars,

"Nigh where _Fleet Ditch_ descends in sable Streams To wash his sooty _Naiads_ in the _Thames_; There stands a Structure on a Rising Hill, Where _Tyro's_ take their Freedom out to Kill."

Then there was the Monastery of the Dominicans, or Blackfriars, which has given its name to a whole district; and there was a fortification, or postern, on the little river, near Ludgate Hill; and, close to its junction with the Thames, was Bridewell Bridge, so called from the Royal Palace of that name, which, in its turn, received its cognomen from another well, which went to form the "River of Wells," St. Bridget's or Bride's Well. This bridge is shown in the frontispiece, and was necessarily made very high in order to allow sailing craft to go under it.

It was here that Pope, in his "Dunciad" (book ii.), thus sings:

"This labour past, by Bridewell all descend, (As morning pray'r, and flagellation end) To where Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames, The King of Dykes! than whom, no sluice of mud, With deeper sable blots the silver flood. 'Here strip, my children! here at once leap in, Here prove who best can dash thro' thick and thin.'"[76]

Ward bursts into song over Bridewell, thus:--

"'Twas once the Palace of a Prince, If we may Books Confide in; But given was, by him long since, For Vagrants to Reside in."


[Illustration: BRIDEWELL BRIDGE.]

The Royal Palace of Bridewell stood on the site of the Castle of Montfichet, who is believed to have come over with William the Conqueror. Tradition assigns it a still earlier date, even Roman, but then, I don't say there was not a Roman fortress here, but I cannot say there was. Certainly Cardinal Wolsey lived here, and Henry VIII. held occasional Court.

Strype, in his edition of Stow (1720) says that after the destruction of Montfichet Castle and its Stone being given away:--

"This Tower or Castle being thus destroyed, stood, as it may seem, in Place where now standeth the House called _Bridewell_. For, notwithstanding the Destruction of the said Castle or Tower, the House remained large, so that the Kings of this Realm long after were lodged there and kept their Courts. For, in the Ninth Year of _Henry_ the Third, the Courts of Law, and Justice were kept in the King's House, wheresoever he was lodged, and not else where. And that the Kings have been lodged, and kept their Law Courts in this Place, I could shew you many Authorities of Record....

"More, (as _Matthew Paris_ hath) about the Year 1210, King _John_, in the Twelfth Year of his Reign, summoned a Parliament at _S. Brides_ in _London_; where he exacted of the Clergy, and Religious Persons the Sum of One Hundred Thousand Pounds; And besides all this, the _White Monks_ were compelled to cancel their Privileges, and to pay L4000 to the King, &c. This House of _S. Brides_ (of later Time) being left, and not used by the Kings, fell to Ruin; insomuch that the very Platform thereof remained (for great part) waste, and as it were, but a Lay Stall of Filth and Rubbish, only a fair Well remained there. A great part whereof, namely, on the _West_, as hath been said, was given to the Bishop of _Salisbury_; the other Part toward the _East_ remained waste, until King _Henry_ the Eighth builded a stately and beautiful House, thereupon, giving it to Name, _Bridewell_, of the Parish and Well there. This House he purposely builded for the Entertainment of the Emperor _Charles_ the Fifth;[77] who in the Year 1522 came into this City.... Being in Decay, and long disused, King Edward VI. gave it to the City in the Seventh[78] Year of his Reign.

"It is seated near to _Blackfriars_; from which it is severed by the Canal of the _Fleet-ditch_. It was obtained of the King at first for an Harbour of poor Harbourless People, that lay abroad in the Streets. It was soon after improved to be a Workhouse, not only to give Lodging to poor, idle, wandring Persons, Beggars, and others; but to find them Work, to help to maintain themselves. But tho' this was granted in the Year 1553, yet it seems, it was not before Two Years after, that the City entred and took possession of it by _Gerard_ their Maior, having obtained Queen _Mary's_ Confirmation.

"In the time of Queen _Elizabeth_, about the Year 1570 and odd, one _John Pain_, a Citizen, invented a Mill to grind Corn; which he got recommended to the Lord Maior, for the Use of _Bridewell_. This Mill had Two Conveniences: One was, That it would grind a greater Quantity considerably than any other Mills of that Sort could do. And the other (which would render it so useful to _Bridewell_) was, That the Lame, either in Arms or Legs, might work at it, if they had but the Use of either. And, accordingly, these Mills were termed _Hand-Mills_ or _Foot-Mills_.

"This Mill he shewed to the Lord Maior, who saw it grind as much Corn with the Labour of Two Men, as they did then at _Bridewell_ with Ten. That is to say, Two Men with Hands, two Bushels the Hour; or Two Men with Feet, two Bushels the Hour. If they were Lame in their Arms, then they might earn their Livings with their Legs. If Lame in their Legs, then they might earn their Livings with their Arms."

--This, perhaps, is the earliest mention of the treadmill, as a punishment.

Still quoting Strype, (same edition):

"The Use of this Hospital now is for an House of Correction, and to be a Place where all Strumpets, Night-walkers, Pickpockets, vagrant and idle Persons, that are taken up for their ill Lives, as also incorrigible and disobedient Servants, are committed by the Mayor and Aldermen, who are Justices of the Peace within the said City; And being so committed are forced to beat Hemp in publick View, with due Correction of whipping, according to their Offence, for such a Time as the President and Court shall see Cause."

Bridewell is well shown by Hogarth in the fourth picture of the "Harlot's progress," where both men and women are seen "beetling" hemp.[79]

In a very rare tract called "Mr. William Fullers Trip to Bridewell" (1703) he gives a fairly graphic description of a prisoner's entry therein. "As soon as I came there, the Word was _Strip, pull off your Cloaths_, and with much intreaty, I prevail'd to keep on my Westcoat; then I was set to a Block, a punny of Hemp was laid thereon, and _Ralph Cumpton_ (a Journy Man in the Shop) presented me with a Beatle, bidding me knock the Hemp with that, as fast as I could. This Beatle is of Brazel,[80] and weigh'd about 12 pounds."

Previously to this, poor Fuller had to stand twice in the pillory, on one of which occasions he was nearly killed by the mob, and when taken to Bridewell, all black and blue as he was, he had a whipping:--"My Hands were put in the Stocks, and then Mr. _Hemings_ the Whipper, began to noint me with his Instrument, that had, I believe, about a dozen Strings notted at the end, and with that I had Thirty Nine Stripes (so that according to a certain Almanack Maker, who reckoned Dr. _Oates's_ Stripes by every String, I had twelve times Thirty Nine). I had given the Rascal Half a Crown, but he afforded me very little favour, but struck home at every stroak; I confess I could not forbear bawling out, but good Sir _Robert_[81] knockt at last, and I was let out of the Stocks."

The prisoners, if they chose, could find their own food, but they were kept strictly at work as is quaintly put by Fuller--

"I had, in each Shop, the Thieves for my Fellow-labourers, and the Journeymen, our Deputy Task Masters, were frequently calling to the Prisoners, _Why don't you Work there, strike hard_: Then threaten, and sometimes beat them with a small Cane. These Task-masters are so accustomed to keeping their Prisoners hard at Work, that I have heard themselves say, they have, frequently, (forgetting themselves) called out, when they had no Prisoner in the Shop, as before, _Why don't you work there_."

Ward (in the "London Spy") gives an almost too graphic account of this prison, but expresses unmitigated disgust at the whipping of women, which took place there, and solemnly protested against its continuance. His description of a woman being flogged, is as follows:--

"My Friend Re-conducted me back into the first Quadrangle, and led me up a pair of Stairs into a Spacious Chamber, where the Court was sitting in great Grandeur and Order. A Grave Gentleman, whose Awful Looks bespoke him some Honourable Citizen, was mounted in the Judgement-Seat, Arm'd with a Hammer, like a _Change-Broker_ at _Lloyd's Coffee House_, when selling Goods by Inch of Candle, and a Woman under the Lash in the next Room; where Folding doors were open'd, that the whole Court might see the Punishment Inflicted; at last down went the Hammer, and the Scourging ceas'd.... Another Accusation being then deliver'd by a Flat-Cap against a poor Wench, who having no Friend to speak in her behalf, Proclamation was made, _viz. All you who are willing E----th T----ll, should have present Punishment, pray hold up your hands._ Which was done accordingly:

And then she was order'd the Civility of the House, and was forc'd to shew her tender Back and Breasts to the Grave Sages of the August Assembly, who were mov'd by her Modest Mein, together with the whiteness of her Skin, to give her but a gentle Correction."

John Howard, in his "State of the Prisons in England and Wales" (ed. 1777) gives the following description of Bridewell:--

"This building was formerly a Palace, near St. Bridget's (St. Bride's) Well; from whence it had the name; which, after it became a Prison, was applied to other Prisons of the same sort. It was given to the City by King Edward VI. in 1552.

"That part of Bridewell which relates to my subject has wards for men and women quite separate.[82] The men's ward on the ground floor, is a day room in which they beat hemp; and a night room over it. One of the upper chambers is fitting up for an Infirmary.--The woman's ward is a day room on the ground floor, in which they beat hemp; and a night room over it. I was told that the chamber above this is to be fitted up for an Infirmary. The sick, have, hitherto, been commonly sent to St. Bartholomew's Hospital. All the Prisoners are kept within doors.

"The women's rooms are large, and have opposite windows, for fresh air. Their Ward, as well as the men's, has plenty of water: and there is a Hand-Ventilator on the outside, with a tube to each room of the women's ward. This is of great service, when the rooms are crowded with Prisoners, and the weather is warm.

"The Prisoners are employed by a Hemp dresser, who has the profit of their labour, an apartment in the Prison, and a salary of L14. I generally found them at work: they are provided for, so as to be able to perform it. The hours of work are, in winter, from eight to four; in summer from six to six, deducting meal times. The Steward is allowed eightpence a day for the maintenance of each Prisoner; and contracts to supply them as follows:--On Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, a penny loaf, ten ounces of dressed beef without bone, broth, and three pints of ten shilling beer; on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, a penny loaf, four ounces of cheese, or some butter, a pint of milk pottage, and three pints of ten shilling beer.... In winter they have some firing. The night rooms are supplied with straw. No other Prison in _London_ has any straw, or other bedding.... I found there in 1776:--

March 13. Prisoners 20 May 1. " 7 Dec. 3. " 24."

It continued as a House of Correction for the City of London until its abolition, with other Civic prisons by an Act of 40 and 41 Vict. cap. 21, entitled "An Act to amend the Law relating to Prisons in England." But there was an exception made in its favour, and it still remains a House of Correction in a mild way--thanks to the very kindly and fatherly wishes and representations of the Civic Authorities.

The good old days of Apprenticing boys to some craft for seven years, during which he was to serve his master faithfully, and in return, was to be housed, fed, and taught his business, have all but passed away, but not quite. There are still some refractory apprentices, as there ever have been. We know the common saying of "Boys will be boys," which is applied in mitigation of juvenile indiscretion, but there is also another apothegm, "Little boys, when they are naughty, must be smacked, and sent to bed." Bridewell has always been a place where idle or refractory City apprentices have had the opportunity of pondering over the errors of their ways, and in passing this Act, a special exemption was made, and there still exist six cells, which, I am sorry to say, are frequently occupied by erring youths. It is all done in the kindest, and most fatherly way. The City Chamberlain from the time of the Indentures of the lad being signed, to giving him his Freedom, acts as his guardian, to a great extent. Has the lad any complaint to make against his master it is to the Chamberlain he must appeal, and _vice versa_. The Cause is heard _in camera_, and every effort is made to reconcile the parties, but, as will sometimes happen with a boy who is obstinate, sullen, or vicious, all attempts to bring him to a better sense fail, then the Chamberlain, by virtue of his office commits the boy to Bridewell, where he eats the bread, and drinks the water, of affliction for a while, a treatment, which combined with the confinement, hard work, and enforced sequestration from society, largely aided by the good advice of the Chaplain, very seldom fails to effect its object, and render that lad a decent member of the commonweal. It just arrests him in his downward path, there is no publicity, the thing is never chronicled in any Newspaper, as it might be, supposing no Bridewell existed, and the case was brought before a police magistrate--it need never be known outside his family circle, and he escapes the taint of being a gaol bird.

Bridewell seems to have been long associated with apprentices, not all of them "_Thomas Idles_," I am happy to say; and Hatton in "The New View of London" (1708) writes, showing the tender care that the City of London have always had for their poor:

"It is also an Hospital for Indigent Persons, and where 20 Art Masters (as they are called) being decayed Traders as Shoemakers, Taylors, Flax-dressers, &c., have Houses, and their Servants, or Apprentices (being about 140 in all) have Cloaths at the House Charge, and their Masters having the Profit of their Work do often advance by this means their own Fortunes, and these Boys, having served their time faithfully, have not only their Freedom, but also L10 each towards carrying on their respective Trades, and many have even arrived from nothing to be Governors."

This arrangement has, of course, had to "march with the times," and in 1860 the Master of the Rolls approved of, and sanctioned, a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, whereby nearly all the funds appertaining to Bridewell are utilized by two industrial schools called "King Edward's Schools," most impartially divided--one at Witley, in Surrey, affording accommodation for two hundred and forty boys, and another in St. George's Fields, Lambeth, for two hundred and forty girls; so that, even in these latter days, Bridewell still exists, and, if the spirits of its numerous benefactors have the power to see the manner in which their money is being spent, I fancy they would not grumble.

Before leaving the topic of Bridewell, as a prison, I must not fail to mention a notorious, but naughty, old woman who lived in the time of Charles II., commonly known as "Old Mother Cresswell." It is no slander on her memory, to say that her sense of morality was exceedingly lax, and she died in Bridewell. She evidently had saved some money, and with that curious spirit which possesses some people, and produces adulatory epitaphs, she would fain be better thought of after her death, than she was estimated when alive, for, in her will, she left a legacy for a sermon at her funeral, the preacher's remuneration to be L10, on one condition, that he should say nothing but what was _well_ of her. A clergyman having been found, he preached a sermon generally adapted to the occasion, and wound up by saying: "By the will of the deceased, it is expected that I should mention her, and say nothing but what was _well_ of her. All that I shall say of her, however, is this: she was born _well_, she lived _well_, and she died _well_; for she was born with the name of Cress_well_, she lived in Clerken_well_, and she died in Bride_well_."

There was a fine old Court-room, which is thus described in the "Microcosm of London" (1808):

"The Court-room is an interesting piece of antiquity, as on its site were held courts of justice, and probably _parliaments_, under our early kings. At the upper end are the old arms of England; and it is wainscotted with English Oak, ornamented with Carved work. This Oak was formerly of the solemn colour which it attains by age, and was relieved by the carving being gilt. It must have been no small effort of _ingenuity_ to destroy at one stroke all this venerable, time-honoured grandeur: it was, however, _happily_ achieved, by daubing over with paint the fine veins and polish of the old oak, to make a bad imitation of the pale modern wainscot; and other decorations are added in similar _taste_.

"On the upper part of the walls are the names, in gold letters, of benefactors to the hospital: the dates commence with 1565, and end with 1713. This is said to have been the Court in which the sentence of divorce was pronounced against Catherine of Arragon, which had been concluded on in the opposite monastery of the Black Friars.

"From this room is the entrance into the hall, which is a very noble one: at the upper end is a picture by Holbein,[83] representing Edward VI. delivering the Charter of the hospital to Sir George Barnes, then Lord Mayor; near him are William, Earl of Pembroke, and Thomas Goodrich, Bishop of Ely. There are ten figures in the picture, besides the king, whose portrait is painted with great truth and feeling: it displays all that languor and debility which mark an approaching dissolution, and which, unhappily, followed so soon after, together with that of the painter; so that it has been sometimes doubted whether the picture was really painted by Holbein--his portrait, however, is introduced; it is the furthest figure in the corner on the right hand, looking over the shoulders of the persons before him.

"On one side of this picture is a portrait of Charles II. sitting, and, on the other, that of James II. standing; they are both painted by Sir Peter Lely. Round the room are several portraits of the Presidents and different benefactors, ending with that of Sir Richard Carr Glyn. The walls of this room are covered with the names of those who have been friends to the institution, written in letters of gold."

This Hall was pulled down in 1862.