The City Bridewell, commonly called Bridewell Hospital, in Bridge Street, Blackfriars, was once a royal palace. The buildings here have been much improved of late years; the principal part of this edifice was formerly appropriated to the teaching of trades to the apprentices on the hospital establishment, with houses for the masters, &c. The instruction of the boys, however, is now conducted in the house of occupation erected in St. George's Fields. Dissolute women, vagrants, and disorderly apprentices, are principally confined here.
Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844
is named from the famous well in the vicinity of St. Bride's Church; and this
prison being the first of its kind, all other houses of correction, upon the
same plan, were called Bridewells. In the Nomenclator, 1585, occurs
" a workhouse where servants be tied to their work at Bridewell; a
house of correction; a prison." We read of a treadmill at work at
Bridewell in 1570.
Bridewell was, until lately, used as a receptacle for vagrants committed by the Lord Mayor and sitting Aldermen; as a temporary lodging for persons previous to their being sent home to their respective parishes; and a certain number of boys were brought up to different trades; and it is still used for apprentices committed by the City Chamberlain. The male prisoners sentenced to and fit for hard labour were employed on the treadwheel, by which corn was ground for the supply of Bridewell, Bethlehem, and the House of Occupation; the younger prisoners, or those not sentenced to hard labour, were employed in picking junk and cleaning the wards; the females were employed in washing, mending, and getting up the linen and bedding of the prisoners, or in picking junk and cleaning the prison. The punishments for breaches of prison rules were diminution of food, solitary confinement, and irons, as the case might be. In 1842 were confined here 1324 persons, of whom 233 were under seventeen, and 466 were known or reputed thieves. In 1818 no employment was furnished to the prisoners. The seventh Report of the Inspectors of Prisons returned Bridewell as answering no one object of improvement except that of safe custody; it does not correct, deter, or reform; and nothing could be worse than the association to which all but the City apprentices were subjected. However, in 1829, there was built, adjoining Bethlehem Hospital, in Lambeth, a "House of Occupation," whither young prisoners were thenceforth sent from Bridewell to be taught useful trades.
The prison of Bridewell was taken down in 1863; and the committals are now made to the City Prison, at Holloway. Meanwhile a portion of Bridewell hospital will be reserved for the detention and reformation of incorrigible City apprentices committed here by the Chamberlain from time to time; this jurisdiction being preserved by the Court of Chancery in dealing with the matters which concern the disposal of the building and the estates of the governors of the Hospital. Reformatory schools are also to be built from the revenue of Bridewell, stated at 12,000l. per annum. At the Social Science Congress, in 1862, the worthy Chamberlain read a paper on the peculiar jurisdiction of his Court. In the prison, special care was taken to prevent the apprentices snaking the acquaintance of the low vagrants and misdemeanants who ordinarily occupied the building. The apprentices were placed in small cells, closed in with double doors, which shut out sound as effectually as sight; communication was, therefore, nearly impossible. Hereafter, only the apprentices will be confined here. The number of committals rarely exceeds twenty-five annually. At the date of our last visit there was but one apprentice confined here. Although the number is so small, the power of committal, which the Chamberlain has most praiseworthily asserted and successfully maintains, acts as a terror to evildoers, keeping in restraint about 3000 of these lads of the City.
John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867