History of Bridewell Prison, 1553-1700

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London’s Bridewell Prison was the location of many “firsts” in penology. For the first time in world history, imprisonment at hard labor was substituted for corporal or capital punishment, which is the very definition of a penitentiary. In this connection, Bridewell should be regarded as the very first step in the development of the modern penitentiary. Indeed, its influence on the penitentiary system in America was enormous. Moreover, Bridewell still provides lessons in our own time as a reminder of how far we have not come relative to crime and punishment. Although Bridewell was a revolutionary experiment in penal reform, it ultimately failed to deliver what its proponents promised.


“ ... It is precisely because the image of the Bridewell Prison is familiar to us that Dr. Hinkle’s account raises unsettling questions. How far, really, have we come in the 450 years since London’s best civic minds devised a program combining punishment and correction? No farther than we might expect, perhaps, given how quickly the Bridewell experience demonstrated the predominance of values of punishment over values of restoration and renewal ... The image of Bridewell in this work does not tell us what to do in corrections. It does, however, explain that it is time for a change.” – (from the Foreword) Malcolm C. Young, Executive Director, The John Howard Association of Illinois

“The Bridewell Workhouse has been noted innumerably in the literature as one of the first workhouses attempting to control the dangerous classes in England’s society. Dr. Hinkle provides a thorough history of the political and social process leading to the initial development of Bridewell. He includes the legal and religious/political processes which caused a person to be assigned to Bridewell and to suffer abuses at the hands of some corrupt Bridewell administrators and local business owners. While some attempt was made to classify and ‘treat’ offenders based on the founding fathers’ lofty ideals, this work overwhelmingly illustrates the continuing failure of our corrections process which tries to change attitudes through punitive and restrictive measures, while failing to change the underlying causes of the social condition that supports behaviors the ruling elites find unfavorable.” – Professor William J. Hartley, Saint Joseph’s College

Table of Contents

1. Historical Context
2. The Royal Hospitals of London
3. The Foundation of Bridewell
4. Bridewell Palace
5. The Order of 1557
6. Administration at Bridewell
7. Classification and Treatment of Prisoners at Bridewell
8. Bridewell in the 16th Century
9. Bridewell in the 17th Century
10. Apprenticeships at Bridewell
11. The Court at Bridewell
12. Punishment at Bridewell
13. The Significance of Bridewell to Penology

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