Village lock-ups are historic buildings that were used for the temporary detention of people in rural parts of England and Wales. They were often used for the confinement of drunks who were usually released the next day or to hold people being brought before the local magistrate. A typical village lock-up is a small structure with a single door and a narrow slit window or opening. Most lock-ups feature a dome or spire shaped roof and are commonly built from brick, large stones or timber. The village lock-up is found in a variety of shapes often round or polygonal in plan, usually freestanding but some are attached to or incorporated in other buildings. Variations in design, materials and appearance do occur although they were all built to perform the same function. Village lock-ups have acquired a range of local nicknames including blind-house, bone-house, bridewell, cage, jug, kitty, lobby, guard-house, round-house, tower and watch-house.
Rise of the village lock-up
The majority of surviving village lock-ups date from the 18th and 19th centuries when rural communities struggled to police thefts, burglaries, shootings, drunkenness, the obstruction of watchmen and the stealing of livestock. During this period a number of lock-ups were built as a temporary place of detention for local rogues and miscreants until they could be removed to a town. Over time they became synonymous with drunkenness and many references to this coupling can be found in famous works of literature, including Barnaby Rudge (1841). by Charles Dickens, and The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby (1863). by Charles Kingsley, which contains the following line:
'Put him in the round house till he gets sober.’
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.’
Some lock-ups also had stocks, ducking stools, pillories, or pinfolds alongside them and the origins of the 18th century village lock-up evolved from much earlier examples of holding cells and devices.
Decline and later uses
The village lock-up fell out of use when the County Police Act was introduced in 1839 and local police stations were built with their own holding facilities. The Act allowed Justices of the Peace to set up a paid police force in each county and made it compulsory for that force to be provided with proper police stations and secure cells. The village lock-up became a redundant edifice as a result and only a small fraction have survived the intervening century and a half.
In recent years a number of village lock-ups have been restored, and graded as listed buildings. Some are regarded as local heritage attractions while others remain in a ruinous state or have been converted into private buildings.
The official register of these structures and their locations, including those which have been lost, is held by the Village Lock-up Association (e-mail: email@example.com).
Notable village lock-ups
D. H. Lawrence and his German-born wife Frieda had to report to the lock-up in Wirksworth during the First World War when they lived at Middleton-by-Wirksworth.
Surviving lock-up locations in England and Wales
(An asterisk is used to denote lock-ups that have been assimilated into other buildings such as a church or house.)
Swanage (a lock up in Lyme Regis is now a part of a building)
Barnard Castle*, Staindrop*
- East Sussex
- Greater London
Bridstow, Leintwardine* Yarpole*
Bury, North Meols, Poulton le Fylde?, Prescot,
Docking, Great Yarmouth, Thetford?,
Barmouth, Clynnog Fawr,
- ^ Kingsley, Charles. The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby.
- ^ The Round House Worthington, Worthington Parish Council Pamphlet, produced by North West Leicestershire District Council.
- ^ Oxford English Dictionary.
- ^ 'Cornhill, Gracechurch Street, and Fenchurch Street', Old and New London: Volume 2 (1878), pp. 170-183.
- Plumridge, Andrew The National Directory of Village Lock-Ups, Stocks, Pillories, Gallows, Gibbets, Pounds and Pinfolds, and Other Pre-Police Force Punishment and Detention Devices
- Shipman, Juliet The Bisley Lock-up: A story of crime and punishment
Media related to Village lock-ups at Wikimedia Commons