Village lock-up

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Lock-up in Breedon on the Hill, Leicestershire
Interior cell of lock-up in Lacock, Wiltshire

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 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[edit]

Lock-up in Hilperton, Wiltshire

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[1]
"The Blind House", Box, Wiltshire

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]

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.

The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, refers to a round-house as a place of detention for arrested persons and dates its first written usage to 1589.[3]

Decline and later uses[edit]

Lock-up in Trowbridge, Wiltshire

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.

During World War II many lock-ups were used by the Home Guard as sentry posts or places for storing arms.

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:

Notable village lock-ups[edit]

Castle Cary lock up, reputed to have inspired the shape of the British police helmet

The crest of Everton Football Club features Everton Lock-Up which still stands on Everton Brow, Liverpool.

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.

The roof of Castle Cary lock-up is reputed to have inspired the design of the modern British police helmet.

In 1281 a structure similar to a common village lock-up (the Tun) was erected in Cornhill, central London. It was a two-storey barrel shaped design and had a single cell on each floor.[4]

Surviving lock-up locations in England and Wales[edit]

The lock-up in Shrewton is a local landmark, appearing on the town's welcome signs.

(An asterisk is used to denote lock-ups that have been assimilated into other buildings such as a church or house.)


Barton in the Clay, Clophill, Harrold, Silsoe


Aldermaston, Pangbourne


Amersham, Great Missenden, Wendover*, West Wycombe


Anstey, Broughton, Burwell, Coveney, Eaton Socon, Fen Drayton, Fenstanton, Litlington, Needingworth, Parson Drove, Sawtry


Farndon, Kelsall,[5] Widnes


Alfreton, Ashbourne?, Church Gresley?, Curbar, Cromford, Derwent Valley Mills*, Melbourne?, Sandiacre, Smisby, Swarkestone (Ruin?), Ticknall, Weston on Trent?, Wirksworth*


Swanage (a lock up in Lyme Regis is now a part of a building)


Barnard Castle*, Staindrop*

East Sussex


Tollesbury lockup

Bradwell on Sea, Canewood, Great Bardfield, *Orsett, Steeple Bumpstead?, Stoke by Nayland?, Thaxted?, Tollesbury

Bisley, Gloucestershire lockup

Bisley, Bibury, Cirencester, Filkins, Moreton in the Marsh, Stroud*, Thornbury, Westerleigh*

Greater London

Petersham, London[6]


Easton (ruin), Odiham


Bridstow, Leintwardine*, Yarpole*


Anstey, Ashwell, Barley, Buntingford, Shenley


Dartford, Lenham, Wateringbury


Bury, North Meols, Poulton le Fylde?, Prescot


Barrow-upon-Soar, Breedon-on-the-Hill, Castle Donington?, Packington, Worthington


Deeping St James, Digby


Everton, Wavertree, Woolton


Docking, Great Yarmouth, Thetford?






Edwinstowe?, Mansfield Woodhouse?, Tuxford


Banbury*, Bicester*, Burford*, Stonesfield, Wheatley

Bathford lock-up

Bathford, Buckland Dinham?, Castle Cary, Frome, Kelston Kilmersdon, Kingsbury Episcopi, Mells, Merriott, Monkton Combe, Nunney, Pensford, St Mary's Nether Stowey, Watchett, Wells*


Alton, Gnosall, Penkridge, Stafford


Sproughton, Woolpit


Charlwood, Ewell, Lingfield

Bradford on Avon lock-up
Bromham lock-up

Box, Bradford on Avon, Bromham, Chippenham, Devizes, Great Bedwyn, Heytesbury, Hilperton, Lacock, Luckington, Shrewton, Steeple Ashton, Trowbridge, Warminster


Addingham?, Illingworth, Heptonstall, Holmfirth, Hunmanby, Kirkheaton, Luddenhan, Nether Poppleton?, North Stainley?, Oswaldkirk, Rastrick, Rotherham, Seamer, Snaith, Topcliffe?, Wath-upon-Dearne




Bagillt?, Hawarden


Barmouth, Clynnog Fawr


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kingsley, Charles (1863). The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby. 
  2. ^ Worthington Parish Council, The Round House Worthington, North West Leicestershire District Council. (pamphlet). 
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary.
  4. ^ "Cornhill, Gracechurch Street, and Fenchurch Street'". Old and New London 2. 1878. pp. 170–183. 
  5. ^ Fison, Vanessa (2009). The Matchless Vale: the story of Ham and Petersham and their people. Ham and Petersham Association. pp. 104–105. ISBN 978-0-9563244-0-5. 
  6. ^ Historic England. "Lock UP on the end of the barn at Weldon House  (Grade II) (1130532)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Village lock-ups at Wikimedia Commons