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Main Bridewell, Liverpool

Description: Main Bridewell

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 19 June 1985
English Heritage Building ID: 213886

OS Grid Reference: SJ3448990726
OS Grid Coordinates: 334489, 390726
Latitude/Longitude: 53.4093, -2.9869

Location: Cheapside, Liverpool L2 2SX

Locality: Liverpool
County: Liverpool
Country: England
Postcode: L2 2SX

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Listing Text

SJ 3490 NE Ll

48/262 Main Bridewell


G.V. II*

Large bridewell, 1857-9, by John Weightman. Mellow brick, Flemish bond to front elevation, English bond to rear and side elevations, sandstone dressings, stone plinth, slate roof hidden from view by deep cornice and plain frieze. 4-storey front block, 3-storey rear wings plus basement, austere classical style

PLAN: Screen wall and narrow yard to front with bridewell set behind. Quadrangular plan consisting of taller front block and three lower wings to rear, arranged around internal yard area containing ventilation shafts. Interior: Corridors set along inside walls of quadrangle, offices and former cells to front block, cells to rear wings.

EXTERIOR: Cast-iron rainwater goods and external doors painted blue. Small barred cell windows to all elevations with cast-iron frames and glazing bars (small number of windows enlarged or altered, some with replaced glazing), sandstone sills and splayed lintels, third floor windows to front elevation in same style light attic laundry.
Screen wall: High red brick screen wall set upon sandstone plinth to front of bridewell, stone parapet (deeper to centre of wall), incorporates tall stone piers with vermiculated chamfered rustication and plain stone caps with moulded cornice. Arched doorway to centre of wall with quoined surround and prominent voussoirs, rustication in same style as piers, plain keystone, heavy timber door with timber panelling set within semi-circular light above, painted brickwork panels flanking door read 'MAIN' to left, 'BRIDEWELL' to right. Two lunette windows to deeper parapet section above doorway with iron glazing bars, projecting keystones and shaped voussoirs. Wide square vehicular entrance to far left of wall with sliding timber double doors.
Front elevation: 11 bays. Projecting ground floor of 9 bays with tall round-headed windows with moulded sandstone archivolts, stone cornice, projecting stone band between archivolts in style of arcade. Entrance doorway to bay 8 in same style as windows, recessed rectangular timber panel above replaced door reads 'MAIN BRIDEWELL'. Central 3 bays of elevation above project underneath a pediment. Three windows to far left of elevation on first and second floors are elongated with replaced bars. Mid-late C20 single-storey extension of brick (stretcher bond) attached to 2 bays on far right of ground floor projects to meet screen wall, square window with stone sill and lintel to inside wall. Full-height blank bay set back to each end of front elevation (containing the main stairs) with ground floor doorways to front (bay to left with two later blocked-up openings above), large 9-light windows to side returns lighting stairs, slender cast-iron hoist beam to attic level of left return.
Rear wings: Long 11-bay rear wings plainly detailed with windows in same style to each floor, three elongated windows and a blocked-up window to NW elevation, two elongated windows to SE elevation. Large truncated chimney. Mid-late C20 stair tower attached to SE side of building, hidden from view by front block. Rear wing parallel to front block with cell windows to central 5-bays, large 4-panel doors to ground floor leading to internal corridors with large 9-light windows above to first and second floors lighting upper floor corridors, later inserted window to right of ground floor, later lean-to cage with corrugated roof and metal barred gates for walls attached to part of ground floor. Altered later detached outbuildings to NW of bridewell alongside plain mellow brick boundary wall not of special interest.

INTERIOR: Cement and stone floors (some under later coverings), brick-vaulted ceilings to corridors and cells. Administrative offices to front ground floor projection with plain moulded cornicing and chimneybreasts, former cells immediately behind knocked through and incorporated into office/reception space (vaulted ceilings retained), paired supporting columns mark original line of cell rear walls. Wide corridors along inside walls of quadrangle with full-width barred gates, 4-panel doors, alcoves for water taps; two corridors running SW-NE, two running SE-NW (including front block). Large 4-panel doors to NE end of SW-NE ground-floor corridors lead to narrow rear yard, adjacent doorways with barred iron gates to SE side on ground and first floors providing access into magistrate courts link building now blocked up. Original stone stairs with wrought iron balusters, wreathed handrails and newels to each end of corridor to front block; that to right (SE) end provides access to attic. Cells to first and second floors of front block knocked through and converted into office space, some doors blocked up or sealed shut. Remaining cells (approx.60) with varying degrees of survival; most to ground and first floors retain heavy timber cell doors with plate iron sheeting and hatches, later wooden beds/bunks and toilets with low timber screens. Square cast-iron alcoves next to doors (originally for gas lights). Circular air vents above doors and operating handles form part of original air plenum system, original boilers and pipes removed to basement. Washrooms alongside NW & SE inner walls of quadrangle. Small mid-late C20 reception area to SE side of second floor formed from two former cells with altered windows, mid-late C20 stair in attached stair tower provides access into yard shared with adjacent magistrates court building. Original laundry machinery believed to survive to attic (not inspected). Large heavy plank doors with bars to basement, stone stair flights provide access into internal yard area.

HISTORY: In common with other urban centres across England, during the C18 and C19 Liverpool had a number of large prisons. The earliest was Liverpool Old Goal, which was in use from 1737-1811. This was succeeded by the much larger Borough Goal (1785 and completed c.1811, demolished), and later by New Walton Goal (c.1855, now HMP Liverpool) and Kirkdale County Goal & House of Correction (c.1820, demolished). In addition to these large-scale prisons there were a number of smaller bridewells (for temporary imprisonment), which in Liverpool acted as both police and fire stations (the City of Liverpool had a combined police and fire brigade from 1836-1941), with a small number of cells (usually 5-7), and a charge office.

The Main Bridewell, Cheapside, was constructed in 1857-9 on a much larger scale than most bridewells (its predecessor incorporated the functions of ten district bridewells). It was designed by John Weightman, the Corporation Surveyor, as part of a police station and courts complex for the Corporation of Liverpool at the heart of the city centre. The complex also included a fire station fronting Hatton Garden (replaced in 1897). The cost of the land and the construction of the buildings on the entire site was £121,997. Historic records reveal that the bridewell was opened in 1860 and it is believed to have originally had approximately 80-90 cells (an 1862 report records 32 cells on the second floor alone), which was later reduced to approx.60. It originally held both men and women on mixed floors. Cells to the front of the building on each floor were knocked through in the mid-late C20 and became offices when the Main Bridewell was used as a police station and lock-up. During the mid-late C20 the second floor was used as a women's wing and a staircase was constructed to the SE side of the building to provide separate access. The original detached Governor's house to the SE of the bridewell was demolished in the mid-late C20.

John Weightman designed a number of other buildings in Liverpool, including the Municipal Buildings (1860-66, Grade II*), Magistrates Court (1857-9, Grade II), and William Brown Library & Museum (1857-60, Grade II*). He is also believed to have been responsible for the design of New Walton Gaol in association with Charles James Pierce, which was constructed in 1855 (now much altered but retains its Grade II listed entrance tower).

A Brodie, J Croom & J O Davies. English Prisons: An Architectural History (2002)
T May. Victorian and Edwardian Prisons (2006)
R Pollard & N Pevsner. The Buildings of England Series. Lancashire: Liverpool and the South-West (2006), 74 & 301.

Unpublished Sources:
Report of the Head Constable. 1905.
Specifications for the Main Lock-Up, Cheapside. c.1840s/50s.
The Main Bridewell, Cheapside & the context of nineteenth century prison architecture. Merseyside County Museums c.1975. (All at Liverpool City Archives).
Report on the Police Establishment and the State of Crime, with Tabular Returns for the year ended 29th September 1860. (Merseyside Police Archives).

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The Main Bridewell is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* It is a very rare example of a large mid-C19 city centre bridewell and its scale is unique nationally
* It is one of the best survivals of an 1850s penal building and provides a clear impression of Victorian prison life
* It is a highly impressive and imposing classically styled building that successfully conveys the strength and power of the judicial system, and communicates both a sense of impregnability and watchfulness
* Overall it is very well preserved both externally and internally and retains many original interior features, including cell doors, late C19/early C20 fixed cell furniture, and the original plenum heating and ventilation system
* Despite some internal alteration the original plan layout remains largely intact and clearly readable
* It has group value with the grade II listed Magistrates Court and grade II* listed Municipal Buildings on Dale Street, and the grade II listed former Hatton Garden fire station on Hatton Garden, in forming a well-defined and important group of mid-late C19 law and government buildings

Listing NGR: SJ3448590719

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.