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village prison

village prison

the lock-up

The Lock-Up was built as the village prison in 1824 to replace the previous prison that had become unusable, which had been sited for centuries in the Church Yard. When the new Lock-Up was originally built it would have boasted heavy solid wooden doors that have long-since decayed.

Law and order was upheld by the local Magistrate, and also through the Church, a powerful force in those days. There were no official Police, the Gloucestershire Constabulary was only founded in 1836, but local men were appointed as village Constables. They were usually men who were sufficiently big in stature, and of good character.

Bisley, around this time – 1824, was a poor place indeed. The gentry were few in number and had a reasonably pleasant existence in their large houses and with horses and carriages to get around. For the ordinary folk poverty was all too common. The industrial revolution had taken work away from the cottage weavers, and those still in work were being paid less than a quarter of the wages they’d earned twenty years before.

Bisley at the crossroads of the Cheltenham Road and the route to Cirencester was becoming increasing less popular to traders and visitors because of the difficult hills and roads, and the weekly market here had all but died out.

The Workhouse, at Joiners Lane, was full of folk who could not provide for themselves, and conditions there were wretched. Crime and prostitution were rife, and drunkenness was made all the more easy by the large number of Ale Houses in the village.

Punishment was cruel; the Lock-up held prisoners long enough to be put before the Magistrate, or drunks overnight to sober up. Then followed the options of a fine, or a spell in the Stocks or the Pillory – and this was for the most petty of offences. More serious crime such as stealing or assault would see the prisoner sent to Horsley where there stood a large prison known as the House of Correction. Hard Labour was inflicted by 20 minute spells on the massive treadmill that prisoners took in turn, a dozen or so at a time, for up to 16 hours a day.

Those who were sent to the Court of Assize, or the Court of Quarter Session faced severe sentences, where death by hanging was common. Others; men, women and children, were transported by the Navy to Australasia for periods of seven years or life. Many died in horrendous conditions, held like slaves, during the crossing. None returned.

The lock-up was restored to its current good condition in 1998, with Heritage Lottery funding, and the restoration was marked by a specially written Mummers Play, performed in the road in front of it (a photo of which is on display in The Bear).