Heritage Open Day Town Bridge Lock Up

Bradford on Avon goes from LockDown to LockUp!!!

Ever wondered what’s inside the Lock Up? Come along and see what a traditional prison cell Lock Up is like!
We will be opening the town bridge Lock Up between Thursday 16th September to Sunday 19th Sept, from 10 am-4 pm each day.
Bradford on Avon volunteers will walk you safely over the town bridge and into the prison cell where you will experience a little bit of history!

In the heart of the historic wool town of Bradford on Avon is a medieval stone bridge and lock-up listed as Grade 1 by Historic England. The bridge crosses the River Avon and was little more than a packhorse bridge when it was built in the 13th Century. That’s over 700 years ago, in the time of Edward I, the first model parliament and the defeat of Braveheart. The bridge supplemented the broad ford across the river after which the town was named.

Two of the pointed arches on the library end, on the upstream side, survive from that time and show the great age of the structure. The pier of the second arch is wider than the others and supports a stone building with a domed roof. This is the Lock Up that is also referred to as the ‘Chapel on the Bridge’.

The bridge was widened during the 1700s and what may have originally been a chapel was rebuilt as the town Lock Up. It was also called a ‘blind house’ because, at that time, it had no windows. Prisoners were held in it until they could be brought before the magistrate. Drunks were held overnight until they were sober.

On its domed roof is a 16th Century gilded weather vane in the shape of a fish, known as the Bradford Gudgeon. Prisoners were said to be ‘under the fish and over the water’.

In 1825 the Lock Up was made into two cells. Each had an iron bed frame with shackles and a lidded lavatory or ‘long-drop. It discharged into the river! The long drops replaced the original drain in the corner of the floor. This had been blocked and mortared over and was not discovered until the refurbishment of 2015.

By 1855 the Lock Up became redundant when a new town hall was built. This accommodated the newly established Wiltshire County Constabulary with its own prison cells.

In 2015 a refurbishment of the interior, led by the volunteers of the Lock Up Patch Up Team, was undertaken. It was enthusiastically supported by the Town Council and funded by visitor donations and the Wiltshire Council. It halted the deterioration and detachment of the iron fittings and stonework to make it safe for visitors. The Lock Up Patch Up Team received recognition for their work with a listing in Historic England’s Angel Awards.

In 2016 the English Civil War Society used the Lock Up in a re-enactment it staged of a Civil War skirmish in Bradford on Avon in 1643.

The Lock Up remains a thoroughly interesting piece of the Bradford on Avon’s history and a significant tourist attraction. It is without question a place to visit on the Heritage Open Days held in September each year.