Pints and Prisons: The Bridewell

So my family and I really enjoy a cheeky pint or two or a nice bottle of wine and we are always on the look out for new places to try out. For me in particular, I always enjoy finding bars and restaurants with a history, after all I do run a history blog! So it was with history and beer in mind that we stumbled across a rather unique bar whilst in Liverpool; The Bridewell.

What is The Bridewell I hear you ask? Read below to find out!

The Bridewell was an old prison first opened in 1864 which covered the marine area of Liverpool, historically home to thieves, vagabonds, prostitutes and a lot of drunk sailors! This Bridewell however was not alone, it was once one of many in the city of Liverpool, the name Bridewell just meaning prison. Liverpool used to have an interesting policy regarding Bridewell’s however which stated that they should be situated no further than one and a half miles apart. This policy was in place so that officers who had apprehended a criminal would only have to walk a maximum of three quarters of a mile with the criminal in question. When you think that officers would be struggling with strong, mostly drunken men who were probably decidedly anti-police with friends lurking to free their arrested mate from the officers grasp by any means necessary, three quarters of a mile sounds far enough to walk to me! The Bridewell also would have had a ‘blue lamp’ which shone brightly at night, acting almost like a lighthouse for the officer, guiding him to a sanctuary where he would be safe and his prisoner jailed. It must have been a scary time to be walking the streets at night, especially when looking at old police reports which state that in 1863 there were over 26,000 arrests made in Liverpool that year alone! So you can see why numerous Bridewell’s were needed around the city.

This particular Bridewell however is doubly famous. Not only is it one of the only surviving Bridewells in Liverpool, but it also has links with Charles Dickens who expressed his interest to see the Liverpool police force at work. It is said that he was posted to this Bridewell where he patrolled around the area including the docks acting for one night as a constable. He then wrote about his experiences in the ‘Uncommercial Traveller’ where he states “I had entered the Liverpool police force that I might have a look at the various unlawful tramps.” I feel sorry for the “unlawful tramps” he was gawping at it has to be said and this comment did annoy me greatly. However, his presence in the police force for one night must have made its mark as there is a plaque there which commemorates his very short service in the force.

The Bridewell was used throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th, used in World War II by the U.S military. Slowly after the end of the Second World War however the Bridewell fell into disrepair and stopped functioning as a prison, eventually being transformed into the bar it is today.

So how did it feel sitting in an old cell having a pint? (or two, or three!)

It felt a bit strange sitting in what was once a prison, seeing the strong metal doors that once kept people hemmed in with no escape, made even more sinister by the shackles- original or not I don’t know – lining several walls. It is hard to imagine after several pints that this now happy boozer was once a place of decided misery for anyone unlucky enough to end up in there.

However, that being said, it was pretty cool to be shown to a ‘cell’ and these cells, whilst probably cramped to a prisoner, are spacious for drinking parties – though only up to 6 from two households now- thanks Covid. The experience was made even cooler by the exceptional bartender we had that day who was particularly knowledgeable about the history of Liverpool, so we ended up spending a lot of time in there listening to all of his interesting stories and facts. He even told us that as well as a bar The Bridewell served as a music venue with acts like Frankie Goes to Hollywood writing their hit songs in the cells there during the early 1980’s. Overall, we had a great time in combining history and pints and we will be back next time we hit the streets of Liverpool.

But, there is one thing I couldn’t help but think when I was there which is that I would hate to be stranded in The Bridewell after hours, alone, when all the laughter had left the building.

Despite its warm fuzzy atmosphere when populated, I get the distinct feeling that when once again abandoned the narrow corridors and cells would take on a more sinister glow and one may feel surrounded by the ghosts of prisoners past…

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