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Binford Place, Bridgwater
001: Number 7 Fore Street


No.7 Fore Street in the 1950s.

Number 7 Fore Street was from 1832 the location of Bridgwater' Gaol. The Gaol moved to the police station at the junction of High Street and Clare Street in 1875. The Lipton's shop frontage here was built about that time, although parts of the gaol and its fixtures remained behind (see the 1946 description below). The whole site was demolished in 1966 by the West Somerset and East Devon Cooperative Society as part of their supermarket development.


Bridgwater Gaol, sometime between 1834 and 1875. This picture was taken from Squibbs' History of Bridgwater (no.53), although it is unclear from where Squibbs took it. Squibbs dated the image to 1865. It may be part of a letterhead, or perhaps part of wider newspaper montage. It is the only known image of the gaol's main facade.

The Gaol in Fore Street was built in 1834, replacing a smaller gaol, the 'Cockmoyle', which was located on part of the site now occupied by the back of the Cornhill market house. Three bells from the old gaol were transferred to the new. Details on the bells can be found here. The gaol also contained a strongroom for the Borough Archives.

This building was designed by Richard Carver, who also designed Bridgwater's Town Hall and Holy Trinity Church. Bridgwater Gaol's facade was almost identical to the portal of Shepton Mallet Gaol, also designed by Carver in 1830. Carver's plans (wrongly dated to 1854) can be found at the Somerset Heritage Centre, reference Q/RUP/240a. Carver was also responsible for the County Court building in Queen Street, built in 1824.


The portal of Shepton Mallet Gaol, by Richard Carver, 1830 - more or less identical to Bridgwater's. Picture by Nigel Freeman from Wikimedia Commons.

Powell's Bridgwater in the Later Days, 1908

(p.196)...there was always the fear of the old gaol in Fore Street. This solemn looking building was adorned in front with a festoon of fetters or gyves, well calculated to strike terror into the hearts of evil doorers. Four of the gaol-keepers are still remembered: Mr Green, Mr Gover, Mr James Bussell, and Mr Thomas Lear, who afterwards became superintendent of the police. Part of the old gaol wall is still standing, and can be seen behind Messrs Bond's premises in Fore Street near the bridge.

Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser 11 September 1943
OLD BRIDGWATER GAOL

The correspondence regarding the period when the Somerset Assizes were held in Bridgwater has brought to light some interesting facts about the old Bridgwater Gaol. It stood in Fore Street on the site of Messrs. Lipton's shop and extended back as far as the premises now used as St. George's R.C. School. When the provision shop was built, however, only the front part of the site was used, the remainder of the gaol being left intact without an entrance, and in that state it remains today, except that the cells at the extreme end were demolished by Mr H. H. Mellows, butcher, Fore Street, who acquired the property in order to extend the accommodation in his yard. The stone outer walls of the gaol are of massive size, the one at the rear being about a yard and a half thick. Inside are several rooms, now in a state of dilapidation, with the exception of the detention room, which still contains the rings and chains by which prisoners were fastened. Most of the hand-wrought iron grilles over the window spaces are still in position. Relics of the gaol preserved at the Blake Museum are the three bells on which the gaol clock struck the hours, and a piece of glass from one of the cells on which a prisoner scratched his name. According to Colonel Edward Trevor, whose family has been connected with the legal profession in the town for about 150 years, the Assizes were at one time held in the gaol, and his father, when a boy, was taken to the gaol to see the body of a man who had just been hanged there.

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