I remember being in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the late 1980s when there was a local football derby match on. Fans from both teams had turned up in town early and had been drinking since the pubs opened. The inevitable happened and there was a bit of a scuffle that the Police were on in no time. One guy was arrested for being drunk and disorderly. As he was being taken away, one of his friends asked where he was being taken.
The Police Officer involved replied:
“He’s off to The Bridewell.”
I had never heard the term before and couldn’t find it on any maps of the city.
More recently I was down south and spotted a sign on the side of a building. I asked one of the Police nearby why it was called Bridewell. She didn’t know and got quite flustered that I had even asked. So I decided to find out.
It seems as though the story begins back in the days of King Henry VIII.
Bridewell Palace was built on a site formerly occupied by the medieval St Bride’s Inn for King Henry VIII. However, in 1553 King Edward VI gave the palace to the City of London to provide homeless children with shelter. Three years later the palace became a hospital, though part of the building was converted into gaol which was known as Bridewell Prison. It is this use of part of the original palace that spawned the slang term Bridewell for a Police Station with cells.