This is yet another wee blog using the Annals of Aberdeen (covering the period from the early 13thcentury to the early 19th century) as a source from which to discover more about this amazing city in which we live and work.

Scrolling through the pages, I came across a section on ‘the Bridewell.’   I admit, I had no idea what a ‘Bridewell’ was, but, as usual, Mr Google came to the rescue.  It transpires that a Bridewell was not what it sounds: in fact, it was a term for a jail!

Although the Annals refer to the problems of petty (and not so petty) criminals from time to time, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the city got around to building a proper jail. Attitudes were not that much different in those days, although perhaps stated more openly than today.  The Annals tell us that, “The establishment of houses of correction for petty delinquents, in various parts of the kingdom, has unquestionably been attended with salutary effects to society in general. The main object of these institutions is the reformation of offenders…training them to habits of industry; while at the same time, solitary confinement has a tendency to awaken reflection in their minds.”

The Aberdeen Bridewell was in Rose Street, with the entry to the prison from Union Street.  It came into being in 1809 following an Act of Parliament in 1802 and an indication of the size of Aberdeen at this time can be gleaned from the fact that the Annals record, “it is situated near the entrance to the town from the south.”

Although we tend to think of the prison regime of this period as being entirely repressive, there appear to have been serious attempts at rehabilitation and helping the prisoners back into society.  Their complaints were even listened to, with the Annals telling us, “the commissioners … who visit the house once every month, inspect the several prisoners … and inquire into and redress any complaints made by any of them, with regard to their treatment.”

The Bridewell was in use till 1868, when it was closed and later demolished and the site was laid out as the West End Pleasure Gardens and Recreation Grounds, which existed for a short while. The gateway to the prison had a porter’s lodge (you can see a photo of it here) and a guardhouse attached.  This remained until 1883, when it was demolished to allow Rose Street to be extended northwards to link with Henry Street which in turn led on to Skene Street. Henry Street was subsequently absorbed into Rose Street which, as we know it today, is somewhat different to what it was like when it was the gateway to the town calaboose!

Julie Skinner, Resourcing and Benefits Specialist, RGU