For a little while now I have been looking out for prisons, lock-up’s, Gaols, Bridewell’s etc in Cheshire, as part of research for http://www.prisonhistory.org. I have found it interesting in seeing how the places of temporary enforced confinement played a role in the development of society as we know it. Apart from the physical evidence, i.e. the places themselves, there is little remaining. I suppose this is mainly due to the transient nature of the occupants, possibly detained overnight until they had sobered up, or had been dealt with by the authorities.
Early lock-up’s seem to have been a requisite of places where a market was held, and took the place of stocks and pillories, which themselves were used to hold prisoners. Cheshire was unusual by having the centre of Justice in Chester, at the furthest point from most of the county. Therefore when we know that a felon was tried in Chester, they had to be transported a huge distance, in the days when roads were very basic, but there were few alternatives means of transport.
It is possible that lock-ups were built not only for the local criminals, but for the ‘passing trade’ of felons being taken for more serious crimes to be dealt with at Chester. There does seem to be a close association with inns – there are not many lock up’s that are not very close to a pub or Inn. Is it possible then that the prisoners were lodged in the lock up whilst the escorting officers spent the night resting at the Inn, before trudging onward the next day? Could the lock up be an additional source of income for the innkeeper?
There is a very good chance we will never know the stories, but with a little research, who knows what picture can be built up.