Bridewell becomes the first House of Correction

Bridewell Prison was the first house of correction in England. Originally built as a royal palace for Henry VIII in 1515, Edward VI gave Bridewell to the City of London in 1553. Bridewell was established to be multipurpose, with a “keeper’s side” serving as a correctional facility and a “steward’s side” for housing orphans. The prison held those who committed minor crimes; usually vice, vagrancy, or prostitution. Rather than a place of incarceration, it was meant to be a place to punish and correct inmates through whippings and hard labor, and most offenders were released within two weeks of their arrival. Bridewell changed greatly during the prison reform era, with the open prison system – prisoners being allowed to interact and possessions allowed in and out – being replaced by a stricter regime.

The orphanage aimed to provide a home for deserving children and offer them a basic education and training in some skill. The program was smaller than the prison, and it was reduced with the decline of apprenticeships in the late 1700s and prison reformers’ concerns about inmates’ corrupting the students.

A Court of Governors and various Committees, who jointly ran Bridewell with Bethlem Hospital, managed the residents and the finances of the institution. A notable aspect of Bridewell’s operations was its particularly comprehensive health system. Because Bridewell served as both an orphanage and a prison, and people wanted to care for the children, both a physician and a surgeon attended to the inmates and orphans.

Over its 300 years of operation, Bridewell became the basis for future orphanages, workhouses, and prisons. Within just three years of its initiation, similar institutions increased immensely all over Europe. The word “bridewell” became synonymous with “large prison”. Bridewell, as the first house of correction, set important precedents for inmate standards and systems of governance of correctional institutions for the rest of the country and world.


Fideler, Paul A. Social Welfare in Pre-industrial England: The Old Poor Law Tradition. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 80-82.

Hitchcock, Tim; Sharon Howard and Robert Shoemaker, “Bridewell”, London Lives, 1690-1800. Accessed January 10, 2016. (, version, 1.1 17 June 2012).

Hitchcock, Tim; Sharon Howard and Robert Shoemaker, “Houses of Correction”, London Lives, 1690-1800. Accessed January 10, 2016. (, version, 1.1 17 June 2012).

Hitchcock, Tim; and Robert Shoemaker. London Lives: Poverty, Crime and the Making of a Modern City, 1690–1800. Cambridge University Press, 2015. Kindle Edition. 306.