Historic images of lock-ups: ‘Before and after’ edition

The power of ‘before and after’ shots can show us how our local lock-ups have changed – often over the span of centuries.

Over the past few weeks the team at Prison History have been delighted to receive a wealth of historic images of lock-ups in Wiltshire, courtesy of Stephen Smith and Naomi Sackett at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

Melksham Lock-up. Demolished in 1946. Photographed between 1939 and 1946. Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre: MODES Database WILTM:P53746 (with kind permission).

Sketches, old photos, drawings, and watercolours of lock-ups are of particular value. For the many lock-ups which have been demolished, historic images have an obvious value. They are our only surviving visual record. Without these pictures, we would have to rely on often sketchy textual descriptions.

For those lock-ups which do survive today, having historic images allows us to chart significant and minor variations in their structures and key features. We can check if doors have been replaced, if roofs have been altered, or if distinctive elements have been removed (or added). We can confirm the location of doors and apertures since bricked up. And we can get a sense of the proximity of the lock-up to surrounding buildings.

Historic images serve another important purpose: they give us a sense of the place of the lock-up in the local community over time. The built environment in so many villages and towns has changed significantly over the past two hundred or so years. Some lock-ups, which, today, sit within sleepy 20th century housing estates, were once located at the centre of busy communities, surrounded by facilities such as shops and public houses. Others, located on the outskirts of a village or town, have become consumed by urban sprawl.

Cranford lock-up, now at the heart of a west London housing estate. Restored by Heritage of London Trust (image with kind permission)

Because so many lock-ups were located on the main thoroughfare, modern roads, with their requirements in terms of size and safety features, have compromised the position of the lock-up – a number have been moved out of the way, some have even been destroyed when large vehicles have ploughed into them!

Damage caused to Gnosall lock-up when a lorry travelling on the A518 crashed into it in the early 1970s. Relocated and rebuilt shortly after. Photo © C Peter Jobling (with kind permission)

Other lock-ups, located in village squares, now sit at the heart of public carparks, surrounded by all manner of modern vehicles. In other words, the modern built environment, modern facilities and modern transport tend to playdown the historic significance of these monuments. Many no longer look as proud and eye-catching as they once did.

Roundhouse, Castle Cary, in the middle of a car park. Photo © Chris Andrews (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Historic images also give us a sense of the changing use of the lock-up over time, and the way in which local people interacted with this facility. The lock-up was not necessarily something that village people avoided. The attachment of water pumps, for example, forced local people to use the building, in other words, to interact with it. Lock-ups situated on village greens brought children, keen to use that valuable space for play, into close proximity.

Finally, the various media used for these historic images of lock-ups also provide us with some clues as to the importance of these buildings. Lock-ups featured on old postcards, suggesting a need to share images of these distinctive monuments. Paintings and drawings suggest an appreciation of their beauty. Lock-ups were just as often the primary subject of these historic images, as they were incidentally captured in more general views of local topography and community life.

Village lock-ups were community facilities. At the same time, these important buildings represented an expression of the state at the most local level. This was, arguably, how the majority experienced criminal justice before the late 19th century.

A selection of our favourite ‘before and after’ lock-up photos

Box Blind House, before and after - historic images of lock-ups, by Prison History

Box Blind House, Wiltshire. Two photographs, twenty-five years apart. Very little has changed here. Even the advertising boards on the stone wall surrounding the lock-up are intact. This is in spite of the increase in traffic on this busy road through the heart of the village. (Acknowledgements: Photograph of the Blind House, Box, Sept 1983, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, MODES Database, P13079 (with kind permission); 2008: The Blind House, Box Photo © Maurice Pullin (cc-by-sa/2.0)


Bradford on Avon lock-up, before and after - historic images of lock-ups, by Prison History

Bradford-on-Avon Lock-up, Wiltshire. Originally constructed as a chapel in the 13th century, this building has undergone many alterations. The postcard on the right, dates from the early 20th century, after the the building had ceased to function as a lock-up, and before its restoration in 1927. It looks almost identical to the second image, a photograph taken in 1999. But there is one important difference. On the first image, the medieval windows on the north and south sides of the lock-ups have been closed up in order to make the lock-up secure. In the second image, you can just make out the medieval window reinstated on the south side. For a better view, see our gallery for this lock-up. (Acknowledgements: Postcard, ‘The Bridge Chapel’, early 20thC, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, MODES Database P2326 (with kind permission); Bradford-on-Avon, 1999, Photo © Martin Clark (cc-by-sa/2.0)).


Bromham lock-up, before and after - historic images of lock-ups, by Prison History

Bromham Lock-up, Wiltshire. In the photograph of St Nicholas’s Church from the late 19th century, the lock-up, located on the left-hand side of the road, being set in the church wall blends into scene. No longer in use – a rejection of this relic of former disorderliness and crime? The second image, a photograph taken in 2018, shows the care and attention the lock-up has since received. There is a park bench next to it, and some shrubbery added to the former horse trough positioned to the left of the door. An information plaque has been added (2002) drawing attention to its significance, and its former position at the heart of village life. (Acknowledgements: Photograph. St Nicholas’s Church, late 19thC, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, MODES Database P2353 (with kind permission); 2018 photograph ‘The Lock Up’ Photo © Michael Dibb (cc-by-sa/2.0).


Amesbury lock-up, before and after - historic images of lock-ups, by Prison History

Amesbury Lock-up, Wiltshire. What a difference! The postcard showing Amesbury High Street dates from 1900-1907, when the lock-up was likely still in use. Still, it is interesting and perhaps significant, that one of the cell doorways appears to have been blocked up. Two other doorways remain visible. The opposing photograph from 2012 shows the conversion of the lock-up into a shop, or real estate agency. Although the curved shape of the building remains, there is nothing externally which is suggestive of the previous use of this building. (Acknowledgements: Postcard, ;Amesbury, Wiltshire’, 1900-07, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, MODES Database, P3378 (with kind permission; Photograph, ‘Orange Way in Wiltshire, 2012, Photo © Shazz (cc-by-sa/2.0).


Warminster lock-up, before and after - historic images of prisons, by Prison History

Warminster Lock-up, Wiltshire. By the time of the first photograph, likely 1960s, the lock-up at Warminster had already become incorporated into a modern garage. In fact, it is quite challenging to identify the lock-up at first glance. In the second, taken in 2015, the lock-up is much more easily recognisable, and is distinct from the adjoining wall. The whitewash helps. It looks like it might have been re-tiled too. But the building now sits behind a secure fence – so while more easily identifiable, less easily accessible! (Acknowledgements: Stone lock-up, Warminster, 1960s?, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, MODES Database, P7685 (with kind permission); The Blind House, Warminster, 2015 Photo © M J Richardson (cc-by-sa/2.0)).


Hilperton lock-up - historic images before and after, by Prison History

Hilperton Lock-up, Wiltshire. As it was in September 1983, and in 2017. Some removal of foliage to the rear of the lock-up has occurred. And it looks as if an information plaque has been added to the left side wall in the interval between these photographs. In both, benches attached to the lock-up and surrounding the war memorial remain cordoned off from the public. (Acknowledgements: Photograph, war memorial and lock-up, Hilperton, September 1983, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, MODES Database, P13084 (with kind permission); Hilperton lock-up and war memorial, c.2017, Photo © David Smith (cc-by-sa/2.0)).


Shrewton lock-up - historic images before and after, by Prison History

Shrewton Lock-up, Wiltshire. A postcard, of Shrewton Blind House and village, from 1904, shows the lock-up in its original position, on High Street, an increasingly busy road. It was moved and rebuilt after 1945 in its current position at the intersection of High Street and Maddington Street, as shown in the second photo from 2007. According to Leslie Brooke the reconstruction was entirely faithful to the original except for a slight alteration to the pitch of the roof. (Acknowledgements: Postcard, Shrewton Blind House, 1904, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, MODES Database P2795 (with kind permission); The Blind House, Shrewton, 2007, Photo © Brian Robert Marshall (cc-by-sa/2.0)).


Heytesbury lock-up - historic images before and after, by Prison History

Heytesbury Lock-up, Wiltshire. Two photographs, one from the 1960s, and the second showing the lock-up in 2006. The major difference between these photographs is the removal of some foliage in the second, perhaps for conservation purposes. The door, and locks, remain the same. (Acknowledgements: Blind House, Heytesbury, 1960s,  Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, MODES Database, P7062 (with kind permission); Heytesbury Lock-Up c.2006, Photo © Maigheach-gheal (cc-by-sa/2.0)).


Steeple Ashton lock-up, before and history - historic images edition blog, by Prison History

Steeple Ashton Lock-up, Wiltshire. Postcard showing The Green, with lock-up, dating from 1918, alongside a photograph taken in 2010. The lock-up remains a distinctive monument at the centre of this township. The door, with position of locks, remains the same in both pictures. Given the presence of the children in the 1918 postcard, it is interesting to note the sign on the domed roof of the lock-up forbidding the playing of ball games. It is hard to tell if the sign was also present in 1918. (Acknowledgements: Postcard, Steeple Ashton, 1918, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, MODES Database, P2817 (with kind permission); The Blind House, Steeple Ashton, 2010, Photo © Brian Robert Marshall (cc-by-sa/2.0)).


Great Bedwyn lock-up, before and history - historic images edition blog, by Prison History

Great Bedwyn Lock-up, Wiltshire. Close-up photograph from the 1960s alongside an image with the lock-up in the distance, centre frame, dating from c.2005. Key features remain much the same. Patches of dark stone at either side of the window and to the left of the door remain, as does the cabling providing electricity or other communication services. Though the lock-up certainly looks tidier fifty years on, and the adjacent wall or structure has been removed and replaced by a hedge. (Acknowledgements: Photograph, Great Bedwyn Lock-up, 1960s, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, MODES Database, P7061 (with kind permission); View out of the village showing the lock-up, c.2005, Photo © Barry and Maureen FitzGerald (cc-by-sa/2.0)).


Luckington lock-up, before and history - historic images edition blog, by Prison History

Luckington Lock-up, Wiltshire. Photograph of the ‘Old Police Cell’, from c.1910, which includes three children. There are some key differences between this and the photograph alongside taken in  2013. The grille or cross-bars on the window have been replaced or covered by a shutter. The round trough below the pump has been replaced with a square trough. There is the suggestion of a plaque or sign in the image from 1910 which does not appear in 2013, and in the latter the roof seems to have been repaired. It is difficult to tell whether the figure which appears to be protruding from the cell door in 1910 is a real person or a mannequin of some kind. Any ideas would be warmly received! Was the lock-up already a tourist attraction at the turn of the 20th century? (Acknowledgements: ‘The Old Police Cell’, 1910, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, MODES Database, P6992 (with kind permission); ‘The Old Village Lock-Up’ 2013 Photo © Ray Bird (cc-by-sa/2.0).


Could you help us expand Prison History’s visual library?

We’re always looking out for historic images of new lock-ups – as old as they are, they’re brand new to us! If you have any historic images you can share (even if it’s just one or two) we’d be really grateful.

Contributions from our readers and audience are partly what helps to keep Prison History active and free-to-use.

Submit photos | Submit a story about a lock-up | Submit a lock-up | Give feedback about Prison History