Featured Lock-up: Monkton Combe Lock-up [video]

Unlike many other lock-ups in our database, Monkton Combe Lock-up is not located in the centre of the village.

It can be found on Mill Lane, a narrow road which takes you down the hill towards the Midford Brook.

It’s a tricky one to find, but not to worry! We’ve put together a video for you to enjoy our ‘visit at dusk’ to the Monkton Combe lock-up. Come along and join us…

More information about Monkton Combe lock-up

Sing pointing the way to the lock-up, at the top of Mill Lane (© Rosalind Crone)

A carved sign at the top of Mill Lane, opposite the Wheelrights Arms, points you in the right direction. But it’s easy to miss, especially in the dark. And the lock-up is situated about half way down the hill. You need to be a committed lock-up hunter to find this one!

But it is well worth it when you do. Made of Bath Stone, this square lock-up with dome roof is fairly typical of the area. Interestingly though, there is no ball or other decoration at the top of the dome, which tends to be a common feature of other lock-ups like this.

Exterior, showing the front of the lock-up (Photo © David Martin (cc-by-sa/2.0))

It has an iron studded door, but this is not original. It was installed in 1968, during one of the lock-up’s many restorations. However, the grille, covering an opening in the door, is probably a replica of what was there before.

Door (not original) with grille. (© Rosalind Crone)

Inside there are two cells. The grille provides ventilation for the first cell, and some kind of view of the outside world, though fairly meagre. The second cell is completely windowless. Some small holes have been drilled through the stone right at the top of the wall where it meets the roof. This would have supplied some sort of ventilation, though possibly barely adequate. This lock-up, then, is a true blindhouse, or about as close to one as possible!

The small holes at the top of the wall providing ventilation for the second cell (© Rosalind Crone)

Monkton Combe Lock-up was built in 1776. It is not clear why it was built outside the centre of the village. Leslie Brooks, author of Some West-Country Lock-ups (1985) notes the proximity of the lock-up to the Somerset Coal Canal which was under construction in the 1790s. Given that navvies, often unattached young men, liked to spend their wages in the local pub, Brooke wonders if the canal supplied a steady flow of prisoners for the lock-up.

We know from a mid 19th century sketch that stocks sat right outside the front of this lock-up.

The team from prisonhistory.org, filming the lock-up at dusk (© Rosalind Crone)

We don’t know, however, when it was last used. It was repaired in 1906, and then restored in 1953 when it was listed as an Ancient Monument. Further work was carried out in 1968, and again in 2003.

The lock-up now blends into village life. When we visited in late 2019, there was a car parked right outside it, as it it was a private garage, and its rear wall has been used to suspend a washing line.

Car parked in front, washing line connected to the rear of the lock-up, showing how embedded the monument now is in village life (© Rosalind Crone)

Go further

Leslie Brooke, Some West-Country Lock-Ups (Castle Cary, Fox Publications, 1985), pp. 16. Brooke also includes a beautiful sketch of the lock-up on p. 95.

The Monkton Combe village website includes a timeline of repairs made to the lock-up.

Can you help keep Prison History active and free-to-use?

Prison History needs your feedback - banner graphic

If you enjoy our work on local history and lock-ups – perhaps it’s inspired you find out more about your own local lock-ups – then we’d love to hear about it.

Our quick survey gives us a chance to show that people are making use of our data and resources for various purposes, which is critical for future funding.

Related Prisons and Lock-Ups