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Blind Houses

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

There are many "Blind Houses" in Wiltshire, dating back to the 18th Century. The term is the local Wiltshire term for a village lock up, which was a secure local jail cell to incarcerate trouble makers and drunks until they could be dealt with. For drunks this might mean an overnight stay to sober up, but more serious crimes might mean being held here until they could be transported to stand before the local magistrate. Why are they called blind houses? Apparently, it is because they are windowless.

Of the blind houses that remain in Wiltshire, many are of similar architecture as can be seen in the photos - although there are some unique examples too. According to wikipedia, they can be found in each of these Wiltshire towns and villages:


Bradford on Avon*




Great Bedwyn






Steeple Ashton*



Places marked with * are shown below in the photographs. If anyone could share their photos of the missing Blind Houses I will add them to this article. Many thanks to the people who contributed their photos, it ended up being a social media community effort ! I have provided photo credits at the bottom of the page.

To see inside one, Lacock blind house is open in normal times (currently closed due to the pandemic). It is adjoined to the Tithe Barn on East Street.

Lacock Blind House on East Street

I have been inside the Trowbridge one and it is deceptively spacious, with high ceilings. There are two cells inside and the accommodation is basic and quite grim.

Trowbridge Blind House, on the bridge over the River Biss

The Trowbridge one dates back to 1758, and there were long pipes pushed through slits in the wall where friends of incarcerated drunks could pour them some ale into the cell. Sitting on top of it is a large stone ball. In 1942 a German bomb that exploded nearby blew the roof off, and it was eventually restored in 1950.

The Bradford on Avon blind house is on the town bridge, and is quite an iconic building. This one has a different design on the roof adornment and is topped off by a gudgeon Fish weather vane.

Apparently in the 1800's the youngsters of Bradford and Avon and Trowbridge would often get into scraps, and they were named after their respective blind house adornments. The Trowbridge lads were called "The Knobs" and the Bradford crew were "The Gudgeons".

There was a rumour that the founder of methodism, John Wesley, was once incarcerated in the Bradford on Avon blind house for one night, but I believe this is not strictly true. It was actually one of Wesley's associates, William Hitchens although Wesley was a frequent visitor to the town. (Source: Prison History)

The Shrewton one was hit by a tank during World War Two and by a car in the 1980's, which led to it being moved from its original site quite close to the road to its current location, safer from stray cars and tanks that pass by.

Shrewton Blind House

The Box blind house is a well preserved example. It was once nearly burned down when three inmates decided to have a smoke and accidentally set the bedding on fire, and ironically, it later came under control of the Queen's Head pub and is right next to the pub car park. Maybe it could be repurposed for unruly modern day drunks?

Box Blind House

Two blind houses that look quite different from the more common designs are in Heytesbury and Bromham. Heytesbury has a slate roof, and Bromham is curiously made of wood and brick but it was built later than the others, in 1809. The Bromham blind house is currently home to the village nativity props !

Heytesbury Blind House

Heytesbury in the Summer

The wood and brick design of Bromham Blind house - click images to look closer

The Steeple Ashton blind house takes us back to the more familiar 18th century design with a domed roof adorned with a stone ball.

Steeple Ashton Blind House

A wider view of Steeple Ashton

In Hilperton, the blind house currently sits next to the village war memorial on the main road.

Hilperton Blind House

Many of us will have seen these blind houses if we live locally, but I'm hoping that bringing many of them together into one blog post will help readers appreciate these quaint little jail cells as an important part of Wiltshire's heritage.

Photo Credits:

Lacock: Ian (link is to twitter account)

Trowbridge: Ron Lomas

Bradford on Avon first photo: Liz Matthews (link is to twitter account)

Bradford on Avon second photo: Colin Fry

Shrewton: Paul Timlett (link is to website)

Box: Liz Matthews (link is to twitter account)

Heytesbury first photo: Paul Timlett (link is to website)

Heytesbury second photo: John Barnes (link is to twitter account)

Bromham: Sarah Tyler (link is to twitter account)

Steeple Ashton first photo: Mary Perry

Steeple Ashton second photo: Cindy Alder (link is to twitter account)

Hilperton: Glyn Coy ( Hidden Wiltshire host )


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Rosalind Ambler
Rosalind Ambler
Feb 25, 2022

Devizes one is underneath the Town Hall, so a bit different. It made an interesting setting for a Dine Somewhere Different meal during the 2019 Devizes Food and Drink Festival.


Nov 03, 2021

The one in Box was never under control of the Queens Head pub. It was the Brewery and the chairman of Box Parish Council got it returned back to the Parish.


Oct 10, 2021

Fascinating and really strange when you think about it. These tiny holding cells that look like ancient mausoleums built to last an eternity but so small and no connection to any police station or court house or anything. Even if they were remote from existing police stations for whatever reason, you'd think for the time and expense to build such fancy little things they could've tacked on a little office for the cops to sit in, store their accoutrements, or stable their horse or something. With the exception of the first one not really even set on a proper little piece of real estate. Just sitting out on the road on some random corner, or in the middle …

Glyn Coy
Glyn Coy
Oct 10, 2021
Replying to

These blind houses were built before police forces were established and fell out of use after the County Police Act 1839. They were really just places to hold people until they could get transferred to larger towns to be dealt with. Or even a place for drunks to sober up for the night. It is fascinating and strange that they should be so ornate and architecturally significant. In modern times we would see a temporary or functional concrete structure we would be happy to demolish.


Sep 28, 2021

Fascinating bit of history and a great bit of community action with all the photos!


Feb 24, 2021

Are blind houses unique to Wiltshire? If so, any thoughts as to why? Certainly they must be found in greater profusion in this county.

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