Updated: Jun 3
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*
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.
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".
(source: Trowbridge Civic Society)
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.
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?
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 !
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.
In Hilperton, the blind house currently sits next to the village war memorial on the main road.
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.