Adjacent to St Lukes Church, Pitt Lane, Widnes.
Originally the Bridewell was situated in the most southern part of Lancashire, until the boundary changes in 1974. Since then it has become part of northern Cheshire and must rank as one of the oldest surviving buildings in both counties. It was founded in 1100 A.D. and evidence of it’s early structure can be seen on the large stone Tudor archway over the rear door, on the outside. It has been assumed that shortly after the Barony of Widnes was established in 1086
The first Baron Yarfrid founded the Brideweil as it was part of his Halmote Court. the name Halmote derives from the Saxon meaning hail of the manor, which was a Lord’s court. Baron Yarfrid left no male descendants, and at his death the Barony was divided between his two daughters, the elder whom had married William, son of Nigel, the second Baron of Halton. Since that union all court procedures were continued to be carried out by the Barons of Halton from the castle. The fifteenth and last Baron of Halton and Widnes, was Henry Bolingbroke who succeeded to the English crown as Henry 4th in 1399. With his accession to the throne the title Baron of Halton and Widnes was merged with the crown and no longer used. After 1399 the Brideweil became the property of the English crown as part of the Duchy of Lancaster and it was customary that the Lord of the Manor or his steward would preside at the Halmote Court on behalf of the crown. The jurisdiction of the Widnes Manorial Court, held in Farnworth from it’s inception covered approximately six square miles which was the extent of the old baronial territory of Widnes.
The barony, in addition to Widnes,Appleton, Farnworth and Cronton comprised such outlying places as Tarbock, Huyton, Knowsley, Roby, Rainhill, Eccieston and Sutton. From the court rolls the Victorian history of Lancashire it has been possible to locate some of the early pleading and sittings of the Halmote at the Farnworth Court. In 1181-2, Agnes Bonetable was brought before the court for owing three marks for her Knight’s fee in Appleton (this was the tithe from the land). It has been accepted that part of the early court sittings were held in the church which was founded in 1180, but alter the English reformation in 1534 it was considered sacrilege to use religious buildings for secular purposes. After that date the court sittings were held in the village. It has not been possible to locate where in the village the courts were held after leaving the church, but from some Halmote rolls it has been possible to locate the last court sittings in the village. From the latter part of the 18th century until the middle of the 19th century.
An inn called the George and Dragon, situated at the eastern top of Farnworth Street, which site is now occupied by three terraced houses nos. 96, 98 and 98a. In 1847 John Hutchinson the industrial chemist from St Helens founded the chemical industry in Widnes. It soon developed into a thriving chemical town bringing about new housing and a rapid increase in population, particularly immigrants from eastern Europe and especially Ireland, who caused riots and general public disorder. This situation prompted a new police court and station to be built that was completed in 1866. The building of a new court in Victoria Road opposite the present library brought about a decline of Famworth as a village of importance and the George and Dragon continued as a public house until 1904 when it was converted into dwelling apartments and demolished in 1967.
After 1866, when Farnworth court ceased to exist, the Bridewell was taken over by St Luke’s church and used as a hearse house for a short period, and became derelict in the late 1 1980s. Although the building was originally 12th century, it has undergone several restorations. The main large cell was used by drunks and petty offenders it is mainly 16th century architecture and has been converted into a toilet and kitchen. The smaller cell with it’s unusual hand made brick barrel vaulted ceiling was used for dangerous criminals who would be held until they were sent for trial and supervised under the constable or jailer who occupied the hail. In the early centuries the offenders would be tried at the Castle of Halton by the Baron. In medieval times sometimes the criminals would be sent before the Bishop of Chester, if the offence was a recusancy crime. Also the doomsmen or judge would be sent for and be dealt with at the Farnworth court but both Lancaster assizes to Chester were used. The Bridewell is one of the listed buildings in Widnes. In 1983 the historical officer of Cheshire Mr Laurey McKenna gave the building a classification of Grade 2, the restoration comrmttee carried out the present reconstruction which started in 1992, with as much of the building’s ancient character as was possible, re using much of the original stonework. The interior has been tastefully decorated and designed in keeping with it’s ancient style and age.
Historical notes by Alan Foster - local historian
Adjacent to St Lukes Church, Pitt Lane, Widnes.
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