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Welcome to Episode 173 of That Shakespeare Life the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the real life and history of William Shakespeare by interviewing the experts who know him best. 

Bridewell Palace was built in the early 16th century as a residence for King Henry VIII. The palace was a unique structure because it deviated from the architectural designs of the time period by not having a great hall and featuring an elaborate staircase. It was also constructed around a large inner courtyard. Under Edward VI in the 1550s, Bridewell Palace was given to the City of London as a home for the city’s homeless children and a place of punishment for “disorderly women.” It was run in conjunction with Bedlam Hospital throughout Shakespeare’s lifetime and formed the blueprint for later large prisons, including the Clirkenwell Bridwell prison opened as a correctional institute for prostitutes and vagrants in 1615 and Tothill Fields Bridewell prison that was opened in 1618 in Westminster. The building itself was mostly destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, but the reputation of Bridwell would far outlast the original structure, with the term “bridewell” continuing in use around the world into the present day as a term for a city’s detention facility, usually close to a courthouse. 

Here today to explain the history of Bridewell Prison is our guest, Duncan Salkeld. 

Join the conversation below.

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Duncan Salkeld is Professor Emeritus of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at the University of Chichester, and Visiting Professor at The University of Roehampton. He is author of three monographs: Madness and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (Manchester University Press, 1993), Shakespeare Among the Courtesans: Prostitution, Literature and Drama 1500-1650 (Ashgate, 2012), and Shakespeare and London (Oxford UP, 2018). He is also the author of numerous articles and book chapters. He runs specialist online courses in early modern palaeography. Contact Duncan Here.

In this episode, I’ll be asking Duncan Salkeld about :

  • Edward VI’s establishment of Bridewell as a home for the vagrant children of London sounds benevolent at first glance, but wasn’t vagrancy a crime in early modern England? Was this “home” actually a prison for the children seen as riff raff on the streets? 
  • Bridewell is referred to as a “house of correction”. Was the purpose of being sent to Bridewell to rehabilitate criminals and return them to society? 
  • Bridewell would become a blueprint for prisons around the world for centuries after Bridewell Prison was established in 16th century London. Why was Bridewell considered so successful?
  • … and more!

Here’s what’s available for this episode:

  • Image of Bridewell Palace shown on the “Copperplate” map of London, c.1553
  • 18th century painting of King Edward VI granting a Royal Charter to Bridewell Hospital in 1553
  • 19th century engraving of The Pass Room at Bridewell
  • Image of a woman, presumably convicted of a crime, being made to work as punishment in Bridewell, 18th century
  • The Prospect of Bridewell from John Strype’s, An Accurate Edition of Stow’s Survey of London.1720
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Want to learn more?

Here are some books and resources recommended by Duncan Salked.

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