Behind Bars: The Architectural History of law and Order in England and Wales

161 TUTOR: Allan Brodie (MA Hons MA PhD)

This course will examine the history of prisons and law courts in England and Wales from the Middle Ages to the present day. It will consider buildings ranging in size from the village lockup to vast Victorian and 20th century prison complexes. It will also look at law courts ranging from local magistrates' courts through the civil, county courts to the huge judicial complexes constructed in cities during the 19th and 20th centuries. Dr Brodie will also illustrate what life has been like behind bars over the centuries.

2 AM
AM course

Course Notes

This course will tell the story of the main places where law and order was enforced and criminals were punished. Ranging from the medieval castle dungeon to the modern hi-tech courthouse, the country has almost a thousand years of judicial and penal heritage and this course will feature many buildings and places that the public will hopefully never see.

As well as examining this rich architectural heritage, the course will also focus on the experience of being inside, sometimes for life at His or Her Majesty's Pleasure. And beyond the prison wing, there is a wide array of buildings and experiences within prisons, and there will be an opportunity to see the cells that inmates must call home.

The course will also examine law courts and some of the police stations found alongside them. These range from modest facilities in small towns to major complexes in large cities. The course will also consider the issue of prison tourism and provide some ideas about places to visit to experience something of life behind bars.

Day 1: - Introduction and early prisons and courts

The first day will begin with an introduction to the subject. This will involve providing a timeline of some key events in the subject and introduce the various types of prison and courts that will be examined over the week. This will include an outline of the shape of justice, the types of prison that have existed and exist today, as well as the various types of law court. The various parts of prisons will also be described. This will serve to make the course's participants familiar with some unfamiliar terminology.

The second part of day 1 will look at the variety of surviving medieval Gaols and consider what is known about medieval courts. It will conclude by examining 16th century prisons and follow this by examining Elizabethan courthouses.

The course will cover today:

·A brief timeline of judicial and penal history

·An introduction to the vocabulary of justice and imprisonment

·The shape of the law and order system

·Medieval Gaols

·Elizabethan courthouses and prisons

Day 2: Prisons 16th century to 1842

Prior to the reforms advocated by John Howard, almost every prison was located in adapted structures; anything was possible as long as it could be made secure. There was a handful of purpose-built prisons but conditions in these might be just as poor as in a room in a castle. John Howard in the 1770s revealed the crisis in the country's prison system and advocated reforms that began to transform prisons within a decade. The main architect realising his vision was William Blackburn and he first came to attention when he won a competition for a national penitentiary - the first recognition of the need for central government to act.

In the early 19th century, new types of prison buildings began to appear and new forms of punishment were developed to make time in prison even harder. Nevertheless, crime was on the rise and to find a penal and architectural solution to this problem, America's prison systems were examined. This led to Sir Joshua Jebb's model prison in Pentonville at London, an architectural expression of a new form of imprisonment, known as the Separate System.


Today the course will cover:

·Prisons before John Howard

·John Howard and William Blackburn

·Transforming the county and local prison system

·Jeremy Bentham and the National Penitentiary

·Early 19th century Prisons

·America, Jebb and Pentonville.

Day 3: Prisons 1840-2000

Sir Joshua Jebb became the central figure in the administration of prisons and pushed for his model design to be adopted across the country. Some counties produced entirely new buildings, while others adapted their existing sites to meet the demands of the new regime. However, by the 1870s the locally managed system was felt to be unsuitable and therefore prisons were nationalised, through the creation of the Prison Commission.

The new body presided over the creation of new designs of prison, but during the 20th century it also promoted the creation of new types of prisons including borstals for young offenders, a preventive detention prison and open prisons. During the first half of the 20th century, the number of offenders in prison was low and this allowed these new types of establishment to be created. However, since the 1940s, the number of people in jail has risen steadily and this led to major building programs from the 1950s onwards. In the late 20th century, there was an emergency accommodation programme necessitating the creation of new types of rapidly assembled prison buildings.

The course will cover today:

·New prisons and adapting old prisons for the Separate System

·The nationalisation of prisons

·The work and prisons of the prison commission

·New types of prison in the early 20th century and prison closures

·Prisons in the second half of the 20th century

Day 4: Criminal courts

The course will today examine the purpose-built criminal courts ranging in date from the 17th to the 20th century. It will cover former Assize Courts and their successor, the Crown Court. These are the buildings constructed to handle the most serious criminal offences; in many places the combined court centre was created in which civil cases were also heard alongside serious criminal ones.

However, the vast majority of criminal cases are heard in the Magistrates' Courts and these can be found in towns and cities throughout the country though in recent years many have closed. For many years, the Magistrates' Court was co-located with the police station and many examples of these survive today.

The course will cover:

·The Assize Courts

·The Crown Court from 1971 onwards

·The combined court centre

·Historic Magistrates' Courts

·The modern Magistrates Court

Day 5: Civil courts, dark tourism and life behind bars

The first part of the final morning will focus on the architecture of civil courts. From the late Middle Ages, civil cases could be heard by Courts of Request, and over the following centuries at haphazard patchwork of such courts evolved. They were replaced in 1846 by the County Court, a more systematic way of dealing with civil cases. If a civil case was deemed to be major, it would be heard by one of the Assize Court judges instead. The distinctive Coroner's Court will also be discussed.

The second part of the morning will consider the issue of dark tourism as a historical and modern phenomenon. People have been visiting prisons as tourists since at least the 17th century and today there are a number of prison and law court museums that the public can visit. The session will conclude with a selection of the prison cells that Allan has seen on his travels behind bars.

Suggested reading:

Allan Brodie, Jane Croom and James Davies Behind Bars: The Hidden Architecture of English Prisons. RCHME/EH/Prison Service Joint Publication, 2000

Allan Brodie, Jane Croom and James Davies English Prisons: an architectural history. Swindon: English Heritage, 2002

Robin Evans The Fabrication of Virtue. Cambridge University Press, 1982

Clare Graham Ordering Law: The Architectural and Social History of the English Law Court to 1914. Routledge, 2017.

Historic England Law Courts and Courtrooms 1: The Buildings of the Criminal Law.

Historic England Law Courts and Courtrooms 2: Civil and Coroner's Courts.

Michael Ignatieff A Just Measure of Pain. London: Macmillan, 1978

Esther Moir The Justice of the Peace. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969.

J R S Whiting A House of Correction. Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1979

Course Tutor

Allan Brodie

MA Hons MA PhD

About Allan


Allan is a historian and architectural historian who worked for Historic England (and its predecessors) since 1986; he is now a Visiting Fellow at Bournemouth University. Originally a medievalist, an interest that he still pursues actively, he has researched everything from a Roman fort to a 20th century airport.


For the past 20 years he has been studying the history of tourism and has written a number of monographs on the subject. His works includeEngland's Seaside Resorts(2007),Travel and Tourism in Britain, 1700-1914(2014),The Seafront(2018),Tourism and the Changing Face of the British Isles(2019) andEngland's Seaside Heritage from the Air(2021). He has also written studies of individual resorts, including Margate, Weymouth, Blackpool and Weston-super-Mare.


Allan is also the co-author of Behind Bars: The Hidden Architecture of English Prisons and English Prisons: an architectural history. He has also written a number of papers on prisons, including on their locations in towns, a history of their closures and the future of prison tourism.


Allan is a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society.


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All courses run for 5 days

WK 1 8 Jul - 12 Jul

WK 2 15 Jul - 19 Jul

WK 3 22 Jul - 26 Jul

WK 4 29 Jul - 2 Aug

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9.15AM to 12.15PM

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1.45PM to 4.30PM

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