Wednesday, 2 April 2014

B is for Blind House


I'll start with the Wiltshire dialect words for the letter B.  Do you know what a black-bob is?  What does bozzy mean? What are bams? The answers are at the end of this post.

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'Blind house' is the local dialect term for a small lock-up/small prison. They were called 'blind houses due to the absence of any windows; what little ventilation and light there was came from the small grills set high up in the walls (which you can see on the left hand side of the image below).  Blind houses were cold, damp places and the only bed provided was usually straw on a wooden bench.  Some of them had simple, smelly earth closets. 
 
Most of the blind houses were so small that they could barely accommodate one person but often several people were detained at the same time - the conditions must have been appalling! There would have been an iron ring fixed to the wall to restrain violent prisoners.  They were mostly used by the local constables as a place to detain drunks, vagrants, brawlers and 'ladies of the night' but sometimes they housed prisoners awaiting transportation and in some cases, prisoners who were to be hung on the nearby gibbet. 
 
The image below shows the blind house in Trowbridge, which unusually was large enough to house two people.



It dates back to at least 1758 (which is the date carved into the stone) but there are references to a blind house in the town as early as 1690.  There are also references in the court records to the use of the stocks, a pillory and a ducking stool as early as 1615.  The stocks, though overgrown with weeds, were still in place as late as the mid 1800s.
 
There are references to sympathetic bystanders feeding beer to the poor souls detained in the blind house by pushing a long 'churchwardens pipe through a slit in the wall.  In the 1800s the youths from Bradford-on-Avon (about 4 miles away) used to invade Trowbridge only to be repelled by the youths of Trowbridge.  The ones from B-o-A were known as the 'Gudgeons' (because their local blind house has a gudgeon (fish) on the top) and the ones from Trowbridge were known as the 'Knobs' (because of the large ball, or knob on the top of their blind house).  In 1826, following a riot about the price of potatoes, the leader of the riot was rescued by his supporters who removed the roof of the blind house to get him out! I love this sort of local history.  Most of these stories I first heard at school and I've never forgotten them (my history teacher was amazing) - they give an idea of what life and social control was like for the ordinary people. 
 
The Trowbridge blind house was in use up to 1854, when the local police station was built.  After this date it was only used as overnight accommodation for vagrants before they were sent on their way the following morning.  A vagrant who damaged the blanket he'd been provided with for his overnight stay in the blind house was sentenced to two months hard labour.
 
In 1942 this blind house lost its roof when it was hit by a German bomb.  It was rebuilt in 1977 as part of the celebrations for the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
 
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The answers to the Wiltshire dialect words are:
  • black-bob is a cockroach
  • bozzy means coarse (a description of the texture of cloth or wool)
  • bams are rough gaiters/pieces of cloth wound around the legs (worn by shepherds)
See you tomorrow for the letter C

12 comments:

  1. Interesting post. I knew the word 'bozzy'
    Julie xxxxxx

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  2. I love your theme and I love the history behind these blind house. I'm one of your new followers from the A to Z Blog Challenge and look forward to your up-and-coming posts.

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  3. Interesting post and slice of little local history.

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  4. How fascinating, thank you for sharing. I love local history and dialects and how different they are from one county to the next, we have such a wonderful range of history here in the U.K. I'm going to use my new found words tonight at dinner and confuse the kids. Lol. Enjoy the rest of our A-Z April, I look forward to more :)

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  5. Oh, I am looking forward to your 24 remaining posts.

    Can you imagine the smell in the Blind House? I don't say that to dismiss the suffering of the people confined inside. I studied early modern through early 19th century British and American history. Such tangible markers of it still blow my mind.

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  6. This is so fun! I'm learning about your part of the world one minute and Brazil the next... A-Z is an awesome challenge!

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  7. Thanks. Learned something here. Had not heard of blind houses before, and that nickname for the cockroach, black-bob, is hilarious
    Shells–Tales–Sails

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  8. This was a very interesting post! Thanks for visiting my A to Z "Things My Husband Has Broken" AMomsPointOfView.com

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  9. And these days, prisoners complain (through their attorneys, mind you) that the showers aren't hot enough, not long enough! Send them to the Blind Houses, I say.

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  10. Hi, Eileen! Another fascinating post. Glad you liked my B!

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  11. Wow, I love reading this! I think the blind house would convince me to be good forever.=) http://bellesbazaar-heather.blogspot.com/2014/04/b-is-for-brother.html

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  12. I am looking forward to seeing the rest of your posts! This little slice of history was fun:)

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