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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 CLC/275
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1553-1989
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 1409 production units.
Name of creator(s): Bridewell | Corporation of London
Bethlem Royal Hospital | Corporation of London x Priory of St Mary of Bethlehem x Bethlehem Royal Hospital


Administrative/Biographical history:

Bridewell was built as a royal palace for Henry VIII from 1515 on a site between Fleet Street and the Thames, along the bank of the Fleet River and near to a well named after St Bride's Church. It was completed in 1523 but Henry only lived there for a few years The problem of the poor led the Lord Mayor and aldermen in 1552 to form a committee who recommended the foundation of Christ's Hospital for the education and sustenance of poor children, St Thomas's Hospital to be refounded for the wounded and sick and Bridewell to be given for the correction, reformation and employment of the idle and vagrant poor. Edward VI, perhaps inspired by a sermon by Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, gave Bridewell Palace to the City on 26 June 1553.

The three hospitals, Christ's, St Thomas's and Bridewell, were under the supervision of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen and the City levied the livery companies for funds to establish the hospitals. Governors were elected annually for each hospital at a joint meeting and each hospital had its own President, Treasurer and Clerk The government of Bethlem Royal Hospital was given to the City in 1547. From some point in the later 16th century, Bridewell and Bethlem were jointly governed by a President, Treasurer amd a Court of Governors. Traditionally 1557 has been given as the start of joint administration, but recent research suggests that Bethlem was perhaps still separate until the 1570s.

Until the mid 17th century Bethlem was largely left in the hands of its "keeper" by the Bridewell Governors. After the Great Fire, meetings were held for the first time at Bethlem and the Governors then became more closely involved in its administration. Gradually, Bridewell became associated with prisoners and punishment rather than idle poor and reform. Although vagrant and poor children were apprenticed and learnt a trade there, the numbers of prisoners were far greater. The governors were much concerned with the corrupting effect on Bridewell's apprentices of close proximity to prisoners and at the end of the 18th century a move began to separate the houses of correction (prison) and occupations (apprentices) which culminated in the establishment of a new House of Occupations in Southwark in 1830.

Bridewell closed as a prison in 1855 when most of the building was knocked down and new streets and houses took its place. Bridewell Royal Hospital remains the name of the administrative body which moved to Witley, Surrey in the twentieth century. In 1948 Bethlem Royal Hospital was separated from Bridewell Royal Hospital and united with the Maudsley Hospital.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Royal Hospitals of Bridewell and Bethlem. About three-quarters of the records are solely of Bridewell Royal Hospital and have been catalogued as Bridewell Royal Hospital; the other quarter are joint records of the Royal Hospitals of Bridewell and Bethlem and have been catalogued under that name. A few records are essentially of Bridewell but have some Bethlem subject content. The joint records are largely constitutional, court, accounts and joint estate records, with some clerk's correspondence relating to both hospitals.

The archive has been catalogued in one block, regardless of whether individual records are of Bridewell Royal Hospital only or of Bridewell and Bethlem jointly. The archive includes Constitutional records; Minutes; Legal papers; Accounts; Clerk's papers; Prison records; Apprenticeship records; School records; Legacies; Estates records; Bridewell Chapel records; Bridewell Precinct records; and officers' private papers.

There is a general 30 year closure period. Pupil records have a 100 year closure period.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Records arranged in 21 series as follows:
CLC/275-01: Royal Hospitals of Bridewell and Bethlem: Accounts;
CLC/275-02: Royal Hospitals of Bridewell and Bethlem: Clerk's papers;
CLC/275-03: Royal Hospitals of Bridewell and Bethlem: Constitutional records;
CLC/275-04: Royal Hospitals of Bridewell and Bethlem: General Estates records;
CLC/275-05: Royal Hospitals of Bridewell and Bethlem: Individual Estate records;
CLC/275-06: Royal Hospitals of Bridewell and Bethlem: Legacies;
CLC/275-07: Royal Hospitals of Bridewell and Bethlem: Legal papers;
CLC/275-08: Royal Hospitals of Bridewell and Bethlem: Minutes;
CLC/275-09: Bridewell Royal Hospital: Accounts;
CLC/275-10: Bridewell Royal Hospital: Apprentice records;
CLC/275-11: Bridewell Royal Hospital: Bridewell Precinct;
CLC/275-12: Bridewell Royal Hospital: Clerk's papers;
CLC/275-13: Bridewell Royal Hospital: Constitutional records;
CLC/275-14: Bridewell Royal Hospital: General estate records;
CLC/275-15: Bridewell Royal Hospital: Individual estate records;
CLC/275-16: Bridewell Royal Hospital: Legacies;
CLC/275-17: Bridewell Royal Hospital: Legal papers;
CLC/275-18: Bridewell Royal Hospital: Minutes;
CLC/275-19: Bridewell Royal Hospital: Officers' private papers;
CLC/275-20: Bridewell Royal Hospital: Prison records;
CLC/275-21: Bridewell Royal Hospital: School records.

Conditions governing access:

Restricted access: please see staff.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to this collection rests with the depositor.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The archive was deposited in Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section by King Edward's School, Witley in 1996.

Allied Materials

Related material:

For other records held at LMA, see CLA/065 (Bethlem) and CLA/066 (Bridewell).

The Bethlem Royal Hospital archive is kept by Bethlem Royal Hospital at Beckenham, Kent. The joint Court of Governors minutes and joint General Committee minutes are also kept at Bethlem, though microfilm copies are available at Guildhall Library ( Ms 33011 and 33016). The School has retained several categories of records: school registers from 1900; all deeds and plans of Witley site; all deeds and plans of current sites; Edwardian (school) magazines; all photographs of school life; all records post 1980 The foundation charter of Edward VI, 26 June 1553, is held by Christ's Hospital at Horsham, though a transcription is available (Ms 33001.)

Publication note:

There is no modern history of Bridewell. The Rev Edward Geoffrey O'Donoghue, Chaplain to the joint hospitals, wrote a two volume history published in 1923 and 1929 which is held in Guildhall Library Printed Books Section at L43:B 851. O'Donoghue had read widely in the Court minutes, but his interest was primarily in the picturesque and his prose style is romantic. A balanced, but brief overview is given in L C Cowie's article "Bridewell" in History Today 1973.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
August to October 2010.

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