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16 October 2014
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Bridewell's History

The site of the present Bridewell building used to be occupied by both the old courthouse, as well as the jail.

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Bridewell's History

Entrance to The Bridewell
Entrance to The Bridewell,

A familiar landmark at the bottom of Magherafelt's Broad Street, the site of the present Bridewell building used to be occupied by both the old courthouse, as well as the jail. The old cells and Bridewell walls (see photo opposite) have now been incorporated into the new building, which houses Magherafelt's new library and a tourist information point.

The site has a long history, with Maitlands "History of Magherafelt" stating that a place of worship can be traced back to 1425. It was in the 19th century that the site became more associated with legal, rather than spiritual, matters with the building of a courthouse.

1804 Courthouse built costing £515.
(Read more about the Old Courthouse and the punishments handed out.)
1839 Tunnel built from cells to dock in centre of court.
1869 New courthouse built in Hospital Road.
Ownership of the old Courthouse passed to Salter's Company.
1890 Alterations costing £253.19 resulting in the old Courthouse
becoming the Townhall.
1903 Salters Company passes ownership to Market Trustees.
1940's Townhall becomes Public Library.
1967 Library moves to Queen's Avenue with the opening of the Council Offices.
1972 Bomb destroys the roof of the Townhall and the building becomes derelict.
1979 Trustees sign 99 year lease with the Council.
Site to be developed for the use of the community.
1980 Remainder of old Townhall demolished.
1989 Building refurbished and opened as Tourist Information Centre.
1993 Bomb in Broad Street.

In 1872, when the new Courthouse in Hospital Road opened, the Bridewell cells were no longer needed. Eighteen years later when alterations were made converting the Old Courthouse into a Townhall, living accommodation was provided for the caretaker in the Bridewell.

In the 1940's a Public Library was opened in the Townhall. Many members of the community remember the librarians of that time Mrs McCracken and Mrs Miller and the caretaker, Mrs Cissy Fullan, who lived in the Bridewell. In those days the Library had a hardboard floor that was usually strewn with flattened cardboard boxes to keep it clean! There were 6 bookcases along the walls and these were covered with wire chicken mesh when the library was closed, so that the books could not be stolen. Many "socials" and dances took place around the books of the library!

21st Century - new incorporates the old

You can see from the architects' plans the old Bridewell walls on the right, with the modern section of the building to the left (which houses the library).

old meets new
Plan for today's Bridewell building

Click to return to 'Bridewell Jail' ..



Andrew McLorinan- Jan '07
My ancestor John McLorinan was the "keeper" of the Bridewell Keep in the early 19th century. His sons migrated to Australia late in the 19th century where I am now. I am interested in what records there of relating to the administration of the Bridewell Keep.

Kate - Aug'- '06
Wow! My Gt. Grandmother was Jane Scullan from Ballyscullion, County Londonderry. She married John McLean [McErlane] I'm in the process of trying to find out more about her. I know that their Daughter, Catherine, married John Houston on June 06th. 1865 in Magherafelt.

Kuwie - January '06
There's a Bridewell in most towns in the Uk, there's at least 5 in Leeds! I've visited the one located at the local town hall a couple of times, that was when it was still open for business. Oh, yeah... my dad's from Derry, so that's a bit of a coincidence - from a small town called Bellaghy, and another coincidence: Scully (the drummer in the Bridewell Taxis - his family originates from Derry: come from a town called Ballyscullion - there's a lot of Scully's there!


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