Clements Hall
Queen Victoria St  with tram

Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe, South Bank and Bishophill areas of York

Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe and South Bank areas of York

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Bishophill crime and prostitution

In the Middle Ages there were two prisons on Ouse Bridge, or ‘kidcotes’ as they were called. These were mentioned in 1278 and later in 1398, and belonged to the Mayor and the Sheriff.

A debtors’ prison, built 1574, was closed in 1807, and demolished 1810-20.

The felon’s prison was demolished in 1810, as the City Gaol had opened in 1807 at Baile Hill. By 1838 felons were transferred to the castle, and the building at Baile Hill became the House of Correction. It was eventually demolished in 1880.

A former House of Correction had been built at Toft Green in 1814, with a tread-wheel installed here in 1824. This building closed in 1838, with inmates transferred to the new House of Correction above, and debtors to the castle.

There have been wooden stocks in front of Holy Trinity Church in Micklegate since the sixteenth century, used as a public form of punishment, but outlawed in the nineteenth century. There are still replicas outside the church, with the originals displayed inside.

It was said that in 1871 Skeldergate had 60 brothels.

Finally there were establishments for women. The York Penitentiary Society was founded in 1822, to reform ‘fallen’ girls and women, which it sent to establishments in Leeds and Hull. By 1845 it used premises at 19 Bishophill for this purpose, housing 16 inmates, mainly carrying out laundry work. In 1903 the Society established the York Shelter next door, providing temporary accommodation for eight ‘friendless’ women. The Penitentiary was later renamed the House of Mercy in 1918, but the Society moved to Clifton.


York City Archives. York Penitentiary Society; 1822-1953; 1822-1953 York Society for the Prevention of Youthful Depravity; 1859-1863

Frances Finnegan, Poverty and Prostitution: A Study of Victorian Prostitutes in York (Cambridge, 1979).

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