Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From the archives: The Bridewell Pass-Room

Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Loretta reports:

In connection with the release of the audio edition of The Last Hellion, I'm offering a slightly revised version of an early blog post. The Bridewell Pass-Room plays an important role in the story.
This illustration of the Bridewell (one of London’s prisons) Pass-Room comes from Rudolph Ackermann’s The Microcosm of London, which was printed in three volumes from 1808 to 1810.  You can read about this splendid publication at the University of London’s Senate House Library site and at the Eighteenth Century Reading Room.  Wikimedia Commons has all or most of the illustrations posted and the Internet Archive has Vol 1, Vol 2, and Vol 3), but my favorites are the large-scale, very sharp images at Spitalfields Life.

Many of you will recognize immediately the work of Thomas Rowlandson.  His collaborator Augustus Pugin drew the building interiors and exteriors and Rowlandson, basically, put the people in them.  I used this print of the Bridewell Pass-Room,* as I so often use Rowlandson and his contemporaries, to create a scene in a book.  In this case, I sent the heroine of The Last Hellion to Bridewell on a rescue mission. 

From the Microcosm:  “The annexed print gives an accurate and interesting view of this abode of wretchedness, the PASS-ROOM.  It was provided by a late act of Parliament, that paupers, claiming settlements in distant parts of the kingdom, should be confined for seven days previous to their being sent of to their respective parishes; and this is the room appointed by the magistracy of the city for one class of miserable females.**  The characters are finely varied, the general effect broad and simple, and the perspective natural and easy.”

From the Introduction to Fiona St. Aubyn’s Ackermann’s Illustrated London (a modern, shorter edition which contains plates and excerpts from the Microcosm): “Ackermann kept a check on Rowlandson’s more outrageous drawings, and made him change an unmistakably pregnant woman in the preliminary drawing of the Bridewell print to a less obvious condition in the final version.”

*See pp 92-97 of the Microcosm online.
**single mothers


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