When the Glamorgan Constabulary was formed in 1841 there was a pressing need across the county for suitable station houses for the new force. In his first report to the General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the County, on 30th August 1841, the newly appointed Chief Constable, Captain Charles Frederick Napier, had emphasised that the existing facilities needed to be either completely replaced or upgraded. In towns such as Merthyr, prisoners were frequently held by constables at local public houses, given Napier’s assessment that cells, where available, were …totally unfit for the reception of such prisoners. Napier underlined the need for a station house with lock up cells in each of the main towns across the county. With regard to Bridgend, which was in the Ogmore District, he noted:
I propose making Bridgend the Station House for this District and the residence of the Superintendent… Bridgend being the central point it is highly desirable that a good station house should be erected, I would suggest that the building should contain a residence for the Constable, with offices for the Superintendent, and four cells [Record of the General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the County of Glamorgan, held at the Pyle Inn on Monday 30 August 1841, ref.: DMM/CO/71].
Although it was agreed that a new Police Rate of £800 be raised specifically to fund the Constabulary, it was recognised that it would take time for suitable premises to be built in all areas. The situation in Bridgend was not addressed fully until 1845. The Glamorgan Archives holds the original plans for the new police station built at that time and much of the background correspondence dealing with the negotiation for its construction.
The news, in 1843, that plans were afoot to build, through private subscription, a new town hall in Bridgend on land owned by the Earl of Dunraven presented an opportunity for a police station, cells and court room to be incorporated within the design.
A Committee of Magistrates had been established to oversee the building of police stations for the Constabulary. When this committee was approached, in 1843, by the group charged with the construction of the Bridgend Town Hall, it was soon agreed that facilities for the police and local magistrates could be provided in the basement of the Town Hall. The details of the arrangement agreed at that time are set out in the Record of the General Quarter Sessions of the peace held in Neath on 27 June 1843, held at the Glamorgan Archives.
… the Inhabitants of Bridgend (having previously determined to erect a Town Hall in that Town by private subscription) offered the Magistrates to provide on the basement story of the proposed Hall the necessary accommodation for the Police upon being paid by the County as much as a Police Station House, including the price of the Land, would have cost in any other situation in the Town.
A Meeting of the Committee of Magistrates was immediately afterwards held and they agreed to pay the subscribers to the Town Hall the sum of Three hundred and fifty pounds for providing such accommodation according to such plan and upon having a Lease of the Station House for a Thousand years at a Pepper Corn rent, granted to the County, the whole arrangement being subject to the approbation of the Secretary of State.
It is intended to set apart in the basement story two rooms viz ‘the Magistrates Room’ and the ‘Waiting Room’ adjoining, for the use of the Magistrates of the District they having at present no room in which to hold their Petty Sessions.
The Upper Story is intended to be used as a Public Hall with Judge’s and Jury Rooms.
That, save such as may be included under the head of ‘County Meetings and duly convened’, it shall not be used for any meeting of a political party, polemical, or controversial character or complexion [Record of the General Quarter Sessions of the Peace held at Neath on 27 June 1843, ref.: DMM/CO75/2].
The last provision, relating to political usage of the Hall, was kept in place for 40 years and only rescinded by agreement of the management committee in May 1885 [Bridgend Town Hall Minute Book, 1845-1941, ref.: DXS/1, p103].
The original plans for the basement, drawn up by the architect, D Vaughan, can be seen at Glamorgan Archives.
The plans carry a wax seal and they are signed to confirm that they had been approved by the Secretary of State at the Home Office, Sir James Graham, on 8 August 1843. Given that the town of Bridgend was policed by only one officer, the space allocated to the Glamorgan Constabulary was quite sparse and consisted of one bedroom, 12ftx12ft, a store room of similar proportions and a living room with a fuel store, 14ft by 17ft. In addition, three cells were provided, each 10ft by 6ft. Napier had commented that where cells were provided across the county they were often unheated and unsuitable for use in the winter. To address this, provision was made for the cells in Bridgend to be heated by flues from fires in adjoining rooms. Each cell also had a water closet. Much of the rest of the ground floor was allocated for use by the Magistrates of the Hundreds of Newcastle and Ogmore with provision of a Magistrates’ Room and a Court Room. Although it is not stated, the basement would have been lit at night by oil lamps given that the Town Hall was not fitted with gas lights until 1847 [Bridgend Town Hall, ref.: DXAG].
Copies of the declaration of Trust and lease for the station house, made in August and October 1844 respectively, are also held at Glamorgan Archives. They confirm that the construction of the building took just over a year.
The foundation stone of the building which was erected by public subscription, was laid on the thirteenth day of September 1843, by the Rt Honorable John Nicholl, MP. Her Majesty’s Judge Advocate General and the Hall, having been completed, was delivered up to the subscribers by Mr John Rayner of Swansea, the Architect, on the first day of May 1845 [Bridgend Town Hall Minute Book, 1845-1941, ref.: DXS/1].
By and large the facilities were in line with Napier’s recommendations, with provision of accommodation for the local constable, for which rent would have been deducted from his pay. However, only three, rather than four, cells were provided. The New Town Hall was handed over to the Trustees in May 1845 with the first meeting held in the first week of June. A small amendment to the station layout was made in 1848 to provide stairs from the station house to the prisoners dock in the hall. The plans for this are also held at Glamorgan Archives with confirmation that they had been approved by Sir George Grey, the Home Secretary, on 2 September 1848 [Glamorgan Constabulary Records, Bridgend Town Hall, 2 Sep 1848, ref.: DCON236/1].
Views on the new facilities provided for the police and magistrates were aired at the meeting of the Magistrates a month later, in July 1845, and reported in the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian. On the one hand, there were clearly a number of teething problems:
Bridgend Station House. It was stated that the rooms of this station smoked very badly – that the chimneys did not draw well… After a short conversation upon the subject… it was ordered that steps should immediately be taken for the purpose of lessening, if not entirely removing the evil complained of by the inmates of the Bridgend Station House [Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 5 July 1845].
Yet it was evident that, overall, the Magistrates were more than content that they had struck a good deal at Bridgend. So much so that one of their number, Robert Knight, commented:
At all events he thought the county had received a good shilling’s worth for a shilling in having a station house which cost £500 for £300. (Hear). [Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 5 July 1845].
Whether the inhabitants of Bridgend were pleased with this assessment was not recorded.
Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer