Not far from Parliament Square is a 17th century doorway that once acted as an entrance to a prison. The name of this particular penal institution was the Tothill Fields Bridewell - also known as the Westminster House of Correction and Tothill Fields Prison.
There were two incarnations of the Tothill Fields Bridewell. The first was built in 1618 and the second in 1834.
The land around Westminster Abbey has historically been known for its marshes and "tothill" is a simple variation on toot-hill; meaning an elevated area (likely to have been a man-made mound). "Bridewell" is a reference to Bridewell Palace; the very first 'house of correction' and subsequently used to describe similar places of detention. Long since torn down, Bridewell Palace was a former residence of Henry VIII and was positioned on the northern bank of the River Thames close to the present-day Blackfriars Bridge.
A house of correction was designed to punish adults and children convicted of minor offences (such as vagrancy and prostitution) by way of hard labour. The punishment was deliberately intended to be swift. Depending on the crime, an individual could be in and out within days. Over time, these prescribed workhouses would develop into jails that housed both criminals and debtors.
Just like the Millbank Penitentiary (also erected in the 19th century), the second Tothill Fields Bridewell was closed and demolished within a few decades. In its final years, it confined only women and boys. Westminster Cathedral resides on part of the site today. The original 1618 building a little way to the east, was flattened in the 1830s.
"Here are several sorts of work
for the poor of this Parish of St
As also the county, according to
law and for such as will beg and
live idle in this city and Liberty
of Westminster. Anno 1655"
The doorway can be found behind the Supreme Court in Little Sanctuary.