Paignton's lock-up for petty offenders

Torbay Weekly

Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: The Old Clink, Paignton

This being one of our earliest plaques may have been our second one.

Erected in 1986, no written information survives so I am unable to confirm who initiated the plaque or who attended the unveiling to honour the Old Clink building.

Fortunately, I do know Torbay Borough Council sponsored the plaque and its associated notelet, as this was included in the original publication - now out of print.

We also know the research and biography was undertaken by Mr C H Patterson and A R Day, who then produced the document.

The notelet concerning The Old Clink Paignton is a most interesting read as it explains the history of Princess Street, originally Duck Lane near Well Street, being part of old Paignton.

On its front cover is a map of old 'Payngton (sic) 1567' taken from a survey of the town on the instructions of the then 'Lord of the Manor' - William Herbert Earl of Plemenife.

He apparently was brother-in-law of Henry VIII and the map is the earliest known drawing of Old Paignton which I have reproduced as part of the photocopy leaflet you can still obtain.

The blue plaque of 1986 can still be viewed on the high wall in Princess Street by the well and alongside the Clink.

The plaque states 'Paignton Clink - an almost unique mediaeval lock-up for petty offenders - last used in 1867' and has the number 20 recorded on at its edge.

I believe this should have been '2' as it is likely our second plaque from the first commemorative series supplied by the society.

The term 'Clink' originally came from a prison in Southwark although the Oxford English Dictionary states that in Devon and Cornwall the name was used for a small prison or lock-up in our two counties.

It also confirms few remain today in the peninsula. Having in recent years visited Bedfordshire and its hamlet 'Clopelle' - today Clophill - by sheer luck I found the 'Clophill Parish Lock-up and Pound', a tiny rectangular brick building used to formally 'lock-up' or detain wrong-doers waiting to be imprisoned after being officially sentenced by a Justice of the Peace (magistrate).

The small building name plate confirms that this 'lock-up dates back from the 19th century' and for your further interest two pictures have been included with the front page map of the photocopy.

Paygnton (sic) of the 16th century constructed the a small brick room (of two cells) with 2ft-thick walls and the only daylight coming in from two 3ins slits, which they called the Old Clink.

The town had a stocks, a pillory and a cucking stool - for ducking people in a pool or lake - all of which were in regular use as a way of enforcing simple law and order.

Young persons caught stealing coins or produce - like apples or pears - could be chastised using these tools while as late as the 19th century, an innkeeper that breached food and drink regulations was known to have been placed in the stocks by a magistrate before eventually they were removed in 1848.

During the 1866 'Great Storm of Brixham' the Old Paignton Clink was used as a mortuary and later during the Second World War it was an air raid shelter.

The last offender imprisoned in the Clink was John Williams who in August 1860 had stolen cider from the outbuildings of local farmer Williams.

Interred in the Clink, he chose to hang himself with his own 'neckcloth'.

The coroner recorded he 'destroyed himself, but in what state of mind is was difficult to determine'.

The date of the hanging is interesting as it occurred in 1857, long after Paignton had transferred responsibility for upholding the law to the Devonshire Constabulary based in Exeter.

A photocopied pamphlet with photographs can be obtained by sending two second class stamps plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.