Thomas Wooldridge (1752-1799) of Birmingham

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Thomas Wooldridge
Sex: Male
Birth: 1752 in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England
Baptism: 4 November 1752 at St Phillip, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England
Death: 19 June 1799 in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England
Father: Richard Wooldridge
Mother: Mary Mackenzie
Spouse/Partner: Martha Ebrall
Marriage: 6 April 1779 at St Peter & St Paul, Aston, Warwickshire, England

Early Life (1752-1773)Edit

Thomas was born in 1752 to Richard and Mary Wooldridge. He was christened on the 4 November 1752 at St Phillips Church (later cathedral) in Birmingham. It is unsure what Richard's occupation was at the time, but by his death he was the keeper of the Prison. Mary may have origonaly been from the Scottish town of Inverness, and a distant relative of Dr James Mackenzie, who moved into Aston Hall at around the same time as Mary married Richard.

Within a year of Thomas' birth, disaster struck when his mother pasted away. She was buried on the 18 July at the chapel of St Bartholomew. A year later, Richard married again, this time to Catherine Kineton. They would have seven children, of which, only 3 lived until adulthood. It may have been around this time that Richard became keeper of the prison. The prison was located on Peck Lane, an area that the noted historian William Hutton would later describe as 'of all bad places chose(n) the worst, the bottom of Peck-lane; dark, narrow, and unwholesome within; crowded with dwellings, filth and distress without, the circulation of air is prevented.'[1]

Early Working Life (1774-1790)Edit

From an early age Thomas probably helped his father and step-mother run the prison. But on the 8 May 1774[2], Richard died, leaving Thomas in charge of the prison. Five years later, Thomas married Martha Ebrall, the daughter of a yeoman farmer in nearby Saltley. A year latter their first daughter was born, who the christened Sarah. They would go on to have a further six children, two of which pre-deceased their parents.

It is unsure what became of Thomas' younger siblings. Elizabeth (19) and Sarah (18) may have already been married, or perhaps in service elsewhere when their father died, while John (12) would have been left in Thomas' care when his father died. It is possible that all three helped Thomas run the prison.

Peck Lane PrisonEdit

At a public meeting on the 9 September 1733, it was declared that a new prison would be erected at the public expense.[3] The new building was constructed later that year. It is possible that Richard Wooldridge was the first keeper, but as no record exists to confirm this, it is impossible to say.

As the keeper of the prison was not paid for his duty, he was also allowed to sell alcohol from the premises. This often lead to the keeper being occupied by a person buying alcohol, while the prisoners escaped over the back wall.

In the year 1779, the noble-minded philanthropist, John Howard, visited the prison in Peck Lane. After his visit, he noted the following about the building;

'The Court is only about 25 feet square. Keeper's House in front; and under it two cells down seven steps: the straw is on bedsteads. On one side of the court two night-rooms for woman, 8 feet by 5 feet 9 inches; and some rooms over them; on the other side is the gaoler's stable, and one small day-room for men and women; no window ... In this small court, besides the litter from the stable, there was a stagnant puddle near the sink, for the gaoler’s ducks. [Gaoler's poultry is a very common nuisance; but in so scanty a court it is intolerable.] The whole prison is very offensive. At some particular times here are freat numbers confined. Once in the winter of 1775 there were above 150, who by care of the magistrates had a supply of proper food, broth &c.'[4]

Howard re-visited the prison in 1788, and noted that although the Court had now been paved with broad stones, they were dirty by the fowls kept by Thomas.[5]

The Priestley Riots (July 1791)Edit

On the 14 July 1791, the citisens of Birmingham rioted over a dinner Joseph Priestley had organised to celebrate the second anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Thomas would play a part in the defense of the town.

The prison was stormed early on the 15 July, and latter in that day, the magistrates, with the help of Thomas called a public meeting in St Phillips churchyard. Here the organised the creation of several hundred 'special constables' that fought the rioters in front of William Hutton's house at the bottom of New Street. They eventually failed in their mission, and the riots continued until the 17 July, when the army was brought in.

Later LifeEdit

After the Priestley Riots, Thomas seems to have had a quite life, and he died only eight years later on the 19 June 1799. He was buried in St Phillips churchyard, where just under eight years before he had organised the only serious defense of the town against the Priestley Rioters. He seems to have died suddenly, as he had no will. After going to probate, all of his belongings, including the prison was left to his widow, Martha.


Name Birth Death
Children of Thomas and Martha Wooldridge

Sarah Wooldridge 1780
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England
21 August 1864
King's Norton, Worcestershire, England

Charlotte Wooldridge 1782
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England

Mary Ann Wooldridge 1783
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England

Patty Wooldridge 1786
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England

Thomas Wooldridge 1790
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England

Amelia Wooldridge 1793
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England

Samuel Ebrall Wooldridge 1795
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England


  1. ^ An History of Birmingham (1783) by William Hutton
  2. ^ Aris Birmingham Gazetta
  3. ^ Old and New Birmingham (1874)
  4. ^ A History of Birmingham(1997) by Chris Upton
  5. ^ A History of Birmingham(1997) by Chris Upton

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