John Bunyan (1628-1688): His Life, Times, and Work

By John Brown; Frank Mott Harrison | Go to book overview

VIII.
TWELVE YEARS IN BEDFORD GAOL.

TILL recent years there was a rooted tradition and belief that the picturesque old gaol which had stood so long on Bedford bridge, and was taken down in 1765, was the place in which Bunyan spent the many years of his prison life. This was accepted without question till Mr. Blower of Bedford, in a letter to a local paper, first called attention to the difficulties in the way of an entire reception of the current belief. Subsequently, in the year 1868, Mr. Wyatt of the same town read a paper before the Archæological Society, sustaining the position taken by Mr. Blower. He pointed out, for example, that Bunyan's offence was committed, not in the borough, but within the county jurisdiction, and that the warrant by virtue of which he was apprehended was issued by a county magistrate, whereas the prison on the bridge was the town gaol and under the sole jurisdiction of the municipal authorities. A reference to the Corporation Records also showed that in the year 167¾, when Bunyan was a prisoner, the bridge dungeon was swept away by a great flood in the river. The entry is as follows: "Whereas, through a sodain inundãcon of ye waters of Ouse the ston house called ye Bridge house in this towne is p'talie fallen down and ye rest much shaken and like to fall, and ye foundãcon or pile whereon it stood, a great part washed away, &c." In this dismantled condition the Bridge Prison remained from 1671 till 1675, so that the last few months of Bunyan's imprisonment must have been spent elsewhere, even if the former part had not. But it is tolerably certain that the whole of the twelve years' imprisonment was spent in the County Gaol. Mr. Wyatt's position is supported by two or three considerations to which he himself does not refer. Not only was Bunyan arrested under the warrant of a county magistrate for a county offence, but, as we

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