'Committed to twelve months hard labour in the County Bridewell for being a lewd woman.’ This was the fate of many unfortunate women in Hampshire who gave birth to illegitimate babies in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Bridewell, a prison designed for lesser offenders, also known as a House of Correction, was located close St Bartholomew’s Church in Hyde, and a number of these women and their babies lie buried in the churchyard.
Generated from research by Hyde900 volunteers, Lewd Women and Female Felons is a play for voices, written by local author Cecily O’Neill, Artistic Director of 2TmeTheatre. Enlivened by songs and ballads of the period, the play offers a glimpse of the lives of the women who suffered such harsh conditions in the County Bridewell.
Cecily O’Neill said: “‘When I encountered the names of these women in the archives of the Hampshire Record Office I began to imagine what they had suffered, often abandoned by the fathers of their children and too poor to care for the children themselves, and facing the shame of imprisonment for being Lewd Women.’
Cecily’s most recent project was ‘'A Fruitful Season: Keats in Winchester’ which was staged in July as part of the Winchester Festival.
The event is part of Hyde900’s King Alfred Weekend and takes place on Sunday 27 October at 4pm in St. Bartholomew’s Church, Hyde. It follows a talk by Dr Helen Paul of the University of Southampton on the history and conditions of the Bridewell at Hyde Parish Hall at 2.45pm. Tickets for each event are £5 (£4 for Hyde900 members, under 16s, free) and are available to book online here: https://www.hyde900.org.uk/events/lewd-women-and-female-felons/