The roundhouse in Castle Cary, Somerset was built in 1779 to house the town’s drunks and criminals before they faced the district judge.

February 20, 2024

The domed roundhouse in Castle Cary, Somerset was built in 1779 to house the town’s drunks and criminals before they faced the district judge.

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The Grade 2 listed structure is one of very few surviving examples of a circular lock-up in Britain.

The small and perfectly circular building is constructed of Lias stone blocks raised on a slight plinth, approximately 3m in diameter and 2.5m high.

Entrance into the building is through a small studded door set above four uneven steps.

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The lock-up is windowless and has two ventilation grilles, one above the door and the other at the base of the dome on the north side.

Lock ups, also known as round houses, blind houses and clinks, are temporary holding places for offenders being brought before the magistrate.

Sometimes a cell was located in or under a public building, but most lock ups were purpose built, usually small square, rectangular, octagonal or occasionally circular stone buildings.

Most were windowless with one or two ventilation grilles, often set under the eaves or into the single door.

The earliest recorded lock up dates from the 13th century, and most fell out of use when police stations with their own holding facilities were established.

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Less than 300 lock ups are currently recorded nationally, mostly grouped in clusters such as in Essex, West Yorkshire and Derbyshire, with the highest concentrations in Wiltshire and Somerset.

In some counties, such as Hampshire, there are no recorded examples.

The lock-up at Castle Cary, known as the Round House, is a rare example of its class both in terms of its completely circular shape, being one of only four recorded circular lock-ups in Somerset, and its distinctive domed roof.

It is very well maintained and provides a focal point for the town in its prominent position on Bailey Hill.

Lock ups fell out of use after the County Police Act of 1839, which established proper police stations with holding cells, came into force.

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In Castle Cary the constable was housed in the Market House (built 1855) and two cells were inserted into the ground floor.

With the Castle Cary Round House falling into disrepair it was eventually given to the town by the then lord of the manor, Sir Henry Hoare.

Various repairs were undertaken and today it remains a quirky curiosity for visitors with the keys available for those who want to experience how incarceration felt.

Recently, it has been licensed as an usual wedding venue – the smallest in Britain.

There is just enough space inside for a bride, groom and registrar!

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According to Castle Cary Town Council promotional material: “The bride and groom are able to make their vows under lock and key – and manacles if necessary.

”Couples looking to inject an element of humour in their special day will revel in the ‘dramatic irony’ this building provides.”

Around the country, there are over 150 surviving examples of lock-ups.

Circular lock-ups are relatively uncommon, although not as rare as the plaque on the one in `castle Cary would suggest.

This says that there are four in the country, but recent research has so far revealed a total of eleven others.

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Castle Cary is one of the most attractive of Somerset’s market towns.

Tucked away in a secluded spot a few miles off the A303, the golden stone of Castle Cary and Ansford exudes a warm glow complemented by its glorious setting in the South Somerset countryside and its friendly inhabitants.

The town has many other attractive historic buildings, including its 19th century Market House and the thatched George Hotel.

The main street, stretching down to the old Horse Pond, is full of individual high-quality shops, delicatessens, cafes and restaurants.

Tuesday is market day, when fish, bread and organic vegetables are sold on the cobbles in front of the Market House.

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If you’re walking, rambling, or simply looking for a quiet time in the countryside, Cary can provide it.

There are several inns in the town, wonderful restaurants and tearooms making it perfect destination for a relaxing country break.

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