Bridewell street building history

From riots to police headquarters to social enterprise – the story of our building.

The Bristol Wing is in a grade II listed building in the centre of Bristol, on Bridewell street (this will be important later). We love to talk about the building’s fascinating history and how it came to be in our care! The Wing is located on a larger complex of historic grade II listed buildings which include an old 13 bay fire station and magistrate’s court. These buildings are run by creative organisations such as Artspace and Creative Youth Network, which offers creative hubs for young people.

Here is a little timeline of the building:

Ye old times –

Where The Bristol Wing now stands used to be the site of the River Frome (historically the River Froom). The River Frome formed the boundary between the parishes of St. John and St. James. The 13th century town wall ran alongside the river on the side of the St. John parish. However, the river was later culverted and now runs underneath our building.

In 1285, Bridewell prison was established inside the town wall at the Monks’ bridge. The use of the word Bridewell has historically been used for prisons or ‘houses of correction.’ Read this article for more details.

The riots and aftermath –

During the Bristol Riots in October, 1831, the Bridewell Prison was burned down and partially destroyed, freeing the prisoners in the process. These riots were for democratic rights after the House of Lords rejected a Reform Bill which would have given greater representation to Bristol in the House of Commons. The Bridewell prison was later rebuilt on the Western side of Bridewell Street, previously named ‘Bridewell Lane’.

In 1835 a local Constabulary was established and the Bridewell site (on the Eastern side of Bridewell Lane) was picked to become the new central police station which was built from 1842-1844.


Bristol, along with London and Glasgow, was one of the first UK cities to appoint female police officers, with the Women’s Division in Bristol being established in 1920 to replace the men gone off to war.

In 1928, the new Police Headquarters was built on the site of the original 1844 police station. The headquarters were the location of the Chief Constables offices. This building is what we now have today – with some of the original features still present, and some little quirks along the way! (if you are watching TV over that tile wall in reception, that used to be the men’s toilets!)

We are especially proud of the central lift, which has been restored to its original state and still functions today (so not only are we really cool, but we are accessible too).

If you are standing in the courtyard, you ought to look up above the Bristol Wing sign – you’ll see a clock which is dated to 1884! Perhaps saved from the original police station, but we aren’t entirely sure.

The 80’s and beyond

In 1986, those based in the Police Headquarters moved across the street to the new police station that we see today. The building was then left empty and susceptible to disrepair until 2007 when it was purchased by Urban Splash with the aim to turn it into a boutique hotel and retail space.

From 2007 to 2010 Urban Splash rented the building out to The Invisible Circus, a project which brings disused buildings back into the community by transforming them into public art spaces. The circus group used to present large entertainment shows in the shared courtyard between the old police headquarters and the fire station. Grand acrobatic displays were often performed down the sides of the building.

The YMCA’s involvement leading to The Wing

The YMCA became involved in the neighbouring Fire Station in 2012 when The Kitchen was opened, a café and catering social enterprise offering training and employment opportunities to young people.

In 2013 the YMCA (then YMCA Bath Group) approached Urban Splash about the possibility of purchasing The Old Police Headquarters as we felt it was the ideal location, size and character for a hostel that would enable us to pursue our objectives of providing accommodation to young people at risk of homelessness.  The purchase was completed in October 2013.

In 2016 the refurbishment of the building into The Bristol Wing commenced; this renovation was made possible by the funding of: The Heritage Lottery Fund; Local Enterprise Partnership; Clothworkers Foundations; Garfield Weston Charitable Trust, as well as lots of other generous trusts and individuals.

In 2017, The Bristol Wing officially opened as a commercial hostel with a community purpose. 9 rooms were reserved for young people at risk of homelessness in the Bristol area, with Chaplains, trained staff, and volunteers on site to offer support.

  • Surplus funds from the commercial hostel were reinvested into the running of the supported housing project on site.
  • Weekly community dinners, called The Feast, brought together residents, guests, volunteers and staff.
  • We were chosen as Sawday’s first ever Community Champion in 2017, a relationship that has since been rekindled and is going strong! See this recent article about our Wing.
A new life

With the outbreak of covid, 2020 saw the closing of The Wing to the public. But we didn’t want our social purpose to halt, so we sublet the building to St. Mungo’s Homeless Charity who used it to shelter the street homeless throughout the pandemic.

2020 also saw the official merger of YMCA Mendip and YMCA Bath into YMCA Brunel Group.

In the summer of 2022 the building was returned to us, but in quite a state of disrepair. Work began on renovating the building back into a hostel, with a fresh style and new stories.

March 2023 the building is now open again as a commercial hostel. While we no longer offer supported housing within the building itself, any surplus funds go directly towards our wider charity, YMCA Brunel Group, so we can carry on our mission to support young people at risk. We continue to provide specialist supported housing for young people in various locations across Mendip, South Somerset, and Bath.

A community that keeps growing

We strongly believe in the importance of community, and we want to continue to give back to our community and offer a welcoming hub for people to get together, learn and grow. As we have worked to re-open, we ask that you bear with us. We haven’t been able to come back in the full capacity of what we once were, but we hope to bring back those details that made us so awesome – not that we aren’t still awesome, but there is always room to grow! We’ve got some great ideas on the back burner…simmering away for now as we get our feet back on the ground.

We are pleased to be surrounded by such incredible organisations that also happen to champion young people, community, and creativity!

When you stay with us, visit us, share our story, you are making all of our dreams possible.