Lavenham Guildhall once housed a Bridewell, or jail. Ann Baker was committed to the Bridewell in 1783 after running away from Cosford Union workhouse in Semer, Suffolk, where she was prisoner.
Young, alone and transported to Australia
After being at Semer for a couple of years living with such harsh conditions, it’s little wonder that she felt she had to escape. She was sentenced to three years hard labour for embezzling goods and for running away. However, it wasn’t long before poor Ann got into trouble again.
Things got unbearably bad for Ann, as in 1785, now aged 12, she took the ultimate risk. She ran away from the Cosford Union Workhouse for the second time.
Each year that went by at Cosford must have been torture for young Ann, until she couldn’t stand it any longer.
However, she didn’t get far before being caught and tried at Bury St. Edmunds court in around October 1785. Judged as "an incorrigible rogue" Ann was sentenced to seven years transportation. She was barely a teenager. Ann was then confined to Lavenham Bridewell to await the next transportation to Australia.
With its draughty beams, dark interior and no heating, the Guildhall was in a very poor state of repair, looking much different to the way we see it today. Prisoners could even escape through the beams! There was nothing to sit on, no straw or even water. They were locked up indoors all the time because the courtyard wasn’t secure. This must have been terrifying to children like Ann.
Being a prisoner at the Bridewell would have been almost punishment in itself without the thought of being on a ship for 159 days with many other convicts bound for Australia. You could imagine her cries of loneliness and fear at what was to come as she sat in the back of the cart on her journey to the convict ship ‘Neptune’.
She boarded the ship for Australia in December 1789. The long journey would have been an extreme endurance. With 1072 convicts divided between 4 ships it was a gruelling cramped life below decks. Deliberately starved with little food, and heavily ironed; rapid disease spread and around 26% of the convicts died on the journey. The ship only made one stop for the whole voyage, so could Ann survive the journey?
The Rev. Johnson went to the convicts as soon as all the ships reached port.
Discover more about what it might have been like for Ann and see her whole story when you visit the Guildhall.