Black holes, Lock ups & Roundhouses

Typical interior

The Lock up

These were temporary holding places for detaining people whilst they awaited their appointment with the magistrate. Frequent occupants would be the village drunk and the local trouble makers.

A  lock-up was, typically, a small building with a single, or sometimes double cell.  Most lock-ups feature a dome or spire shaped roof and were built from bricks or large stones. Although they came in a wide variety of designs and look picturesque and quaint today, they were, however, essentially dark, dank holding cells.

Village lock-ups have a variety of names: guard house, watch house, gaol, roundhouse, black hole and most commonly lock up, and there are probably about 200 or so dotted around the country, usually close by the village pub or on the green.


There was of course a black hole on the site of the Town Hall before the present building was erected but the closest, instantly recognisable one is probably the delightful structure at Alfriston. You can find it in Dene car park and it’s built in local flint, with a flat slate roof, and has a door and two windows. Just when it was built and what its original purpose was is open to conjecture, however it may have been a dovecot or possibly a munitions store.

Comments about this page

  • The Flint Tower of Alfriston was built in the early 20th century as a play house by the owner of the Dene before the garden was aquired to become the present car park. There was a mill on this site in the 17th-19th centuries and the tower may have used flints salvaged from the earlier structure. The plaque was erected by charter 600 to celebrate 600 years since Henry IV granted a charter to hold a market in Alfriston

    By Tony Woodthorp (17/08/2012)

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