“First, What kind of life was lived in this place, that is, Why and how did its builders build as they did?
And second, what rules with general validity and applicability did they follow?”
Carroll William Westfall, Learning From Pompeii.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Cage

"The cage" is, I believe, a term peculiar to Richmond, as applied to the receptacle for offenders. It originated from a structure, so called, erected at the north-east end of the market bridge, some fifty years ago when it terminated close to the market-house; its long parapet-wall of brick, surmounted by a capping of free-stone. This cage, of octagonal form, had iron gratings on three sides, about ten  feet above the street, and the floor of this prison was arranged ampitheatrically, so that each occupant could see, and what was worse, be seen from the street." Samuel Mordercai 1858

Richmond's administration of justice at the city-scale consisted, at first, of the punishment of minor miscreants, using the ancient means of public shaming and of more serious offenders, by flogging. In addition, English market halls often included a cage, or other enclosure, where those who were picked up at night for disturbing the peace were held until they could be brought before a magistrate in the morning. Lock-ups, variously termed "cages," round-houses," or other fearsome names, were built in villages across England during the late eighteenth and wary nineteenth centuries. Night watches were re-instituted in 1802. One was appointed for each of the city's three wards. They called out the hour by crying “O yea! O yea! Twelve o’clock and all’s well" [Christian 1912].

The Roundhouse at Wavertree, near Liverpool, built 1796, hipped roof added 1869. Unusually
 elaborate two-story version of the lock-ups found across England from the 1780s to the
1830s, when the establishment of a police force rendered them redundant. They do not appear to
 have been used, in any instance, to exhibit the offenders to the public gaze. 
These served for the temporary incarceration of persons, such as vagrants and drunkards, who had offended against public order. There was something of a crisis in these kinds of offenses by villagers and outsiders, in the years following. The enclosure of land and the increase in industrialization. In some cases, these tiny buildings were given rather ostentatiously octagonal or circular forms, as if in remembrance of the market cross and its association with public penance. 

Incorporated towns in Virginia also maintained lock-ups or cages as short-term holding cells. Richmond, for many reasons, had a similar problem with bad behavior, particularly in the area around the market.  City records show that on 12 September 1785, a night watch was authorized to arrest and confine suspected and disorderly persons after 10 PM and a ducking stool was established. A committee was appointed to make repairs to a building called "the cage" and for necessities for the night watch.  

The city's common court eventually devised an unusual structure to house offenders, known, like its predecessor, as “the Cage.” In 1811, a post and rail barrier was placed around the market house and cage. 

 Richmond City Market in 1814. Cage as shown in context of Richmond City Market. 
Detail from Virginia Mutual Assurance Society policy.

Located beside the Market Hall, the elaborate brick and stone cage contained open cells where “night-owls,” or other "disorderly persons" were held in a structure designed in the  form of a three-story cupola. The second and apparently third stages were divided into wedge-shaped cells protected by gratings. The structure was built on a stone first floor and, with what may have been an ironic intention on the part of the city's leaders, was surmounted by a dome.  Unlike most contemporary lock-ups in Britain, which were dark and tightly enclosed, the Richmond cage left the occupants exposed to the gaze of the citizens and to the weather. In this way it combined the function of the stocks and the jail. 

The octagonal cage was dated by Samuel Mordecai in 1856 to fifty years before, or about 1806. As we have seen, there was an earlier cage that was repaired in 1785. The building type was mentioned in 1814 by a traveler, Thomas H. Palmer, who mentioned that the cage was "a small room on the ground floor of jails for the confinement of unruly persons. It is generally in a public part of town, and the gate being formed of iron bars, the culprit is of course exposed to the view of the passengers." As Bryan Clark Green has observed, this kind of shaming was seen as appropriate for the maintenance of civic order: "the punishment meted out for the violation of corporation law was a public act: both actions emphasize that the offenders can be seen in the cage and that this public shaming was an essential part of the punishment. . . . in  what was perhaps the busiest public place in the town: the market." 

 Richmond City Market in 1814. Cage as shown in detail from Virginia Mutual Assurance Society policy.

The building type the Cage most resembles, and from which it most likely took its form, is the market cross, a small, often octagonal structure that was a fixture of many English market squares. It evolved from the symbol of God’s blessing on the commerce of the market town to a secular representation of political authority from which proclamations were read or to which shackles were attached for public whippings [Mark GirouardThe English Town].

The cupola as a rooftop architectural element often housed a clock or bell, which, in the absence of any other chronological standard, established the time around which daily life was ordered. It was usually reserved for use on official buildings as a sign and function of the authority of government in both England and the colonies. Here, it almost appears as if the market hall’s spire had been placed on the ground next to it in order to perform its function as regulator of the community’s order in a most literal fashion. 

The Cage did, in fact, house a bell [Common Hall records, 1816-1819, 271). It may have served as the original market bell, that marked the opening and closing of the market and was used as an alarm for the whole town. A new bell may have been purchased for the tower that formed the center of the enlarged market created in 1817-18 [Common Hall, 5 July 1817].

The cage was ordered demolished in the same year and the bell was to be sold by the Master of Police. A successor to the cage was probably located in the base of the new tower that connected the original market building with the addition of 1817-18. A cage is said to have been in use until 1827 and, in 1830, it was listed as a responsibility of the mayor to "daily, on each morning, to attend at the City Cage and direct the punishment or discharge of such persons as may be there confined, and in relation to whose cases he may be authorized to decide finally" [An Ordinance. . . establishing a Regular Police in the City of Richmond and prescribing the duties of the Mayor. . . [and] the Night Watch thereof, May 10 1830].

As the city gained new institutions like a court house (City Hall, 1818) and a city jail (1830), the role of the market-place in punishment receded. Stocks, pillory, and whipping post were likely maintained at the Henrico County Public Square on Main Street and also constructed at the new City Jail. As the marginal common land on which the Cage had been built became the site of new commercial buildings during the antebellum period, the infliction of punishment for crimes receded from the center of public life. After the Civil War, with a replacement of the old methods of shaming by increasing levels of long-term incarceration, corporate punishment receded behind the high walls of the county and city jails. 

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