Are these the nine British Victorian prisons that Osborne and Gove will close?

Help us figure out which old jails will close

Pentonville prison in London

Source: Wikipedia

 

Have we seen the end of Britain’s Victorian prisons with their Dickensian conditions?

Well, not quite yet. But the government has announced that it will close Victorian jails and build nine new prisons – five of them by 2020.

It will say exactly which prisons will shut on 25 November. We thought we’d have an educated guess before then. But we need your help.

Below is our list, but please let us know which Victorian prisons you think have more than served their time in the comments below.

 

Source: David Anstiss

Source: David Anstiss

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ONE: Brixton, London  

Let’s start with one of the easier ones. It is hardly a coincidence that Chancellor George Osborne and Justice Secretary Michael Gove chose Brixton to make their announcement.

“Many of our jails are relics from Victorian times on prime real estate in our inner cities,” said Mr Osborne from the prison in a rapidly-gentrifying part of south London.  

Mr Gove said the new prisons would “design out the dark corners which too often facilitate violence and drug-taking.” 

A brief history   

Brixton was built in 1820 to house 175 prisoners, but it has been overcrowded from its inception. In 1821, it became one of the first prisons to introduce treadwheels, the footings of which remain visible.

Women prisoners had to spend four months in solitary confinement when they arrived and had to remain in silence after they joined the general population. The prison no longer holds female inmates.

Brixton was also a military prison from 1882 until 1898.

Recent history   

A 2008 report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons warned of drug-taking and violent gang attacks as well as an infestation of vermin.

A 2014 report found concerns regarding levels of violence, incidents of self-harm, overcrowding and offender management.

Infamous inmates

  • Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician and advocate of social reform.
  • The Kray Twins, remanded in Brixton from late 1968 to early 1969, when they were convicted.
  • Mick Jagger, singer from the Rolling Stones.

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Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

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TWO: Pentonville, London  

Another of the more obvious candidates perhaps as Mr Gove has already called it “the most dramatic example of failure within the prison estate”.

However, on a note of caution, its closure was first suggested in the 1930s.

A brief history   

Pentonville opened in 1842 and became the model for over 50 other prisons in Britain and hundreds throughout the British Empire. It had five radiating wings, all visible to staff at the centre, and each prisoner had his own small cell with little windows.

It staged executions from 1902 until 1961. Irish revolutionary Roger Casement and Udham Singh, the Indian revolutionary who shot the Governor of the Punjab during the Amritsar Massacre, were hanged there.

Recent history  

In February 2014, a report by Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said Pentonville will not have a “viable future” without a major refurbishment and extra staff. 

A follow-up report in June 2015 said the prison had “deteriorated even further” saying many inmates were left without basic provisions. There were also “mounds of rubbish” on the floors and cockroach infestations. 

Infamous inmates

  • Oscar Wilde, genius. 
  • Éamon de Valera, Irish republican leader.
  • Musicians: Pete Doherty, Boy George and George Michaelhave all spent time in the prison.

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Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

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THREE: Strangeways, Manchester 

The government’s announcement led to immediate speculation in Manchester that Strangeways would be high up on the list of prisons to close.

The jail houses 1,200-plus inmates despite only having capacity for 1,000. It also holds up to 40 of the most dangerous ‘category A’ inmates. 

A brief history   

The prison was built on the grounds of Strangeways Park and Gardens in 1868. Its walls are rumoured to be 16 feet thick and it was one of the few prisons to have a permanent gallows. The last execution was in 1964.

It is most infamous for having the biggest riot in British prison history. In April 1990, 147 staff and 47 prisoners were injured in a series of riots and much of the prison had to be rebuilt after.

Recent history  

The Independent Monitoring Board’s annual report into the prison found that inmates were locked in their cells most of the day, warders were “barely visible” and that violence and drugs were rife. Inspectors blamed a reduction in staff due to government cuts.

In September, convicted murderer Stuart Horner staged a three-day rooftop protest at the jail, railing at conditions inside.

Infamous inmates

  • Christabel Pankhurst, suffragette, was held for a week.
  • Emily Davison, suffragette, sentenced to a month’s hard labour in 1909 
  • Brendan Behan, Irish republican, playwright and poet
  • Ian Brady, held for theft prior to the Moors murders.
  • Harold Shipman, serial killer held there on remand whilst awaiting trial.

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Source: Streets of Liverpool

Source: Streets of Liverpool

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FOUR: Walton, Liverpool  

Just as in Manchester, there was also speculation in Liverpool that its jail would be on the list for closure.

A brief history   

HMP Liverpool, which was built in 1855, was originally known as Walton Gaol. The prison was the site of 62 executions from 1887 to 1964.

In 1939, the IRA attempted unsuccessfully to break a wall of the prison during a German bombing campaign.  Later, German bombs did the job for them by partially demolishing the prison and killing 22 inmates.

Recent history  

A recent report by the Inspectorate of Prisons branded the prison as dirty and unsafe.

It found the accommodation was overcrowded and poorly equipped and the daily routine was “chaotic and unpredictable”. It concluded: “Liverpool was, and remains, a tough prison to run successfully.”

Infamous inmates

  • Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton, influential British suffragette activist
  • Baron Brockway,  a British anti-war activist and politician
  • Joey Barton, footballer

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Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

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FIVE: Wormwood Scrubs, London    

Wormwood Scrubs is a Category B men’s prison in west London named after an open area of fields next to it. 

A brief history      

The prison was built from 1874-91 with much of the work done by 50 inmates. It was taken over by MI5, the British internal security agency, during World War II.

In 1979, IRA prisoners staged a rooftop protest over visiting rights during which 60 inmates and several prison officers were injured. 

Recent history

A 2014 report by the Inspectorate of Prisons described the prison as “filthy”. It also criticised the failure to implement a plan to deal with suicide and self-harm.

“I have never seen a public service deteriorate so rapidly and so profoundly,” said Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform. 

Infamous inmates

  • George Blake, former British spy who worked as a double agent for the Soviet Union.
  • Lord Alfred Douglas, friend and lover of Oscar Wilde. 
  • Keith Richards, guitarist with the Rolling Stones was jailed for cannabis use.

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Source: Maureen Barlin on Flickr

Source: Maureen Barlin on Flickr

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SIX: Wandsworth, London   

Wandsworth is Britain’s biggest prison, a Category B men’s jail in southwest London. 

A brief history   

Wandsworth was built in 1851 and it shows. Prisoners there still had to engage in the humiliating process of “slopping out” until 1996!

In the 1950s, it was the holding prison for a national stock of the birch and the cat o’ nine tails, implements for corporal punishment inflicted as a disciplinary penalty under the prison rules.

It also had a gallows, which witnessed 135 executions between 1878 and 1961 and which was kept in full working order until 1993.

Recent history

Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that “almost every service” in Wandsworth was inadequate when he published a highly critical report in July 2015.

The report found that officers were sometimes “absent altogether” from parts of the jail. Prisoners suffered from deteriorating health care and inadequate education & rehabilitation work, often being locked in overcrowded cells for 23 hours a day.

It also highlighted the death of 12 inmates – including five suicides and an “apparent homicide” – in the past two years.

Infamous inmates

  • Ronnie Biggs, participant in the Great Train Robbery, who escaped from the prison in 1965 
  • James Earl Ray, assassin of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Remanded from 8 June to 19 July 1968.
  • Julian Assange, remanded in custody on 7 December 2010 after being refused bail prior to an extradition hearing 
  • Sex offenders: Max Clifford, Rolf Harris and Gary Glitter.

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Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

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SEVEN: Armley, Leeds  

Leeds was also full of rumours about its prison recently. Known locally as Armley Gaol, it is a Category B men’s prison.  

A brief history   

Armley opened in 1847. It was a site of execution by hanging from then until 1961.

Two wings were added in 1994, a new gate complex was opened in September 2002 and most of the older parts of the prison have been refurbished since 2003.

Recent history

May 2013 inspection report said that prisoners did not have enough “purposeful activity” and that vulnerable inmates needed better protection at the prison. The report also found that the quality and quantity of food given to inmates was poor.

Infamous inmates

  • Lilian Lenton, an English dancer, suffragist, terrorist, and winner of a French Red Cross medal for her service as an Orderly in World War I. 
  • John Poulson, a British architectural designer and businessman who caused a major political scandal when his use of bribery was disclosed in 1972. 
  • Stefan Ivan Kiszko,  a 23-year-old tax clerk of Ukrainian-Slovenian parentage who served 16 years after he was wrongly convicted of a young girl’s sexual assault and murder

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Source: Deborah Tilley

Source: Deborah Tilley

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EIGHT: Swansea, Wales   

Wales has a couple of its own Victorian prisons in need of closure. Swansea has a capacity of 445 and is colloquially known as “Cox’s farm” after a former governor.

A brief history

The jail was built between 1845 and 1861 to replace former prison accommodation at Swansea Castle. Both men and women were incarcerated there until 1922.

A total of 15 hangings for murder took place at Swansea prison between 1858 and 1958. 

Recent history

A damning report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in February 2015 found that a number of inmates said it was “easy” to get illegal drugs into the jail.

It also said that much of Swansea’s accommodation was overcrowded and there was a lack of furniture and insufficient access to showers.

Infamous inmates

None that we know of. Do you know any? If so, please let us know.

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Question_mark_(black_on_white)

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NINE: You tell us! 

There were several candidates for number nine. The Welsh would not only like to see Swansea closed, but perhaps Cardiff too.  

There were also suggestions in the Bristol press that its local prison should make the list. And then there are other old Victorian prisons such as Birmingham (1849), Hull (1870), Durham (1810-19) and Preston (1840-1895).

But which prisons do you think should make the list? Please tell us below.


One Comment on “Are these the nine British Victorian prisons that Osborne and Gove will close?”


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