Posts Tagged ‘HMP Wandsworth’

The Wandsworth Prison Museum was founded and has been run by a London Historians Member for the past 10 years. He is a serving prison officer at HMP Wandsworth. He has organised these on-site events during 2018.

2008-2018 10th Anniversary Events

20.5.18 Boardroom Talk “ The Prison & the First World War” Spies, hangings,
Conscientious Objectors, Easter Rising.

8.7.18 “The Ronnie Biggs escape” (8.7.1965) External and internal wall walk
and talk during the history tour of the escape.

8.9.18 Boardroom talk “Wandsworth’s Last hanging and the end of capital
punishment” (8.9.1961)

4.11.18 Boardroom talk “Oscar Wilde, his time at HMP Wandsworth

The above events are taking place for a maximum of 20 per event, as part of a small scale celebration of 10 years of the Wandsworth Prison Museum.

The venue for the talks is the Governor’s Boardroom inside the prison but all groups will meet initially at the Wandsworth Prison Museum at 11am. The talks and one walk will be for approximately one hour.

To book.
As the venue is inside the prison, the following is needed to make a booking:
Name, address and date of birth of each visitor. Visitors must be over the age of 18.
One booking per person, which is not transferable as there may be a waiting list should any event be over booked.
Bookings can be made by emailing: Wandsworthprisonmuseum@hmps.gsi.gov.uk or in writing at Wandsworth Prison Museum, C/O POA Office, Heathfield Road, London SW18 3HS

The above is the current agenda, other events may be added if time and resources permit


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Along with Pentonville, Wormwood (“the Scrubs”) Scrubs and Holloway for the ladies, HMP Wandsworth enjoys high brand recognition among the nation’s prisons. It was opened in 1851 as the Surrey House of Correction. In design it mainly comprised a central domed hub from which six three-storey wings emanated. Not quite the pure panopticon idea as Jeremy Bentham would have liked, but thinking along those lines. The regime also imposed the latest in prison theory – a separation and silence scheme whereby inmates neither saw nor heard their fellow lags from one year to the next – this was thought rather enlightened at the time. Wandsworth was a hanging gaol – originally for the County of Surrey – with a working gallows right up until 1993 (the death penalty in the UK was suspended under the Murder Act of 1965). Of its 153 condemned, notable victims included the traitor John Amery and Derek Bentley.

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HMP Wandsworth: imposing.

Last week a small group of London Historians members were given a tour of the prison. A proper tour. Right into the heart of the building, into the wings and among the prisoners themselves. They looked at us, totally without expression, for my part I found it rather unnerving. Though totally understandable, it’s a great shame that we could not take photos. I say this for purely architectural reasons, because the building is classic Victorian institutional architecture: imposing. The inevitable dome; countless bricks; much iron, as one would expect – bars, grilles, mesh. The paintwork throughout is cream and blue, which sounds nice at least. It is very noisy, helped along by the echo effect derived no doubt from the cavernous nature of the central hall. You really have to speak up to make yourself heard. You know he sound effects at the beginning of Porridge? It’s exactly like that, only more so. The whole experience was fascinating.

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Death warrants for high treason of John Amery and William Joyce (“Lord Haw-haw”)

HMP Wandsworth

Our group at the prison museum.

Afterwards we visited the prison’s tiny museum, which is outside the premises. One of our number has written that part of our visit here.

We are especially grateful to serving prison officer Stewart Mclaughlin who sanctioned our visit and chaperoned us throughout. He is the founding curator of the museum which he runs entirely on a voluntary basis. Stewart has offered our members another visit later in the year.

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A new exhibition on the history of HMP Wandworth opens at the Wandsworth Museum this Friday, commemorating the 160th anniversary of the former Surrey House of Correction.

Now an imposing and grim Victorian edifice, in 1851 the gaol was the acme of modern theory on incarceration and rehibilitation, incorporating the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and other deep thinkers on such matters. The name of the exhibition is a good summary: Separation and Silence. Victorians viewed criminality as a kind of illness that could be cured in the same was as disease, that is to say isolating patients/prisoners from infection, first and foremost. Hence prisons were built that accommodated prisoners one to a cell with no interaction with other human beings – apart from warders – whatsoever. And these are the gaols that are so familiar to us today through TV programmes such as Porridge and countless crime dramas.

The exhibition tells us all about the history of HMP Wandsworth – mostly grim but deeply interesting – yet also features photography, artwork and needlework by currently serving prisoners. Without being in any way patronising, these are all of astoundingly high quality: there’s talent behind them bars. So there is an upbeat side to the show as well.

The most engaging part of the show is inevitably celebrity (Oscar Wilde, Ronald Biggs) and capital punishment (John Amery, William Joyce, Derek Bentley). HMP Wandworth had a working gallows right up until 1993. Although capital punishment was generally abolished in 1965, there were still capital crimes on the statute books that recently (treason, piracy with violence etc.). The most macabre exhibit is an execution box, which contained the tools of the trade that despatchers such as Albert Pierrepoint used. See the image below.

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No prison exhibition would be complete without this.

wandsworth museum

Prison cell furniture, made by prisoners themselves. No nails, screws: all wood, dowels etc.

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Execution box. All the paraphernalia to despatch the condemned. Contains two nooses, just in case.

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Briefcase and personal belongings of HB (Harry) Allen, Britain's last working executioner, who despatched James Hanratty in 1962.

This show is an excellent peek behind the walls of Victorian prisons, so many of which are still with us today.

Separation and Silence opens on 16 September and runs until 31 December. Entry is £4. More information from the Wandsworth Museum web site.

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