Victorian London - Prisons and Penal System - Prisons - Holloway Prison [aka City Prison, City House of Correction]

THE CITY PRISON, Holloway, a castellated structure of some pretensions, was erected in 1853-5 from the designs of Mr. Bunning, the City architect. Of its six wings, four are appropriated to male prisoners, one to juveniles, and another to females. Each cell is carefully ventilated, and, in the winter, warmed by steam; each cell measures 13ft. by 7. The buildings occupy ten acres of ground, and provide accommodation for 436 criminals.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

City Prison.—A castellated building at Holloway, covering, with its appurtenances, about ten acres, and costing about £100,000. It will hold 436 prisoners, and is constructed on the "panopticon' principle, with six wings. It is a good specimen of the style, and may be inspected by order from the Home Secretary. NEAREST Railway Station, Camden- road (Midland Railway), a long half mile; Omnibus Route, Camden-road; Tramway, Holloway-road.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879


A CORRESPONDENT writes:- As much has been said of late about the treatment of untried prisoners at Holloway, it is possible that a recent personal experience may be of interest.
    Arrested without warning on a Friday evening, and brought before a magistrate on the following morning, I had not time to communicate with my friends as to bail, and found myself remanded for a week, and despatched to Holloway. It was about seven o'clock when we arrived at the gloomy portal. A ring at the bell, an eye peering through a grating, a door warily opened, and we passed in. "Males to the left." A short walk through a little courtyard, and we are at the inner entrance of the prison - the prison indeed! Immediately inside the door was a long passage, known as the reception-room, with a number of little cells on each side, about a foot and a half wide, into which new inmates were thrust for a few minutes, and then withdrawn again at the fancy of the warder. Then at short address was delivered on the rules and customs of the place, repeated by rote after the manner of a verger, which we were expected to remember precisely. Then a pair of sheets was given to each with the number of his cell, and we were marched off to repose Before this, however, we were taken by turns into a well-warmed parlour, stripped to the waist, measured and weighed, and offered a bath and some supper. Our worldly possessions were taken away, and it was with great difficulty that I obtained leave to take my tooth-brush to my den. As it was Saturday night, I found I could get no private apartment till Monday, or procure anything but prison fare.
    The food at first seemed repulsive, because it was served in rusty tin-pots, from which it had to be conveyed to the mouth in the best way possible; but when I was advanced to a "furnished apartment" at six shillings a week—by the way, it was not worth eighteen pence—and was able to pour my porridge out into a clean saucer and cat it with a wooden spoon, I found it admirable. Breakfast at 7.30 consisted of a small saucerful of porridge or gruel and a small loaf of brown bread. For dinner at 12 there was meat or soup, or suet with potatoes and bread. Only twice did I partake of this prison dinner. On the first occasion the piece de resistance was suet, and as this was on the Sunday, when I was in an ordinary cell, the mixture of suet and tin was too much for me. Later on, when I had once neglected to order my dinner, I was provided with soup, which was in reality a little dish of minced meat of a most savoury kind. At five o'clock came again bread and gruel or cocoa. The enforced abstention from tobacco and almost all alcohol, with the exact apportionment of wholesome food to the necessities of the case, conduces to bring the body into a very salubrious state.
    The first night in prison, especially in an ordinary cell, is not lively. Sill, sleep is good, and to feel that after 7 p.m. there is nothing left to live for but sleep for eleven hours is a small mercy for which you may be grateful. But, alas! for the early morning. Of all the sensations I experienced there was none mere awful than the sound of the early warder turning his keys in the locks. A long series of grinding sounds re-echoing through the entire building, and ever advancing nearer and nearer! If the conductor of the Drury Lane pantomime would listen to this for two or three mornings, he might evolve a good motive for the part of the overture descriptive of the powers of evil. In each cell, whether paid for or not, are six inevitable objects. First there are two cards explaining the rules of the place and the privileges of the untried, and a third suggesting his devotions, special allusion being tirade to his probable sin of intemperance. Besides this there is a Bible, prayer-book, at a hymn-book. The routine on a week day need only be described up to noon, as after that there was a blank till next morning, the prisoner being left severely alone, save for the intrusion of supper, or the possible visit of a warder with a book. Called at six, we were asked if we had any application to make to the governor. If we had, we were ordered off at seven o'clock, and placed in a row in the passage outside the chief warder's room, where we stood with our faces to the wall, like naughty boys, till each was summoned in turn into the presence of the chief warder, who took the place of the governor. At 7.30, breakfast; at 8.45, our dreary public devotions; about 10, and lasting for an hour, exercise in the courtyard; at 12, dinner.
    On Sundays meal-times were the same as on other days, and nothing else whatever occurred to relieve the monotony except two dreary services, each followed by a sermon, in in the most hideous chapel which the ingenuity of man could devise. There was no chance of making applications, and no exercise. As exercise was always the one comparatively bright spot in our existence, it is hard to understand why it was excluded from Sunday. The absence of exercise and the mortification of the Church of England services combined to make that day a very dreary one.
    So soon as the authorities were satisfied that I could probably read, I was presented with a bound volume of the Sunday at Home. As a proof that any port is good in a storm, I actually found one or two interesting articles in that sombre journal, and was quite sorry when it was accidentally removed. The day I lost sight of it I was also left without my newspaper. I therefore appealed piteously to a good-natured warder, who was in charge of my passage, and he asked me if I had read the Bible all through. I was obliged to confess that there were portions which I had not learnt by heart, but suggested that I could not be always reading the Bible. He said that was not at all the chaplain's view, which I readily believed. However, he ransacked an empty cell, and produced a racy little volume of sea-life, which carried me pleasantly through my last
    One of the most disagreeable experiences is being passed under review by the plain-clothes men, with a view to recognition, which takes place twice a week ; and another humiliating sensation is caused by being obliged, whenever you leave your cell, to attach to your coat-button a badge containing your number.
    At last cane the morning of departure, and again we found ourselves in the reception-room. A number of  small operations had to be gone through, occupying an hour, before we could be released. Another sermon had to be delivered by the verger-warder, pointing out what would happen on our return if we were found to have defaced our cells or injured the property of the prison, a warning which seemed after the event. At last I was wafted away, and by eleven o'clock acquitted and free.
    Now what are the main reflections to be drawn from these five days of misery? As regards board and lodging, there is not much to complain of; indeed, as regards board, nothing. The lodging, if you are unable to pay for a private room, is a mere prison cell, but at least it is perfectly clean, and the bed is one on which it is possible to sleep. For the rest you are, except at prayers and exercise, kept in strict solitary confinement. But surely thee theory on which the system is worked is wrong. It has always been a principle of the Constitution that a man is innocent  till he is proved guilty. Why, then, before he has been tried, or perhaps even committed for trial, should he be punished? Detained he must be, of course, but why made more uncomfortable than necessity requires? Why, for instance, should he not write as many letters as he chooses, and that on his own paper ? Why should there be any objection to his enjoying as many comforts as he chooses to provide? For three days I was not allowed my sponge, or brush and comb. Why should he not have as many books as he likes to bring with him, or his friends send him ? There are a host of minor  comforts now unjustly forbidden him, which would give little or no trouble to the attendants. All these deprivations are punishments, and therefore unjust. Why, again, should a man in an ordinary cell be forbidden to use his pallet-bed to lie on during the day? As it is, he is obliged to fold up and put away all his bedding, and place the bed upright against the wall, so that there is nothing left for him to sit down on except a narrow bench without a back. This is it gratuitous piece of discomfort. Why, when he hires a private room, must a profit be made out of him on the rent? Why should the warders, almost without exception, treat him like a dog, and assume a tone which implies that he is a hardened villain ? Why should he not have the option of a second outing in the course of the day? "You should not get into a place like this," was one warder's remark. but this might be the result of mistaken identity. No, the underlying idea in the warder's mind is that a man would not be there unless he was guilty, and therefore he must be punished. Again, with regard to the literature supplied, why should this always be of a goody-goody character ? It only shows that the same idea permeates the mind of all the responsible officials. You are a sinner, and must be called to repentance. But until a man is convicted, is it not rather an impertinence for the authorities to treat him as a greater sinner than themselves?
    An unfortunate act of neglect was committed in my case which might have entailed serious consequences. I prepared a careful statement of my defence on the Tuesday and addressed it to my solicitor with full instructions. It did not reach him till late on Thursday evening, whereas I had to appear in court on Friday morning. The consequence was that there was no time to subpoena one of my leading witnesses.

Pall Mall Gazette, 1892

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Holloway Gaol

Holloway Gaol - photograph


Her Majesty's prison at Holloway is an imposing building, modern in date and castellated in design, with excellently arranged accommodation. It is the chief gaol for London and the county of Middlesex, and is constantly in evidence owing to the fact that prisoners awaiting trial are thither sent. Holloway' Gaol also offers hospitality to debtors, to female convicted prisoners, and to a few special offenders, such as those who have committed contempt of court. It is a curious sight to see the women who have served their sentences discharged from the main gate, shown above. Lieut.-Colonel E. S. Milman combines in his person two offices, being Governor of both Holloway and Newgate prisons. Pentonville Prison is less than hall a mile distant.