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THE HOUSE OF CORRECTION
Having learned from those interesting tables to be found in Blue Books that, notwithstanding all my observations in pauper-London, and notably in thief-London, the proportion of juvenile crime during the last year has shown a satisfactory decrease, when considered in relation to the increase of population and the statistics of adult criminality: that in England and Wales the commitments of offenders under 16 years of age were, in 1862, 8349, and last year the number had only increased to 8459, while in Scotland the returns present an actual diminution: there were in Scotland 1120 commitments in 1862, while in 1863 there were 1075: that on the whole of Great Britain there was an increase of less than 1 per cent., which is considerably below what the increase of the population would naturally produce: that there were
3677 boys and 1000 girls under detention in reformatories and industrial schools at the close of last year: that of this number 227 boys and 36 girls were out on licence; 9 boys and 4 girls in prison; and 85 boys and 14 girls absconded and not yet recovered--leaving the number actually in schools 3356 boys and 946 girls respectively, of whom 618 boys and 263 girls were in Catholic reformatories: that of the whole number, 2609 boys and 712 girls were under detention in England; and 724 boys and 257 girls in Scotland; and that the amount chargeable to the [-150-] Treasury in 1863 was, for reformatories £65,920 3s. 3d., and for industrial schools £13,117 5s. Having learned all this, but at the same time discovering that, after all, there were last year in England and Wales 5995 known thieves at large under 16 years of age, and 28,261 above that age, I am induced to visit the establishment where a very considerable number of those not at large, but who have been suddenly wanted by the police, are kept in durance for offences of various degrees, from a simple misdemeanour, such as wilfully breaking a window, to robbery with violence, or savage assaults, expiated with long imprisonment or hard labour.
My London prison is so short a distance from my London workhouse that I have to pass through the same street to arrive at both, and the neighbourhood scarcely changes, except at a short distance from the great gateway at Coldbath Fields, where the whole district, for a short distance, is characterised by a forlorn unfinished appearance, as though an insolvent contractor had undertaken to build a parish, and, having utterly failed to abide by any original plan whatever, had left it uncompleted, an example of premature decay, which has remained an example long after the inhabitants have ceased to hope for any improvement.
It may be, however, that the building of the prison, and the consequent deterioration of the neighbourhood has, in many cases, reduced otherwise good houses to a degree of shabbiness which pervades all such neighbourhoods. Whether this be so or not I have no time to speculate, as my visit must be a short one, and I am standing at that great, grim, iron-studded gate, above which the stone coping bears the inscription "The House of Correction for the County of Middlesex." It is not, how-[-151-] ever, this grim inscription, or the tall stone pillars of the gate, surmounted on either side with the similitude of a set of enormous gyves, that would have so disagreeable an influence on the London thief, as the fact that inside the gates the hours of the day are devoted to constant work, and that the place is continually busy with the labour which, without much interval, occupies the prisoners during the time of their incarceration.
In answer to the bell a warder admits me to the gatehouse, where I wait until I am consigned to the guidance of another officer in the prison uniform of blue cloth, his collar decorated with three metal sabres, and his military cap according very well with the sort of pouch which he carries at his side to contain his keys.
The prison of Coldbath Fields, the administration of which was once a disgrace to the country, and worse, if that is possible, than that which made old Newgate so notorious, may be said to have been the first penal establishment at which the silent system was enforced as a part of the regular discipline; this regulation having been instituted amongst the reforms by which Mr. Chesterton, the late governor, finally established decency and order, and eventually abolished the iniquitous system which had been so long pursued with impunity. The buildings and their accessories occupy some ten acres of ground, and from a bird's-eye view resemble one of those toy constructions, the separate parts of which are put together from a box, so that the ground plan may be altered at will. The original building was erected in 1794, on land purchased by the County Magistrates for £4350, and the building itself cost £65,656, the large outlay being in proportion, not so much to the size or convenience of the structure, as to the thick walls, numerous and massy doors and gates, and winding [-152-] passages, which were at that time deemed essential to a place for the punishment of criminals. In 1830, however, a considerable extension was necessary, and a "vagrants' ward" was added, while two years afterwards another ward was completed on the radiating system, at that time just in fashion.
Very recently another wing has been added, and as I walk through it, under the guidance of the officer, I observe that, in the construction of the cells and the appointment of the building, with its light iron galleries and staircases, it precisely resembles the latest examples of prison architecture at Pentonville, and in the latest portion of Newgate gaol. In the great entrance hall, which is supported by heavy pillars, a crowd of prisoners are moving hither and thither, as the working parties are going to duty, and, standing aside to let them pass, I observe on the wall a large square board which looks like some kind of calculating machine, but is in reality the prison register of occupied and unoccupied cells; the surface of the board being cut into small hollows, each hollow representing a cell, and each occupied cell so represented being filled by a neatly-fitting brass plate bearing the number of the prisoner corresponding to it; for here, as at other prisons, the inmates are known by their numbers, which are placed conspicuously enough on their backs, and in all probability not one of all the nineteen hundred inmates is ever addressed by name, except by his companions, when there is any opportunity of whispering. It is, perhaps, difficult to determine what amount of good may be effected by the Scripture texts, which are printed in large type, and hung up here and there against the walls, and especially in a place where a very strict supervision is sufficient to prevent at least the outward breach of the commandments; but [-153-] experience may have proved the wisdom of this kind of teaching. Inside the door of each cell these descriptive texts recur, printed under an appropriate heading on a paper which also contains morning and evening prayers, and the prison regulations. The cells are - cells, and that is all; many of them very dark, and, even when tolerably ventilated, exceedingly gloomy, although this depends upon the position they occupy in the galleries. The furniture consists simply of a square of sacking stretched across from wall to wall, to contain the flock mattrass and bedding (some have a low iron cot), a wooden stool, two or three books on a deal shelf, and a gas-burner. The galleries or corridors so closely resemble those of certain "model lodging-houses" which I have visited, that I no longer wonder at the repugnance of many of the lower orders of people to occupy apartments in these excellently intended buildings. I would as soon think of living in such a building after my visit to the metropolitan prison as I would contemplate making arrangements for a gymnasium, fitted with a private treadmill, or order of my tailor a suit of reddish-gray with a transverse violet stripe.
A number of men are employed in cleaning their cells and scrubbing the corridor, and a detachment of prisoners occupying one division of the building are exhibiting their bedding to the weekly inspection of the warder, whose duty it is to see that the mattrasses and blankets are clean and free from vermin. In the older portion of the prison I notice that no proper arrangement has been made for either warming the cells or enabling the prisoners to communicate with the warder, who, as far as I can learn, might be altogether unconscious of his assistance being required, unless the inmate of the cell could shout loud enough to attract his attention. This, and the fact that [-154-] both corridors and cells are so dark that in those unprovided with gas, reading would be almost impossible, make the old prison a gloomy place enough; but in the arrangements of the new wing much of this is altered, according to recent improvements in other gaols. Quite a different sort of inconvenience must belong to the dormitories, of which there are five. They are large and lofty rooms, with pointed barn-like roofs, supported by beams, the walls scrupulously whitened, and the floors scrubbed to the highest pitch. From end to end of these apartments stretch four stout iron rods, supported on stanchions about two feet from the floor and six feet from each other; and to these are suspended, or rather stretched, similar strips of sacking to those used in the cells; so that a treble row of beds, at a few inches' distance from each other, runs from end to end of the building, and a space is left for the passage of the warder, who sits all night by the fire-places, or in summer near the gas jets, which are so contrived as to form a stove for heating coffee or tea for the refreshment of the officers in charge. Here the men who are not in separate confinement come as soon as the day's work is over, and are allowed to sit on their beds and read until the gas is turned out from the burners, which stretch from a large T branch over the beds. The duty of the warder in charge must often be disagreeable enough, for even now that there are but half a dozen prisoners arranging the beds, the air seems somewhat close and stifled; so that during the summer nights, when all the hammocks are occupied, there must, I fancy, be need of better ventilation than can be supplied by the long slits or holes above the tops of the windows.
The warder during night duty wears list slippers, and every precaution is taken to prevent communication [-155-] amongst the prisoners; but it is only reasonable to admit that amongst a hundred people asleep, or apparently asleep, in one large room, there is ample opportunity for whispered conversation. Here, as in other parts of the prison, the walls are hung with verses of Scripture, printed in large type, and alternating with the daily prayers and the regulations of the place.
For the use of the prisoners in each dormitory there is provided a lavatory, consisting of a long row of basins in a slate slab, over which the water is laid on. Those who occupy the cells, however, are obliged to make use of the sinks in the various yards, to which they proceed every morning in detachments, each man carrying his own towel, and-stripping down his collar at the word of command-afterwards making his toilet as best he may.
After threading the various corridors in this irregular series of buildings, which resemble a strange sort of garrison, surrounded on all sides by a high wall, I come upon the yards where the workshops are in full swing. Carpenters' workshops, where the whiz of saw and plane sounds cheerfully after the dread monotony of the cells; coopers' workshops, where tubs and casks are being set upon the frames and hoops are being driven in a workmanlike manner; smiths' workshops, where the hammers clink upon the anvils beside the forges; wire-workers' shops and brushmakers' shops, where everybody is busily engaged; these are a part of the more recent discipline which has superseded the old useless labour to which the prisoners were once consigned almost without exception.
More busy still are the tailors and shoemakers, who occupy respectively each side of a vast room in an upper part of one of the buildings, where there is a powerful [-156-] odour of wax-ends and old and new cloth, rendered more pungent by the stoves at which the tailors' irons are being heated at both ends of the apartment. On low benches, or sitting cross-legged on boards about two feet from the ground, tailors and shoemakers are working as hard as though they were gaining an honest living outside the prison, making or mending the clothes and shoes for the officers and inmates of the place, as well as for those of the county gaols. Great baskets filled with boots in every stage of dilapidation, and heaps of garments sadly in need of repair, are placed near the elevated seats of the officers in charge of these two divisions of prison labour, and the instructors or foremen, in great leather aprons, or with that slipshod appearance which appertains to the trade of tailoring, move hither and thither to superintend the work. As I pass along the space which divides the room into two parts, I notice that every eye on my left hand rests with a half stolid, half critical expression upon my boots, and that simultaneously every eye on my right hand observes and appraises my trousers, which, being of a sea-going fashion, are noted with looks not a little quizzical, and in some cases contemptuous.
Here, as in all places where criminals are undergoing punishment, the prison dress and the closely cut hair, give an appearance of uniformity to the faces; but, apart from that, I am unable to detect a very great prevalence of brutality in their expression. Many countenances there are which exhibit the worst type of ruffianism, or the low cunning which belongs to the hardened thief; but, amidst so large a number, there are such degrees and differences of crime that no prevailing expression can be detected. Added to this, the prisoners at Coldbath Fields are not compelled to shave, unless they come in without [-157-] beards, when they are expected to continue the practice of appearing with clean faces. This regulation has been adopted, first, that the health of those wearing beards may not suffer by their being deprived of those ornaments, and, secondly, that they may be more readily identified. The prison dress of rough cloth, and the cap, which is similar in shape to those pinched--up paper caps worn by journeymen bakers and confectioners, fail to destroy so much of the individuality of these men as is affected by the closely shorn convicts condemned to penal servitude, although the only visible classification is that which assigns to the criminal prisoners a gray, and to those under punishment for "misdemeanour" a blue, uniform.
A large square lobby, in appearance like a wheelwright's shed, in which coils of rope occupy some high shelves, and where men, standing at wooden blocks, are cutting old cable into chunks with small hatchets, leads to the series of rooms in which the prisoners are engaged in that most common employment for vagrants or incorrigible paupers and convicted felons - picking oakum.
The hard pieces of junk are placed in a scale and weighed before being consigned to the basket in which they are conveyed to the oakum rooms, the quantity which each prisoner has to pick daily, varying according to his sentence, that is to say, whether it be to hard labour or only to common imprisonment; the former condemning him to pick from three to six pounds a day, in proportion to the hardness and tarriness of the junk, the latter to pick only two pounds a day. Notwithstanding that the carpenters', coopers', smiths', and other shops are busy, that the prison work in the way of plastering, painting, shoemaking, and tailoring, is done by convicts, and that the very tin porringers in which the food [-158-] is dispensed are made by the prison tinsmiths, oakum picking is the busiest employment in the place, since the demand for oakum is insatiable. It is a trade soon learnt, and requires but little space for its execution. There are three oakum rooms, one for those imprisoned for misdemeanour and two in the felons' prison, and in all of these the men sit about two feet apart, on low forms, each picker with a heap of junk cut in pieces of a few inches long beside him, and with a small iron hook strapped just above his knee. As each length of rope is taken from the heap it is untwisted into separate strands, which are rolled backward and forward on the knee, or rubbed briskly under the iron hook, after which the fibre is easily picked into a fluffy ball, which goes to the heap of oakum on the right hand of the operator.
As the prisoners sit in these large rooms, twisting, rolling, rubbing, until their soft, thievish fingers grow red and sore, and afterwards hard by their contact with those stiff chunks of tarry hemp, the expression is so varied that a careful observer might trace a whole theory of physiognomy by a half-hour's stay. Many of the prisoners return the gaze of the visitor with an impudent look of careless or mocking bravado, others scowl darkly as they bend over their work, and some go stolidly on without changing a muscle of their faces, for there are many here who spend half their lives in prison discipline, and who come back at almost regular intervals; there are even prisoners, who, beginning their experience of Coldbath Fields, as juvenile depredators, grow gray in the course which takes them there on periodical visits, so regular, that they seem to have established a claim to the protection of the establishment, and to regard it as a sort of school in which both juvenile and adult offenders are kept out of harm's [-159-] way, except during the holidays, which date from their discharge to their next committal. In the midst of these large rooms the warders on duty sit on elevated stools supporting frames which somewhat resemble portable reading-desks, and these officers watch keenly for any breach of discipline or an attempt at communication.
The scene is strangely monotonous, and, although the sheds are well ventilated, there is a closeness in the air which seems to be increased by the smell of the oakum and the fine hempen particles that are detached from the fibre by rubbing. I am surprised, however, to hear a confused sound of two or more voices as I enter, and at first think I have come upon some place devoted to instruction. I find, however, that two of the prisoners selected for the purpose - I suppose for their elocutionary ability and the strength of their lungs - are engaged in reading aloud, and for that purpose are seated on tall stools in such positions that each of them can command one half of the room.
Whatever effect this reading may have, it is not to be discovered in the faces of the listeners; and as the high tones of the readers are marked by very distinct pauses at the end of each sentence, and a rather too conscientious observance of the stops, the unaccustomed ear is conscious of what I can only call a sort of distinct confusion, and a general predomination of sound over sense, conditions which are inevitable from the fact that the voice of each reader penetrates beyond his own boundary, and as the subjects to which attention is directed are entirely different the prisoners occupying the seats midway between the readers must be subject to no little disadvantage, and are doubtless troubled by an embarrassment of intellectual riches, of which it is exceedingly difficult to take account.
[-160-] I notice, too, that here, as well as in some other of the wards and workrooms, two or three men are under the hands of the prison barbers, who are shaving or hair-cutting in odd corners out of the way of the ordinary business. Indeed, this necessary economy of space, and the number of vocations which are frequently going on under the same roof, have already sufficed to impress me with a certain resemblance which the place now and then bears to the lower decks of a troop-ship, a fancy perhaps not altogether separate from the combined odour of tar, rope and flannel which pervades the air.
It is in the great oakum-room of the felons' prison, however, that the amount and variety of work is at high pressure. This building, which is some ninety feet long, is so large and lofty that it might well serve as a building for public meetings, while the large windows at the sides, as well as the skylights in the roof, afford plenty of light and ventilation even for the great assembly of labourers who are employed here. The middle of the room is occupied by some three hundred oakum-pickers, many of whom, together with the very wardens watching over them from their high seats, seem to be overcome with the heat of the weather and a sort of low, confused sound, the combination of a number of sounds, of themselves almost inaudible, like that of the drawing of a single strand of hemp over an iron hook. The work goes on, however, in a monotonous mechanical way, which is scarcely affected by the simultaneous efforts of three readers to control their own consciousness of the perpetual humming undercurrent which apparently makes their utterance as difficult as though they were addressing a noisy assembly or trying to read from beneath a blanket. I should be sorry, indeed, to know that this reading was about to be abolished, [-161-] as it must, under any circumstances, be a merciful relief from the dull, blank monotony of such work performed in unbroken silence through the weary hours of the day, but I am afraid that only a practised listener could learn to profit by it under the present conditions. "The savage people" shouts one reader, with a very muscular effort at distinct pronunciation, and a manner of dwelling on the words which reminds me of some popular preachers: "Came run-ning to-gether, and soon sur-roun-ded them." I suppose that he is reading the account of some missionary enterprise; but I have no time to speculate, as my attention is called to the commencement of a fresh sentence by the reader further on, who deliberately makes known to us with a rising inflection, but not without signs of weariness induced by a rather dry subject, that "the flour, as it is ground in these mills, is" - something from which my attention is attracted by the mill itself; not, perhaps, the mill of which the prisoner is reading, but the tread-mill, or, as it should be called, tread-wheel, which occupies one side of this room, and where some forty "hard-labour" felons are engaged in ascending a sort of revolving paddle box, commanding no view whatever, and the top of which they never reach.
The tread-wheel alternates with oakum picking in the case of prisoners consigned to hard labour, and there are four or five wheels in the prison; the one which is now before me being the largest. The tread-wheel, which was first brought into use at Brixton prison in 1817, is said to have been the invention of Mr. Cubitt, the engineer of Lowestoft, who, on being adjured by one of the magistrates of the county jail at Bury, to invent some mode of employing the idle prisoners, was suddenly struck with the notion of an elongated wheel, which re-[-162-]sulted in the invention of the machine that has been the terror of idle scoundrels ever since, and is generally known among them as "the mill."
The wheel, which is, in fact, a cylinder extending the whole length of the building, contains twenty-four steps, something like those used to mount a paddle-box; the circumference of this cylinder is sixteen feet, and the steps are eight inches apart, so that a revolution of the "wheel" includes twenty-four steps. At every thirtieth revolution, that is to say, every fifteen minutes, a bell connected with the machine, announces that the "spell" of work, which lasts a quarter of an hour, is finished, and on the days that a prisoner is set to work at the "mill," he completes fifteen of these spells, or nearly four hours of the hardest labour to which any human being need be subjected. There are three tiers or galleries in front of this wheel, where the prisoners can never mount the terrible steps which sink beneath the tread of each unhappy Sisyphus, as he holds with the ends of his fingers the ledge which extends at about the height of his shoulders. Each prisoner is divided from his neighbour by a woodwork screen, shaped like the end of a "box" in a coffee-room, and as their backs are presented to me, I learn what I had long suspected, that the human back is as expressive of character under some circumstances as the human face. It is easy to see, too, that experience will enable the prisoner at the tread-wheel to avoid the labour to which the novice is subject by his endeavours to mount the steps, instead of allowing them to come down to the proper level, and sliding his foot easily upon each in succession. I notice, too, that some of the unfortunates seek to rest the ankle by a change of position and place first one and then the other foot sideways upon the narrow step.
[-163-] Whatever expedients they may adopt, however, there is no doubt that this at least is hard labour. If I ever had a doubt of it, that doubt is removed, as I see the men come down hot, panting, and bathed in perspiration, to sit on the benches at the bottom of the gallery; while others take their places in the vacant stalls to keep the relentless cylinder in motion. The amount of resistance of the wheel is regulated according to the number of men employed upon it, by a "governor" and a horizontal fan placed on a pedestal in the adjoining yard; but I am glad to learn that this exhausting labour is no longer useless, since it has been applied to the grinding of the prison flour, which is now pouring from the hopper in a neighbouring apartment, fitted like a mill, while the miller himself, with every appearance of that jollity proverbial to his calling, is sitting amidst his sacks reading a newspaper. Going once more to the wards in an upper story of one of the irregular blocks of building, I come to a sort of lobby set all awry at the top of a dark staircase, and find myself in a large bare ward, where some half dozen boys are engaged in scrubbing; while a great many other boys, some of them too young even to scrub, are sitting on the forms, which are at present the only furniture of the room, except the texts and rules which occupy their usual position on the walls, and are printed in the printing-room of the prison, where convicts are employed to supply not only these, but police bills and other work having reference to the administration of the law.
Amongst the boys who are assembled in this room there are doubtless many that are taken from the horde of lawless young Arabs who infest the streets and beg or steal, under the direction of those cadgers who own them either [-164-] by the right of parentage or the demand for a miserable lodging and a mouthful of coarse food; but as I pass along the space left in front of the forms where they sit, I notice many an innocent-looking chubby face; many an open, candid, child-like eye. I am, doubtless, looking just now at some who are placed here only for misdemeanour; but I cannot help thinking that for such offences they should never have been sent here at all, mere children as they are, and I trust it is no confession of foolish weakness to own that I feel the tears start to my eyes, as I notice the little clear round faces of some, or the pale pinched looks of others, who can scarcely be old enough to estimate the consequences of evil-doing, and think of the thousands of children in happy homes, whose punishment for a greater, because less excusable fault, would be the deprivation of some luxury of which these little fellows have never even heard the name. When we think of the influence, mental and moral, which is exercised upon a child's mind by confinement in such a place; of the taint placed thus early upon his young life; of the causes which produce juvenile crime in this great city; and of the barriers which the law, combined with the "respectability" of English manners, thus places against the hopes and efforts of even the infant who has "been in prison;" it is surely not too much to say that not one of all these little ones should be consigned to such a fate, whatever may have been their fault.
It should have been impossible for me to look down this long double line of baby convicts, and would have been impossible, but that those who are so assiduous to assize every grain of anise, mint, and cummin, are less careful of the weightier matters of judgment and mercy;--that while the great burdens of systems which are intended to punish, to reform, or to destroy, lie heavily on men's [-165-] shoulders, scarcely a preventive finger is raised to lift from the poor and needy the overbearing weight of misery and crime which crushes them;--that while priests and prelates dispute and divide upon the mysterious doctrines of Christianity, the people and their children hunger for the bread of that Christian life which is above all doctrines and all speculations--the theology which Christ himself taught, founded upon the Fatherhood of God; and the love which was made perfect by sacrifice.
The disciples who desired to call down fire from heaven upon those who did works in the name of their Master, and yet followed not with them, were subject to the Divine rebuke; the "orthodox" of every creed in our day would too often leave the poor and needy, the halt, the lame, and the blind, aye, even the "little children" whom the Master has called, to perish in want and suffering, in ignorance and neglect, rather than yield one jot or tittle of their pretentious claims to settle the belief of men, and dwarf an eternal truth to the narrow measurement of a mortal creed. There have been those who have thought that as all nations grow and culminate and afterwards decline, so England had nearly reached the climax of her power and prosperity; and others have believed that the hand of God has been visible in reducing the pride of people in direct chastisement of certain national sins. If I could adopt both opinions at this moment, they would be inseparable from the thought that here, in this juvenile ward of the great metropolitan prison, a cry went up to heaven in accusation of the greatest and wealthiest city of the world.
The ward in which these boys are sitting serves the purpose of school room as well as work room; the rooms devoted to the adults are called day rooms, and are apartments of [-166-] various sizes, entered from the yards of the separate wards, and furnished with narrow desks or tables of deal, and a few long forms. Here the men receive instruction and take their meals. Two or three uncomfortable-looking criminals are at this moment engaged in writing letters to their friends, and lean over the narrow strips of desks in one of these dimly lighted rooms, in all the difficulty of composing an epistle which will be carefully read by the governor before it is allowed to be sent to its destination.
On many of these tables there are placed well-worn Bibles and prayer-books, provided for the prisoners to read during their leisure, and therefore more available for those who are not committed to hard labour; but as it is now near dinner time, I notice that a rough and somewhat dilapidated wooden spoon, like a boy's thoroughly-seasoned "top-spoon," is placed beside the space marked out for each prisoner of this particular ward. These spaces are designated by chalk marks, or, in some instances, by pieces of string tied round the desk at intervals of about eighteen inches, and the number of each prisoner is also marked on the space in chalk, so that the men may proceed to their places without delay or confusion.
The laundry is a large room, occupied by an enormous mangle, a copper to match, several troughs, a small army of baskets, and a patent washing machine of peculiar construction, all that can be seen of which is a horizontal revolving copper disk set in a great round box, like a magnified ship's-compass without the needle and face. The yard adjoining this shed is used as a drying ground, and bears a depressing appearance from the presence of a number of black gibbets on which those clothes are hung to dry which are unsuitable for the hot closets. The suits which belong to the prisoners are taken from them on their [-167-] admission to the gaol, and after being tied in a bundle are, when necessary, fumigated by being placed in a hot oven, where a brazier of brimstone is burnt on a lower shelf. These clothes are of course returned to the prisoners previous to their discharge.
The washing of the prison is entirely performed by men, and is, next to the baking, the most important duty. The bake-house is, as may be supposed, of large dimensions, five ovens being employed to bake the enormous number of small brown loaves, each of which is of the weight prescribed for the particular meal it represents.
Like all prison kitchens, the culinary department at Coldbath Fields has nothing very remarkable about it, except its size, and with its great coppers heated by steam pipes from an immense black boiler, and containing gruel, soup, or meat and potatoes, looks not unlike the enginehouse of a large factory, a resemblance not diminished by the huge wooden tubs with iron hoops and handles, which might be taken either for enormous fire buckets or small mash tubs. The attendants here include a clerk of the kitchen, who sits up at a wooden desk in a corner like a factory time-keeper, and has been incarcerated for certain mis-statements in some other accounts formerly under his control.
The dietary of Coldbath Fields Prison is for prisoners above sixteen years of age, whose term of imprisonment exceeds three months with hard labour: breakfast, 6 2/3 ozs. of bread, 1 pint of cocoa; dinner, on four days of the week, 6 2/3 ozs. of bread, 4 ozs. of cooked meat without bone, 8 oz. potatoes; and on three days of the week, 1 pint of soup instead of meat and vegetables; supper, 6 2/3 ozs. of bread, 1 pint of gruel.
For those not at hard labour, whose term of imprisonment [-168-] exceeds three months: breakfast, 6 2/3 ozs. of bread, 1 pint of gruel; dinner, 6 2/3 ozs. of bread, 4 ozs. meat, on three days in the week; 1 pint of soup on two days; and 1 pint of gruel on two days, each with the same quantity of bread; supper, 6 2/3 ozs. of bread, and ½ pint of gruel. Those of this class who work upon the tread-wheel, have an extra soup day.
Prisoners commited for a period of less than three months, but exceeding fourteen days, receive the same rations as the above, with the substitution of a gruel for a meat day.
Those whose imprisonment lasts no longer than fourteen days, have 6 2/3 ozs. of bread at each meal, with one pint of gruel at breakfast, 1 pint at dinner, and 1/2 a pint at supper, a diet which is generally efficacious in reducing the most bloated and turbulent evil-doer to a less antagonistic frame, both of body and mind.
When it is remembered that the work is both arduous and constant, that "hard labour" is no misuse of terms, and that ordinary employment is more exigent work than any London thief would willingly submit to, it may be believed that the diet of the prison in Coldbath Fields is at least not luxurious, and that during the whole term of the convict's stay there, he is under real punishment, apart from the dark cell, mere bread and water, the crank and the whipping post, all of which are ready for operation in cases of turbulence, assault, or refractory conduct; just as the wooden horse and the birch are amongst the things to be seen near the ward devoted to those poor little fellows whose case I have so lately been lamenting.
In looking at the dietary tables, it is scarcely matter of surprise that the stronger thieves should prefer the longer term of imprisonment, or that the London ruffian [-169-] should frequently look forward to penal servitude with more complacency than to a long imprisonment in this house of very severe punishment if not of correction.
If the quantity of the food at the various meals is not more than sufficient, whatever deficiency there may be, is certainly not compensated by the manner in which it is dispensed to the prisoners. The large wooden tubs with side-handles of iron, to which I have already referred, are numbered according to the wards to which they belong, and in these the soup, or gruel, is carried to the day-rooms, where the men, who have entered in single file and sat down each in front of his wooden-spoon, receive their allowance in a tin-pannikin. This woodenspoon, tin-pannikin, and the regulation loaf, are the only implements provided for them at any meal; the victuals are provided to support nature, not to induce luxury, and as neither knife, fork, nor plate is at their disposal, the diners have but to listen to the grace before meat, and despatch their food in the best way they can. It may strike the visitor as not a little singular that those prisoners whose light offences have only consigned them to a fortnight's durance, should, in the one particular which, in gaol-life, forms the chief distinction between good and evil, have to bear comparatively the heaviest punishment. That for small misdeeds, and frequently for acts which are misdeeds only in the eye of the law, and are inevitable from misfortune, a number of unhappy creatures should be halfstarved on the modicum of bread and gruel which forms their only food for a fortnight, seems scarcely consistent with the tenderness which is often displayed by the law to the most hardened criminal, and is certainly misplaced in a community where to have no settled place of abode is a misdemeanour, and to be a houseless vagrant seeking [-170-] shelter may be equivalent to committal as a "suspicious character," lurking about for an unlawful purpose. I think of these things as I stand here, and with every respect for the police force as a body, I cannot forget that some of their number, new to the service it may be, have a wonderful faculty not only of discovery but of invention to support, before a magistrate, any mistake they may happen to have made. I remember, too, that at this very time a question has just been asked in the House of Commons respecting a police-officer of whom a London magistrate declared that he would not believe him on his oath, that no satisfactory answer has been given (or at least publicly given) to that question, and that the Member who asked it was informed that the officer remained in the force, while it was not thought necessary to make any application to the magistrate inquiring the meaning of his assertion. So strongly am I impressed with these reflections that even the sight of some men with one or two stars upon their right sleeves fails to rouse my interest, although I learn that each of these stars entitles the wearer to half a crown on the day of his discharge as a gratuity for good conduct. I have already been made aware with the fact that the best conducted men in all prisons are generally the old offenders, who, having previously made acquaintance with the discipline, see their advantage in keeping the rules. My visit has lasted so long that I have barely time to see the chapel, and, in truth, there is not much to see, except a building which occupies a space over the entrance lobby, and is shaped like a fan, the smaller end or pivot being occupied by a sort of raised plat. form, where a plain desk serves as a pulpit, and a chair is provided for the governor of the prison.
The larger end of the building is divided into three [-171-] portions by great timber partitions extending almost from floor to ceiling; and in each of these, both in gallery and basement, the prisoners sit upon rude benches, the front row being separated from the body of the chapel below the pulpit, by heavy spiked iron railings, which give each division the appearance of a sort of great den or cage, and the chapel an empty menagerie, with a bare orchestra at a convenient angle.
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.- --]