Saturday, August 22, 2009

Detailed map of the prison

Here is a detailed map of the Prison which appears to show the positions of the entrances, the general layout of the external walls and things such as gardens and boundaries. Click image to enlarge.

Courtesy of Tony Leary.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Beastly Matrons - a Prayer

More images of the Female Prison

Prisoner in a padded cell at Woking Prison

At the chapel

Prison Classes

In Woking Convict Invalid Prison, there were 5 classes of female prisoner, each wearing a different costume.

Probation class = first nine months of prison life
Third-class = second nine month period of prison life
Second-class = third nine month period of prison life
First-class = fourth nine month period of prison life
Special class = within nine months of expiration of sentence

From what I can gather, the uniforms (or costumes) were as follows:

Probation class = lilac cotton skirt with blouse bodice, a chequered blue and white apron, cap and bonnet and square of brown serge for the shoulders. This was replaced by a thick blue serge dress in winter.

Third class = plain blue skirt in summer, this being replaced by a brown serge dress in winter.

Second class (and first class) = a spotted skirt in summer, replaced with a thick green serge gown in winter.

Special class = "princess" robe of dark grey striped flannel.

Images of the Prison 1889

Saluting the Matron

Female prisoners at the fire pump

Female prisoners at the exercise yard

Images of the Female Convict Prison, drawn by Paul Renouard for a newspaper feature that appeared in The Graphic on Saturday August 31st 1889.

Our little house on Raglan Road

We already know that our house was inhabited by Subordinate Officers.

Here, a newspaper article / feature on Woking Convict Invalid Prison written in 1889 refers to our house as 'humbler quarters' ...

Hmm. We prefer to think of it as 'cosy and cute'.

Mme "make me beautiful for ever" Rachel

In the legal section of The Graphic dated Saturday October 23rd 1880, the following was reported:

Mme Rachel, the person who became notorious a few years ago as claiming the power to make people "beautiful for ever" and who, after suffering seven years penal servitude for fraud, was convicted a second time in 1878, died in Woking Prison last week from dropsy. An inquest was heard and the jury returned a verdict of "Died by the Visitation of God".

Mme Rachel (aka Sarah Rachel Leverson or Levison and Sarah Russell) was a British criminal and con artist in Victorian-era London during the late 19th century. Operating a prominent beauty salon, from which she personally guaranteed her clientele everlasting youth (using grandiose sounding concoctions comprising everyday ingredients such as bran and water) she would blackmail many wives of London's upper class ...

More can be found on Mme Rachel here:

Or at

An interesting article on Female Convict Prisons, including Woking can be found here at the British Library Newspaper Archives.

Murderous Reverend held at Woking Convict Prison 1872

According to Wikepedia, the Reverend John Selby Watson (1804 – 6 July 1884) was a British classical translator and murderer. He was sentenced to death in 1872 for killing his wife, but a public outcry led to his sentence being reduced to life imprisonment.


Born in 1804 Watson was educated by an uncle and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin in 1838. He was ordained Deacon to the Bishop of Ely in 1839 and married Anne Armstrong in January 1845 at St Marks, Dublin. Due to his poverty Watson had been engaged to Anne for quite a number of years before they could marry. He moved to London in 1844 where he became the headmaster of School. Because of falling pupil numbers he was laid off in 1870. But during his long career as headmaster, Watson had made a reputation for himself as a scholar and translator, publishing translations of the classics for Bohm's Classical Library that subsequently became volumes in the popular Everyman's Library series. He also wrote biographies, religious books, and a volume Reasoning Power in Animals. Still with all his learning and activities he made a very small income. When the Board of the Stockwell School fired him, they refused to give him any pension.


A few weeks after finishing his four-volume History of the Papacy to the Reformation, on 8 October 1871 Watson was found unconscious by his servant, Ellen Pyne, having taken prussic acid. Two notes were found: one addressed to Pyne contained her wages. The other was to his doctor. It said "I have killed my wife in a fit of rage to which she provoked me". His wife's body was found in a bedroom, having been battered to death with the butt of his pistol two days earlier.

Watson recovered and stood trial at the Old Bailey in January 1872. Despite a history of arguing with his wife, Watson did not argue provocation. Instead, he pleaded insanity, as his counsel put it: "an antecedent improbability in the deed which would lead everyone in the first instance to seek an explanation in insanity." The judge, Mr Justics Byles, opposed this excuse strongly in his summing-up. After deliberating for an hour and a half, the jury found him guilty of murder but with a recommendation that mercy be shown because of his age and previous character. Byles however sentenced him to death.

After the trial many affidavits from doctors were presented testifying to Watson's insanity at the time of the murder. Byles then changed his mind and told the Home Secretary that the medical evidence presented at the trial suggested that "this is not a case in which the sentence should be carried out." After more investigation the Home Office decided that some "imprecise mental unsoundness" had been present and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Due to no obvious signs of madness, however, he was not sent to Broadmoor Hospital; instead he served his time in Parkhurst prison where he died twelve years later, aged 80, on 6th July 1884. His death was due to falling out of his hammock at the prison. (I would dispute the idea that he served all his time at Parhurst given the article featured above). In the words of Martin J. Wiener, "the incongruity of the offence and the lack of any lesser defence pushed the system to a controversial finding of "temporary" insanity to prevent the unedifying spectacle of the hanging of a clergyman of the Church of England. In a sense, in Watson's case, provocation (by his wife, under the stress of his forced retirement) had been reconceived as temporary insanity."

Attempted Murder of Woking Prison Governor

In the Penny Illustrated Paper dated Saturday December 18th 1869, an article reports that an attempt was made to take the life of Captain Bramley, Governor at Woking Prison. It states: As the convicts were filing out of chapel after Divine service, one of the prisoners ... rushed upon the Governor ... and stabbed him twice in the breast and once in the loin. BLIMEY!

Newspaper article courtesy of British Library

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Latest pics of Woking Convict Invalid Prison

The following three images are taken from postcards dated 1904 and 1906, long after the prison had been converted into Barracks.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A prison in decline?

I just Googled 'Knaphill Prison' and came across this interesting record which suggests that the prison was almost entirely unoccupied by 1888. Huh, I wonder why? I also like how they use the term Convalescent Prison. I'm not quite sure the prisoners would have agreed scrubbing frozen bricks in the bleak mid winter.

HC Deb [sic] 16 November 1888 vol 330 c1384 1384

MR. HANKEY (Surrey, Chertsey) asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether his attention has been directed to the present condition of the prison at Knaphill, Woking, which is now almost entirely unoccupied; and, whether, in view of the great want of suitable barrack accommodation at present existing throughout the country, he will at once take such steps as will enable him to convert the prison into barracks, or utilize it for the military service of the country?

THE SECRETARY OF STATE (Mr. E. STANHOPE) (Lincolnshire, Horncastle) Communications have been entered into with the Home Office with a view of obtaining for military purposes the buildings and lands of the Woking Convalescent Convict Prison; but no decision has yet been arrived at. The position of these buildings, within easy reach of Aldershot, makes it most desirable to obtain them.

Swindling the old lady of Threadneedle Street.

I just stumbled across another interesting crime story involving some Americans incarcerated at Woking Convict Invalid Prison. In 1873, the Bidwell brothers robbed the Bank of England of a whopping £500,000.

So how did they pull off such an audatious heist?

In short, they discovered that the Bank of England allowed people to draw against bills of acceptance (cheques??) from large institutions without checking to see if they were genuine. They set up an account for 'Horton and Co', impressed the bank manager 'most favourably', then waved some genuine bills under his nose (to establish their credit) before commencing the forgeries which netted them half a million pounds cash!

Easy peazy lemon squeezy.

The following article was published in the New York Times in 1892. It tells the story of how the Bidwell brothers' sister fought tirelessly for their release and gives some interesting insight into the Victorian prison system. Read the Bidwell brothers article here

Ghosties and ghoulies

Okay, so my boyfriend will kill me for this, but what the heck. He was in the garden the other day when he glanced up at the spare room window (this is the bedroom in which I had my hello ghost experience) and saw a person moving away from the window.

Later in the day he started backtracking and saying things like: It could have been the shadow of a bird flying past or one of the cats sitting on the window sill ...

Yea right ;-)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Prison to Barracks transformation - 1893

Click images to enlarge

On September 12th 1893, a series of works took place to convert the prison into barracks. On our latest visit to The National Archives, we found some Record Plans and Drawings which show some of the renovations that took place.

The first plan (above) includes the following details:

Woking Inkerman Barracks Recreation Establishment Record Plan
Formally the RC Chapel - Male Convict Prison. Reconstructed and added to under the Barracks Act 1890.
Work commenced 12th September 1893
Work 19th October 1894
Actual cost £8,677.0.0.
Constructor Mr A A Gale of Woking
Accommodation for 1 Battalion (720 R&F)

Other plans show that the Barracks included:

  • Canteen
  • Skittle Alley
  • Library
  • Coffee Shop
  • Stables
  • Wagon Sheds
  • Coal Yard (to hold 100 tonnes)
  • Latrines
  • Grocery Store
  • Reading Room
  • Fives Courts

Newspaper Detectives

According to the NEWSPAPER DETECTIVES, a newspaper archaeological site for local research purposes, an article appeared in a local newspaper on 24th March 1866 regarding the sudden death of a convict presumably on his way to Woking Invalid Convict Prison. The convict died at Woking Railway Station and Dr John Campbell, Medical Officer, was somehow involved, possibly with the inquest??

A few days earlier on the 17th March, the same newspaper records a Fatal Accident To A Convict. Was it the same convict? Did he fall under a train I wonder?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Charles J Kickham - Famous Prisoner, Author and Fenian Leader

Author and Fenian leader. Charles J. Kickham was born on 9 May 1828, at Mullinahone in Co. Tipperary.

Kickham joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) or the Fenians, in 1860. He was a committed separatist. During his career as an activist, he contributed controversial political articles to a nationalist paper, the Irish People.

On 15 September 1865 the Dublin Police took possession of the Irish People headquarters at 12 Parliament Street and seized the entire contents of the office. The few members of the staff still on the premises were arrested and others were picked up on the street or in their homes.

Irish People documents revealed Kickham’s role in the Fenian conspiracy. On 11 November 1865 he was arrested. Nearly blind and almost completely deaf, Kickham was charged for writing ‘treasonous’ articles and for committing high treason. He was tried before Judge William Keogh and sentenced to fourteen years penal servitude.

He was sent to Mountjoy prison. On 10 February 1865 he was transferred to Pentonville Prison near London. During this time his health deteriorated because of poor prison diet. On 14 May 1866 he was transferred to Portland Prison and later to the invalid prison at Woking in Surrey, where he spent the remainder of his term. He was released in 1869 with his health severely impaired and returned to Mullinahone, Co. Tipperary.

More on Charles J Kickham

Does My Bum Look Big In This?

In the New York Times on September 9th 1894, the following article appeared. It focused on the vanity of female prisoners, including those at Woking Convict Invalid Prison.

See full article here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A bleak mid-victorian prison??

I have no doubt that life was harsh at Woking Invalid Convict Prison. Yet, there are various descriptions of the surrounding countryside which make the place seem almost idyllic:

Florence Maybrick wrote:

... we drove through lovely woods; the scent of flowers was wafted by the breeze into what seemed to be a hearse that was bearing me on toward my living tomb [the prison]...

And a prison medical officer wrote the following description in late 1859 or early 1860:

The prison at Knapp Hill was built on the most approved plan, both as regards ventilation and sanitation, and also its general arrangements, but it was difficult to imagine that it was within thirty-six miles of London, for it was situated on a large moor covered with heath and a few stunted pines, about a mile and a half from Woking Cemetery, in an unused part of which I used to exercise a young setter. Snakes abounded, and frogs kept us awake at night by their croaking. A few blackcock still remained, and numbers of shaggy forest ponies were to be seen roaming about.

Sounds wonderful, don't you think?

Prison Gate

My boyfriend tells me that he much prefers discovering things about the prison building than prison life. So here's a picture of the gate to Woking Invalid Convict Prison just for him. Of course, this picture was taken after it became Inkerman Barracks. But it's the same gate that the prisoners would have been taken through, and the same bell tower they would have looked at every day while trudging round the exercise yard ...

And, in fact, I suspect the picture was taken just yards from our front door. The road the photographer is standing in looks suspiciously like ours with some grass to the left and what looks like a wall to the right. Woo hoo.

Prison Laundry

Laundry Workers at Woking Invalid Convict Prison

Woking Invalid Convict Prison was run by the prisoners in that it was they who were put to work cooking, cleaning, gardening, mending and of course washing.

In Philip Priestly's Victorian Prison Lives, the laundry is described as the least pleasant of all the jobs. It involved lots of physical labour: washing, scrubbing, wringing, sorting and folding thousands of clothes, flannels and sheets every week. These would have included articles from the infirmary, which had come into contact with 'all manner of skin diseases and other disgusting afflictions'.

In Florence Maybrick's book describing her time at Woking Invald Convict Prison we discover that:

Each cell was provided with a nail on which, during the day, the prisoner could hang a wet towel, and, during the night, her clothes. Those who worked in the laundry came in with wet clothing every evening, which, as no change is allowed, must be either dried at night or put on wet the next morning.

It must have been unbearably cold in the winter to put damp clothes on every morning. Brrrr.

I found a great little source of information on women in prison which includes this extract from a book called Prison Characters Drawn from Life by a Prison Matron. The book, which was written in 1866, has this to say about the laundry:

The women are disputatious......and the soap question is always in the ascendant in the 'washing house'. The prisoners are always on the watch for stray pieces of soap - which is handy for smoothing the hair, for instance - and quick is the eye to detect an error in a contemporary who, in her absence of mind, places her soap by her tub-side instead of in her pocket, and quick are the fingers to confiscate it accordingly. Quarrels about soap are constantly recurring in the laundry; there is no honour among soap thieves; women will rob their dearest pals of the two or three o'clock soaps, and maintain 'til the last, and with all the power at their command, their innocence of defalcation.

Prison Houses

There are three rows of houses (as marked on the 1871 Ordnance Survey map above) that used to cater for the prison staff. I believe they were built at different stages of Woking Invalid Convict Prison's development.

The first stretch (marked in red) is our little stretch of Raglan Road.

The second row of houses (marked in blue) is also Raglan Road. These houses look similar to ours but they are larger and have entrances front and back. There used to be a row of these houses on both sides of the road. Now only the one side remains. The black and white image clearly shows houses on both sides of the road. It looks like such a grand road.

The third row of houses (marked in green) is furthest away from the prison and can be found on Victoria Road. These are really pretty little cottages, but look different from those on Raglan Road. If I'm honest, I don't know if these are original or if they've been rebuilt, but they certainly appear on the old map.

Two surprising discoveries

The first surprise is that our two bedroom house was originally a three bedroom house.

We had always assumed the bathroom and kitchen, both at the back of the house, were added later. But they weren't. They were part of the original house. Obviously the third bedroom is now the bathroom.

So, if there was a third bedroom upstairs, there must have been something below it. But what?

We know there used to be a pantry, a coal cellar and a toilet in that space. But we thought these were open to the elements. Obviously not!

(It would appear from the plans that you had to walk through the central bedroom to get to the master bedroom!!)

The second discovery is that our little stretch of Raglan Road used to have ten houses and now only has nine. One fell off. What a shame.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Malingerers and 'The Battery'

I stumbled across this vivid and amusing account of the dreaded battery. It was written by a young medical officer visiting Woking Invalid Convict Prison:

Although it occurred some months after I had left the service, and while I was on a visit to my cousin ... who succeeded me in the office of Assistant Surgeon, the following incident may be worth recording. By the kind permission of the Governor I was allowed to accompany my cousin round the wards, and was asked to see a man who was said to have paralysis of both legs. I thought with the others he was malingering, and the usual remedies having failed, it was decided to use galvanism.

The batteries were out of order, but by uniting two, we got a fairly good current. While arranging the batteries, it was mentioned audibly that a mild current would be used at first and the strength increased daily.

The batteries were places on a table on one side of the bed and Mr. E. S. Blaker, standing on the other, applied one pole to the hip, and asked me to apply the other to the foot. Never was a more miraculous cure. The man jumped up, said : "I'm damned if I can stand this," and rushed across the ward, dragging the batteries off the table, upsetting the sulphuric acid, and destroying two sets of bedding and the floor for several feet.

Notorious or not? John Campbell, Staff Surgeon at Woking Invalid Convict Prison

John Campbell spent thirty years as a medical officer in the English Convict Service. Many of those years were spent on the prison hulks (see image above), travelling between the UK and Australia.

Later on in his life, he worked at Woking Invalid Convict Prison. Reports vary on what type of character John Campbell was. I imagine it would have been very hard to remain sympathetic to prisoners after 30 years in the industry!!

The Australian Autobiographical Narratives suggests he was a humanitarian 'advocating humanity but not mistaken sympathy ...' In addition, 'Campbell recommends order, cleanliness and regularity as a basis for prison discipline.'

However, in a book entitled Victorian Prison Lives by Philip Priestley we discover a less humanitarian attitude towards the prisoners:

On a more personal level, says Dr Campbell, 'it was my invariable practice, in prescribing for the patients, to treat them with as much consideration as if they had been delicate ladies - at the same time enjoining a kindly treatment on the part of the attendants.'

One of the patients on the receiving end of this 'consideration', during the Campbell reign at Woking hospital prison, was George Bidwell: 'the doctor wound up the interview with the clincher, in his high squeaking tones: "Well, my man, you know you were sent here to die, so you must not make any trouble, for there is nothing I can do for you."

This was his stereotyped reply, no matter what the case of the nature of the disease, which had usually been aggravated or brought on by the hard work with insufficient food.' His summary of the doctor's long career is in similar vein. 'Dr Campbell,' he writes, 'resigned from the service and retired to private life with a pension and the inexpressible hatred and contempt of all prisoners who ever had the misfortune to come under his treatment.'

Like many prison doctors of the age, Campbell regularly used the battery on convicts, stating that galvanism was not brought into play until all other remedies had failed:

Patients suffering from the real disease gladly submit to this or any other remedy likely to benefit them; but malingerers show a great deal of reugnance to it.' Victorian Prison Lives

Towards the end of his career, John Campbell wrote a book entitled: THIRTY YEARS' SERVICE OF A MEDICAL OFFICER IN THE ENGLISH CONVICT SERVICE (first published in 1884). The book describes Campbell's own experiences and views on the treatment of prisoners. He also makes suggestions for the future. Chapters include The Convict Ship; Dartmoor Convict Prison; Woolwich, the Convict Hulks; Woking Invalid Prison; Lunatic and Imbecile Convicts, etc.

Woking Invalid Convict Prison - Quarterly Returns

Every prisoner that came to Woking Invalid Convict Prison was registered in the Prison Register where the following details were taken:
  • Prison Register Number
  • Name
  • Age
  • Crime
  • Place of Conviction
  • Date of Conviction
  • Sentence in Years
  • Health
  • Behaviour
Every quarter, these Prison Registers were sent off somewhere (not sure where) where they were collated with Prison Registers from all the other prisons. These were known as Quarterly Returns and were compiled together alphabetically in big fat leather bound books called Convict Prisons Attested Lists.

The first image below shows one of these Attested Lists. It's difficult to see from this image because it's in poor condition, but it has a really pretty, colourful floral pattern on the cover.

The second image shows one of the pages from Woking's Prison Register. As you can see, each Prison Register was signed and dated at the end of each quarter by the head warden and prison doctor.

I love browsing through these Quarterly Returns whenever I go to the National Archives. It's amazing what those naughty Victorians got up to. The following is a cross section of some of the entries in the prison register for Woking Invalid Convict Prison in 1871:

2438 ... William Aylsby .. age 63 ... Buggery ... convicted in York ... 8/12/64 ... 20 years ... Infirm ... V good behaviour

2265 ... Robert Wight ... age 56 ... Forging Power of Attorney ... convicted in Gloucester ... 6/8/64 ... 10 years ... Infirm

3034 ... John Cornish ... age 70 ... Stealing a lamb ... convicted in Exeter ... 8/5/66 ... 7 years ... Rather delicate

3179 ... Joseph Rowley ... age 25 ... Bestiality ... convicted in Shrewsbury ... 17/3/64 ... 10 years ... Rather delicate

3774 ... John W Teasdale ... age ?? ... Carnally knowing a child ... convicted in Newcastle ... 14/7/68 ... 10 years ... Rather delicate (Notice how a paedophile gets ten years less than someone committing a homosexual act. I'm guessing that the 'abominable crime' mentioned later is also homosexuality.)

4226 ... James Kavannagh ... age 30 ... Coming to the knowledge of an intended mutiny in the army in aid of the Fenian conspiracy and not giving notice to his commanding officer ... convicted in Dublin ... 26/1/67 ... 7 years ... rather delicate ... v. good behaviour

4260 ... Thomas Campbell ... age 38 ... An abominable crime ... convicted in York ... 29/1/69 ... 20 years ... rather delicate ... good behaviour (Blimey, he couldn't even bring himself to say the word)

4299 ... Charles Harris ... age 17 ... Striking a superior officer ... convicted in Bermista (Bermuda?) ... 3/5/70 ... 5 years ... (Hot headed 17 year olds ... nothing's changed there then!)

4356 ... Hector Gillies ... age 41 ... Inciting a person to cast away a certain Brit ship on the high seas ... convicted in C C Ct ... 19/9/70 ... 5 years ... rather delicate (Piracy? Or sabotage?)

4458 ... James Fowkes ... age 52 ... Using instrument to procure (word abortion crossed out and replaced with:) miscarriage ... convicted in Warwick ... 8/7/69 ... 10 years ... Rather delicate ... V good behaviour

Another one that stands out in my memory is a Samual Wadsworth aged 53 from Leeds who put a stone on a railway track with the intent to obstruct a train.

The Female Prison Chapel - Plans and Sketches

It's important to point out that the female and male prisons were quite separate. The image below shows where the female prison (marked F) was situated in relation to the male prison (marked M). The two prisons were built several years apart.

A recent visit to the National Archives threw up some floor plans and sketches of the female prison chapel which provide us with a clear idea of what it might have looked like. On the floor plan below you will notice that the one chapel is actually two chapels (Roman Catholic and Protestant) sitting side by side under the same roof.

The next plan shows the West and East elevations, showing the two distinct designs for Protestant and Catholic.

The final plan shows how I think the Chapel will have looked from behind. I assume there were two separate entrances for the prisoners and one central entrance for the clergy ...

Remember, all prisoners were attend chapel every morning, regardless of their faith.
It's also worth pointing out that the female chapel was a stand alone building whereas the male chapel, we believe, was attached to the prison itself. You may have noticed references to 'detention barracks' or 'Inkerman' on the plans. This is because the army will have used the original Victorian plans to adapt the prison into barracks in the late 19th century. What else becomes clear from the sketches is that the overall look of the female prison differed greatly from the ominous foreboding look of the male prison.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Woking Prison - a different view

This is Woking Invalid Convict Men's Prison from behind and we think the bit that juts out is the chapel. So pretty.

Thomas Bourke - Fenian at Woking

In the 1860's Woking Convict Invalid Prison housed many Irish Fenians (a term used since the late 1850s for Irish nationalists who opposed British rule in Ireland) including Thomas Francis Bourke. Thomas was sentenced to death for his role in the uprising (high treason) though this sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.

The Fenians were members of a movement in Ireland that wanted independence from British rule. Some people in Ireland believed the British government had refused to help the Irish out during the potato famine because they'd hoped it would solve the Irish 'problem' i.e. kill them off. The only hope for Ireland, the Irish believed, was complete separation from the UK. And if that meant fighting the British, then so be it.

Their war on the British caused a wave of anti-Irish feeling throughout the UK, which didn't bode well for the Fenians when they were finally caught and imprisoned. I suspect they were treated more harshly than other prisoners ...

The following extract describes Bourke's experience at Woking Convict Invalid Prison:

On 27 February 1868, having completed his probation, Burke was transferred to Working Convict Prison in Surrey. This was considered to be a hospital prison for both the physically and mentally ill. For an unknown reason he was moved back to Millbank on 20 April 1868; he spent only two weeks there, returning to work.In Woking Burke's diet consisted of bread and tea for breakfast. He was allowed 20 ozs of bread, 1/4 ozs of tea, 4 ozs of milk and 11/2 ozs of sugar daily. His dinner was soup, potatoes (8 ozs) and bread. Prisoners were permitted 10 ozs of meat each day, but appear not to have always got it; it may have been used to make the soup. The supper was bread and tea.

Each prisoner on punishment was granted a daily concession of 8 ozs of bread, 1/4 ozs of tea, 11/2 ozs of sugar and 4 ozs of milk. After the public, which followed the exposure of the treatment of O'Donovan Rossa while in prison, the MP for Cork county secured the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry into prison conditions. Headed by the Earl of Devon, this met in the summer of 1870. Burke was one of those granted an interview. He wrote also at length to the Commission on the sufferings of his deranged friend and fellow-Fenian in Woking, Ricard US. Burke - no relation.

He had been only three times to exercise... I believe, the only times he has been out of bed since 23 July. I am also told ... that for the past thirteen days he has taken little or not food. This treatment is well calculated, if not intended, to provoke him to some desperate act of violence... from my experience of the officials of this prison I feel confident they would be but too anxious to avail themselves of any colourable pretext to lay violent hands upon my poor friend, by laying open his head with their staffs, or cutting him down with their sabres; for the criminal imbeciles,. confined in this prison, have not an immunity from this inhuman and brutal treatment; and from the course adopted by the officials of this prison towards my fellow prisoners within twenty-four hours after they had submitted their evidence to the Commissioners, that the submitting of evidence ... by any prisoner should not prejudice the future treatment of that prisoner while in prison... I have every reason to believe that my poor friend will be subjected to ... all the worst effects of penal discipline, and the treatment which has already deprived him of reason will be persistently and steadily followed up until it deprives him of life.

Burke's own prison career was coming to an end. As The Tipperary Fenian Denis Dowling Mulcahy wrote his father: Between half-past twelve and one o'clock, Thursday, the 22nd December 1870, the Governor, Captain Bramly, communicated to me, Dr. Power, Colonel Burke, and Mr. Dillon, that he had instructions to ask us if we would accept our release on condition of leaving the country, never again to return to it, or the alternative of remaining in penal servitude to finish our sentences.

According to the New York Times, however, a Thomas F Burke was released from prison in March 1869 following a petition handed in to Queen Victoria.

Who knows ...

A big thank you to Kieran Maxwell who emailed me with the following information: I can confirm that the Burke you refer to was the Burke that was released by the Queen as part of a general amnesty for the fenian prisoners.

Inmates 1870s

On this BBC website, I found the following snippet:

Janice Jelley in Billericay has discovered that two members of her family ended up in the Woking Invalid Prison in the 1870’s after being convicted of starving one of their wives to death.

Blimey! I wonder why they did that.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Newspaper clippings

24 Apr 1886 - CONVICT ESTABLISHMENT ... Last week nearly a hundred convicts arrived at this prison [Parkhurst], and more are coming nearly every day. It is stated that over a dozen of the officials at Pentonville have been ordered to join here, where duty is now very heavy. It is said that the large prison at Woking is to be devoted to the reception of lunatic criminals after the manner of Broadmoor, hence the influx of prisoners to Parkhurst. (IW County Press) - source:

It sounds as though prisoners were being shifted between prisons left right and centre during the late 1800s.

6 Feb 1915 - DEATH ... has occured of Mrs Mary Ann PRICE, aged 84, who had to her credit over 34 years efficient service in H.M. Female prisons. She joined the prison at Millbank as Assistant Matron in 1862 and was subsequently transferred to Parkhurst when the establishment was used for women. She afterwards went to Woking when the women prisoners were transferred from Parkhurst to that place. Before her retirement in 1896 she had attained the position of Chief Matron ... (IW County Press) - source:

Woking Invalid Convict Prison - A Thieve's Palace

The following was written by a gentleman called Chas Cook who visited a number of prisons in the late 1800s:

Add to the above that I have visited all our convict
prisons and all our London prisons, from gloomy
Newgate, with its many old and historic reminiscences,
and through whose precincts a Jack Sheppard and a
Jonathan Wild have wended their way, to the more
modern and well-ventilated and comfortably warmed Pen-
tonville, containing some eleven hundred prisoners ; from
Dartmoor, bleak and barren, where the Claimant served
nearly seven years, to Portsmouth, where he resided in an
extra large cell, and where also Benson, of the 'Turf Frauds '
notoriety, whiled away his time mending stockings in the
' Doctor's party ' ; from Woking, truly called the ' Thieves'
Palace,' where I have seen the recreation room with its
draughts, dominoes, sofas, and paintings on the wall (not
to mention an aviary) ...

An AVIARY?? In a prison?? No wonder they shut it down so quickly!!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Famous inmate: Florence Maybrick

Florence Maybrick was an American woman who was tried and sentenced to be hanged in August 1889 for murdering her British husband. This was later commuted to life imprisonment.

There's an interesting twist to the story because a little while after Florence was imprisoned, the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette (W T Stead) received a letter of confession from a dying man in South Africa. The man claimed to have had a grudge against Mrs Maybrick and set her up by poisoning her husband with arsenic.

Of course, Florence Maybrick was found guilty of the offence. It didn't help that the judge was a notorious misogynist whose remarks about Mrs Maybrick's adultery played no small part in her conviction.

What wasn't brought to the attention of the jury, however, was that James Maybrick (almost twice the age of Florence) was a debauched philanderer with several illegitimate children. He was also habitual drug user. His drug of choice? Arsenic.

There was a huge outcry when Florence was found guilty ... and a great deal of pressure from America for Florence's immediate release.

However, even though the case against Florence was deemed unsafe, she spent 14 years in prison. Florence spent a significant part of her sentence at Woking Invalid Convict Prison and wrote an incredible account of her experiences shortly after her release in 1904. The following is an 11,000 word extract from her book: Mrs. Maybrick's Own Story, MY FIFTEEN LOST YEARS (Google Books). It's an excellent account of life in Woking Invalid Convict Prison, covering everything from food, punishment, manual labour, sickness and more:

In Solitary Confinement
Removal to Woking Prison

ON the morning of the 29th of August
I was hastily awakened by a female
warder, who said that orders had come
down from the Home Office for my removal
that day to a convict prison.
When I left, the governor was standing
at the gate, and, with a kindliness of voice
which I deeply appreciated, told me to be
brave and good.
A crowd was in waiting at the station.
I was roughly hustled through it into a
third-class carriage.
The only ray of light that penetrated
those dark hours of my journey came from
an American woman. God bless her,
whoever she is or wherever she is! At
every station that the train stopped she got
out and came to the carriage door and
spoke words of sympathy and comfort.
She was the first of my countrywomen to
voice to me the protest that swelled into
greater volume as the years rolled by.
As the train drew up at Woking station a
crowd assembled ... read more

More history ...

The following extract was taken from The Knaphillian and gives some intersting background to the prison:

In 1858 the Home Office bought just over 64 acres of land from the London Necropolis Company in order to build a special prison for disabled prisoners in Knaphill. Known as the ‘Woking Invalid Convict Prison’ it was the first prison to be specifically for disabled prisoners – not just for those physically ill, but also those suffering from mental illness.

The main prison building was designed by Sir Joshua Jebb and Arthur Blomfield (sometimes mis-spelled as ‘Bloomfield’ as in Bloomfield Close). It consisted of two large wings on either side of a large central tower. The west wing was for the chronically sick and insane, whilst the east wing was for some of the more able-bodied prisoners.

The whole site was surrounded by a wall, eighteen feet high, the bricks of which can occasionally still be found on the escarpment down towards Robin Hood Road.

Work began on the building in 1858 with prisoners and officers brought in from Lewes, Carisbrooke and Dartmoor to help with the construction.

The north-east wing was opened on the 28th April 1859, although the official opening of the whole site was not until the 22nd March 1860 when three-hundred prisoners were transferred from the already cramped and inadequate Lewes Prison in Sussex.

The average number of prisoners at Knaphill was 613.

In 1867 work began on the second prison at Knaphill – this time for female convicts, and once again some of the more able-bodied men from the male prison were employed as cheap labour.

The new prison opened on the 5th May 1869 when 100 were transferred here from Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight.

Many of the women worked in the prison kitchens or laundry, whilst a number were employed as Tailoresses, Needlewomen or Knitters. Woking Prison was also well-known for its Mosaics Department where the women could earn 1s2d a day breaking up refuse marble to be laid as mosaic floors. Some were exhibited at the ‘International Exhibition of Fine Arts and Industry’ at the Royal Albert Hall in 1872, and it is said that part of the floor of St Paul's Cathedral and the ‘South Kensington Museums’ were produced at this time. St John’s Church also exhibits some of the work

In 1886 it was decided to close the prisons at Woking over a ten year period, and in 1888 most of the male prisoners were transferred. The invalid prison finally closed on the 21st March 1889 and in November the Home Office transferred the site to the War Department.

In 1891 they bought an extra 20 acres adjoining the site from the Necropolis Company for £5,600, to be used as part of the parade ground.

The female prison continued to be used until October 1895 when it too was closed and the last of the women transferred to Holloway. During the First World War the female prison was used as a military hospital, whilst the male section housed various units, including many troops from all over the Empire.

After the Second World War the barracks became the base for the Royal Military Police who finally vacated the site in 1965 when they moved down to Chichester (although part of the site was retained as a clothing store)

The site then became available for housing with Woking Borough Council and The Guinness Trust developing part of the estate in the early 1970s – followed by more private houses in the 1980s and 90s – although it is perhaps the restoration of the original prison officers quarters in Wellington Terrace and Raglan Road that are the most distinctive part of the area.

Ordnance Survey Map 1870

This Ordnance Survey Map of Woking Invalid Convict Prison, Knaphill from 1870 clearly shows that our house (marked in red) was almost smack bang wallop in the centre of the prison complex.

Most images you see of the prison show the big block south-east of our house. We're not sure what the big block north-west of our house would have been.

I imagine there would have been a lot of curtain twitching going on during the prison's heyday watching all manner of convicts coming and going ;-)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Naughty naughty!

Every now and again I stumble across interesting tidbits of info about the sorts of people incarcerated at Woking Invalid Convict Prison. This chap, it would appear, had a problem staying out of trouble...

John Solloway

Described as 'rather delicate health' he was given three months hard labour (despite only having one arm) for 'willfully exposing himself to insult certain females'. In other words: a flasher! Also described as a rogue and a vagabond.

Was this the same John Solloway imprisoned in Lewes Prison the previous year for stealing 56lbs of lead from a roof in Derby Arboretum (the UK's first public park)?

I guess some things never change.

Original Victorian Floor Plan

When Rob and I visited National Archives in Kew a couple of weekends ago, we didn't really have a clear idea of what we wanted to look at, not to mention where or how we would find it. There must be millions of documents there! By some miracle, the very first document we looked at was this: the original Victorian floor plan of our house. What are the chances of that??? And what an incredible looking document it is too; A3 in size with crumbly edges, like all important old documents should look!

On the close up below, you can see that what is now our dining room was once the kitchen (with a circular copper in the corner next to the fireplace). And what is now the kitchen was once the outside pantry and coal cellar. It appears the house had its own outside toilet, although it's difficult to ascertain whether this was an original feature or whether it was added later by Inkerman Barracks.

A copper, by the way, was a sort of water tank heated up by the coal fire or range. It would have been used to fill a tin bath, for example.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Victorian prison warders' uniforms

I began to wonder what Victorian prison warders would have looked like and discovered these fab images on the Internet. Althought they don't portray prison warders from Woking Invalid Convict Prison, they do portray prison warders of the same era.

The first image depicts Mr Lewis Cooke, his wife Mary and their three children. Lewis Cooke was a warder at Stafford Gaol between 1881 and 1891. The second image depicts a female warder at the same prison.

Frances Hood - Assistant Matron

In 2002, a Roger Hood posted the following question on Roots Web:

Could anyone please tell me where I might find information/ history of Woking Prison? My gt. grandmother FRANCES MILLICENT HOOD was assistant matron at the Female Convict Prison Knaphill on 1881 census (although Millicent was spelt Nuliecut). She was a Widow aged 36. Two of her children were living in Prison Street , JASPER HOOD my grandfather aged 6 described as a boarder and ALICE Hood aged 11 a nursemaid.

I was quite intrigued by that fact that little Alice was a nursemaid at the tender age of 11, and after a quick search discovered that it wasn't uncommon for nursemaids to be little more than children themselves. They were among the youngest and least experienced of all domestic servants, only one step up from the lowly scullery maid.

Poor Frances, it couldn't have been easy being a widow with two young mouths to feed. By all accounts, Victorian prison warders were badly paid. She probably didn't have any other choice but to send little Alice out to work.

In addition, I discovered the following rules and regulations that had to be observed by a prison matron:

The Matron is to reside in the Prison and be under the directions of the Governor; she is to have the care and superintendence of the whole female department, and enforce upon the Female Prisoners the observance of the Prison.

She shall be present at the distribution of meals to the Female Prisoners, and daily visit every part of the Prison appropriated to Females, inspect the bedding, clothing, and food of the Female Prisoners, and see every Female Prisoner at least once in twenty four hours ...


Letter from a Convict

It would appear that Woking Invalid Convict Prison wasn't the worst place to be incarcerated if this letter extract from a convict in Australia to his brother in England is anything to go by:

... But Millbank is altogether a rough style of prison, both in the way of carrying out prison discipline and in that of prison arrangements. All is loud, indecent, rough (It must be remembered that all this relates to an experience of several years ago) In other respects you will find the change to Millbank grateful to you. The cells - infinitely the best of any I have seen (or even heard of, with the exception of those at Woking, an invalid station) are welcome beyond conception for their windows alone. These are a good size, with clear glass, and open wide, so that you can see the real light of day, and freely breathe and feel the fresh air ...

I read elsewhere that Woking Invalid Convict Prison was one of the most progressive prisons in Victorian England ... although they weren't averse to using 'the battery' to shock their prisoners ... if you can call that progressive!

Full letter published in the Cornhill Magazine Vol XIII No 76


Monday, January 26, 2009

George Myers

So, it would appear that the Woking Invalid Convict Prison - and therefore possibly our house - was built by none other than the great George Myers! In short ...

George Myers (born in 1803 in Kingston-upon-Hull) was one of Victorian England's most prolific builders, best known for his work with the architect and designer Augustus Pugin. Settling in Southwark (London) in 1842, he ran his own national contracting business working alongside more than 100 architects over the course of his long and varied career.

His works included the building of the original camp at Aldershot, various army hospitals, Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum (see pic below), Broadmoor Hospital, The Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum and restoration work at the Guildhall, the Tower of London, and Windsor Castle.

Myers also built and restored over 90 churches in his lifetime, averaging around three a year!

Myers died of a stroke on 25 January 1875 and was buried at Norwood Cemetary. Unfortunately his tombstone was demolished by Lambeth in the 1970s ... just like the beautiful Woking Prison.

Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum.

The Building of Woking Invalid Convict Prison

Accounts of Expenditure in the building of Woking Invalid Convict Prison between 1856 and 1868. Found on a recent visit to the National Archives in Kew.

The bundle of documents came in a large cardbox box which had the musty, dusty, sooty smell as though it had been hidden up a chimney for the past 150 years!

After carefully removing the ribbon we discovered a number of documents: annual accounts of expenditure submitted to the Surveyor General of Prisons by a Mr George Myers between 1856 and 1868. (The paper had once been pale blue but had mostly faded to grey).

The first one, dated 1st April 1857, was for the construction of Woking Invalid Prison. A variety of works continued all the way into the mid 1860s with work on the female prison taking place around 1865 to 1867. The last entry in this particular batch of documents is for the enlargement of 2 houses between 1967 and 1868.

As it turns out, George Myers (1803–1875) was a renowned Victorian builder and craftsman. See next blog post.