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.

The Hello Ghosts ...

I have an interesting story to tell you.

When we first bought the house on Raglan Road, it needed a lot of 'cosmetic' work doing to it. I decided to take two weeks off work and commuted the 30-odd miles every day to make a start on some of the more labour intensive stuff.

On the first or second day I was up a ladder in the spare bedroom scraping artex off the ceiling when I distinctly heard a man say 'hello'. It was so clear and loud that my first thought was 'crikey, the postman has let himself in'. I scrambled down the ladder and raced downstairs but the house was empty. In retrospect the 'hello' definitely seemed to come from the doorway of the spare room and was the kind of hello that would preceed an introduction of sorts.

In any case I put the incident to the back of my mind and carried on with my work.

About a week later my dad came down from Yorkshire to help out with some of the joinery that needed doing. Whereas I was still commuting between the house and our flat in London, my dad decided to camp out at the house.

One morning when I arrived my dad had something interesting to tell me.

"I was in the kitchen washing my breakfast dishes this morning," he said, "when I heard a woman's voice say hello. It was so clear she could have been standing in the kitchen with me."

Needless to say I was a little freaked out. Having said that, everyone that comes to visit tells us how friendly and welcoming the house is. And for that we have our hello ghosts to thank, I believe.

Raglan Road / Prison Cottages

The first three (of 9) houses on our stretch of Raglan Road, formally Prison Cottages. The porch is shared between two houses. The front of these houses are now Grade II listed. Simliar architectural arches and brickwork would have been found on the prison building.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

An early discovery

One of the first snippets of information I unearthed relating to our house was this, taken from John and Anne's Family Pages:

"William James Kernick: born 21st August, 1873, at 3 Prison Cottages, Woking, where his father, John Oliver, was an Assistant Warder at the Invalid Convict Prison. He died in Bodmin in June, 1878, aged 5.

Francis George Kernick: born 30th November, 1875, at 2 Prison Cottages, Woking, but unfortunately died the following year on 8th November, of whooping cough."

A little bit more about John Oliver Kernick can be found here on the same website: It would appear that John entered the Prison Service and was stationed firstly at Bodmin Prison, later being transferred to Woking. At the end of five years in Woking he was moved back to Bodmin in Cornwall. Sadly he died just a year after Francis' death on the 21st of November 1877 aged 42. (According the the Kernick Family Website, it was a sudden and unexpected death. A coroner's inquest held on the same day recorded a death from 'natural causes'.)

Did little Francis die at 2 Prison Cottages? And was this the reason the family returned to Bodmin? Who knows. It's weird to think that these strangers from the past have such an intimate and potentially heartbreaking link with our home.

A bit of background.

Just before we moved into our first home in September 2007 we discovered that our street (Raglan Road) had once been part of a large Victorian prison for infirm convicts built in 1858.

In fact, our small stretch of Raglan Road (9 houses numbered 87 to 103) were once known as Prison Cottages and had housed a variety of prison officers. An original Victorian floor plan of our house (image coming soon) indicated that the house was for subordinate officers working at the female prison. The female section of the prison was built several years after the male section using convict labour ... but more about that to follow.

The prison was taken over by the army in the early 1890s (circa 1892) and renamed Inkerman Barracks after the Battle of Inkerman fought during the Crimean War on 5 November 1854. The prison was converted to house two battalions of infantry. The first infantry battalion to be quartered there in 1895 was 2nd Battalion The Royal West Surrey Regiment (The Queen's). In September 1947 the Royal Military Police moved to Inkerman Barracks, establishing Inkerman as the home of the Corps.

Sadly, as the years passed, people began to forget about the prison. Particularly when the barracks themselves were demolished to make way for housing developments. This I find really depressing, especially when you consider how stunning the building once was. The old Lunatic Asylum, built around the same time (now converted into luxury apartments) is still intact.

Lots of locals know that this was once the site of Inkerman Barracks, but have no idea that it was also location to one of the most progressive prisons in Victorian England. In writing this blog I hope to create a better picture of the prison; it's buildings, it's inmates, it's employees, it's location and more ... lest they be forgotten forever.

Woking Invalid Convict Prison

Woking Invalid Convict Prison.