Saturday, February 21, 2009

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.

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