Pentonville (HM Prison)

Pentonville (HM Prison)

Infobox HM Prison
name = HMP Pentonville

size = 260px
caption = Pentonville Prison in 1842
opened = 1842
type = Adult Male/Local
figures = 1152 (August 2007)
location = Barnsbury, London
governor = Nick Leader
prisonid = 632

HM Prison Pentonville is a prison built in 1842 on the Caledonian Road, North London. The prison is not actually within Pentonville itself, but is located further north in Barnsbury. The prisons design was influenced by the "separate system" developed at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.


The first modern prison in London - Millbank -opened in 1816. It had separate cells for 860 prisoners, and proved satisfactory to the authorities, who started building prisons building to deal with the rapid increase in numbers occasioned by the ending of capital punishment for many crimes and a steady reduction in transportation.

Two Acts of Parliament allowed for the building of Pentonville prison for the detention of convicts sentenced to imprisonment or awaiting transportation. Construction started on 10 April 1840 and was completed in 1842. The cost was £84,186 12s 2d.

It had a central hall with five radiating wings, all visible to staff at the centre. This design, intended to keep prisoners isolated – the "separate system" first used at Pennsylvania's Eastern State Penitentiary – was not, as is often thought, a panopticon. Guards had no view into individual cells from their central position. Pentonville was designed to hold 520 prisoners under the separate system, each having his own cell, convert|13|ft|m|0 long, convert|7|ft|m|0 wide and convert|9|ft|m|0 high with little windows on the outside walls and opening on to narrow landings in the galleries Christopher Hibbert,"The English" (1987) Page 667 ISBN 0246121815] .

They were 'admirably ventilated', a visitor wrote, and had a water closet, though these were replaced by communal, evil-smelling recesses because they were constantly blocked and the pipes were used for communication. Christopher Hibbert,"The English" (1987) Page 667 ISBN 0246121815] .

The occupants of the cells, following prison discipline developed in America, were forbidden to speak to each other and in exercise tramped in silent rows, wearing brown cloth masks. In chapel, which they had to attend every day, they sat in cubicles, their heads visible to the warder but hidden from each other. Christopher Hibbert,"The English" (1987) Page 668 ISBN 0246121815]

Mental disturbances were common. An official report admitted that 'for every sixty thousand persons imprisoned in Pentonville there were 220 cases of insanity, 210 cases of delusion, and forty suicides'. Christopher Hibbert,"The English" (1987) Page 668 ISBN 0246121815] However conditions were better and healthier than at Newgate and similar older prisons, and each prisoner was made to work, such as picking coir (tarred rope) and weaving. The work lasted from six in the morning until seven at night. Christopher Hibbert,"The English" (1987) Page 668 ISBN 0246121815] The food ration was a breakfast of 10 ounces of bread and three-quarters of a pint of cocoa; dinner was half a pint of soup (or four ounces of meat), five ounces of bread and one pound of potatoes; supper a pint of gruel and five ounces of bread. Christopher Hibbert,"The English" (1987) Page 668 ISBN 0246121815]

Pentonville became the model for British prisons; a further 54 were built to the same design over six years, and hundreds throughout the British Empire. The cost of keeping a prisoner at Pentonville was about 15 shillings a week in the 1840s.

Prisoners under sentence of death were not housed at Pentonville until the closure of Newgate in 1902, when Pentonville took over executions in north London. Condemned cells were added and an execution room built to house Newgate's gallows.

Today, Pentonville is a local prison, holding prisoners remanded by local magistrates' and crown court, and those serving short sentences or beginning longer sentences. On 31 January 2006, it held 1,177 adult males.

The closest tube station is Caledonian Road.

Famous residents

Poet Oscar Wilde spent time here before being transferred to Wandsworth and finally Reading. The singer Pete Doherty spent four nights in Pentonville in February 2005 while unable to make bail on charges which were later dropped. The actor John Alford spent six weeks in Pentonville in 1999 after selling illegal drugs to a reporter. Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers served a sentence for drug possession. Irish revolutionary Roger Casement was hanged there on 3 August 1916, and his remains interred at the site until 1965.

Pete Doherty wrote a song about Pentonville prison, named "Pentonville", which is on the Babyshambles album Down In Albion.

Similarly Amy Winehouse's husband Blake Fielder-Civil is currently incacerated at Pentonville for grievous bodily harm and attempting to pervert the court of justice.

Udham Singh, the Indian revolutionary, who shot Sir Michael O'Dwyer (Governor of the Punjab during the Amritsar Massacre ), was also detained and hanged here.

Various people were executed at Pentonville, all subsequently buried at the rear of the prison. The prison cemetery is at coord|51|32|44.05|N|0|06|54.62|W|region:GB_scale:1000|display=inline.

The final execution at Pentonville took place on 6 July 1961, when Edwin Bush was hanged, aged 21 [] .


External links

* [ Pentonville's Victorian history]
* [ More information about Pentonville Prison]
* [ Present-day aerial view of Pentonville Prison]

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