prisons, including Durham, were truly horrible places! Indeed, for some
criminals execution might have seemed preferable.
were kept herded into awful cells with no heating, no bedding and no
sanitation (running water and toilet facilities). It didn't matter what
the criminal had done or whether they were awaiting trial. Everyone
was treated the same! It was hard in jail. Possessions were stolen from
new arrivals, inmates fought each other, it was a life where the strongest
tended to be little air, poor ventilation and there was nothing to do.
Prisoners were regularly chained together, reducing the need for warders
and making a saving for the private organisations that ran the prisons.
Prisons were not run by the government but by private organisations
for profit. The prisoners had to pay the wardens for their food and
you even had to pay to be released! This practice was not outlawed until
was also no segregation between women and men in early prisons and some
women tried to get pregnant so that they could 'plead the belly.' This
meant that if found guilty, she would be transported rather than executed.
of the condemned cell at Newgate Prison. Taken from Illustrated
London News, 29 Dec 1888. (DUL ref + 050 v093 1888)
the early 19th century, however, voices urging reform started to be
heard and acted upon. Campaigners such as John Howard, Elizabeth Fry
and Joseph Gurney toured prisons across the country, published their
findings and advocated change. Their suggestions were slowly taken up
and conditions in prisons slowly started to improve.
1823, an Act was passed that introduced wages for gaolers and introduced
a number of reforms, including the banning of alcohol and ensuring that
women prisoners had women guards. Nearly twenty years later, Pentonville
prison opened. This featured a new design called the 'separate system'
which kept prisoners apart for most of the day. Most of the 90 new prisons
opened between 1842 and 1877 incorporated some features of the Pentonville
design. The government also started to take responsibility for prisons
rather than leaving them in local control. By 1878 all prisons came
under the control of the Home Office. Although still by no means a pleasant
place to be, by the end of the 19th century prisons had improved beyond