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Capturing the story of Holloway Prison: Islington Museum asks former inmates and staff to share stories

PUBLISHED: 12:06 28 February 2018

Holloway Prison. Picture: Islington Museum

Holloway Prison. Picture: Islington Museum

Islington Local History Centre

Islington Museum curator Roz Currie tells Emma Bartholomew why she wants to hear what life was like for women locked up in Holloway Prison, before it shut two years ago

A bird's eye view of Holloway Prison, in an engraving from 1862. Picture: Islington Local History CentreA bird's eye view of Holloway Prison, in an engraving from 1862. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

Former guards, staff and inmates of Holloway Prison are being invited to share their stories to capture what went on behind the walls of what was the largest women’s prison in Britain.

Founded in 1852, Holloway became a women’s prison 50 years later, and was an important landmark in Islington for more than 150 years until its closure in 2016.

More notable inmates included Suffragettes Diane Mosley and Myra Hindley.

But Islington Museum wants
to hear from unknown people whose stories have remained unrecorded until now.

Holloway Castle, in a postcard from the 1900s. Picture: Islington Local History CentreHolloway Castle, in a postcard from the 1900s. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

Everything will be brought together by Islington Museum and Heritage Service through
its project, Echoes of Holloway Prison, in an exhibition at the museum in St John Street, Clerkenwell, in the summer.

“The idea is to do it now before all these stories disappear,” curator Roz Currie told the Gazette.

“As the developers start moving in, Islington will be a really different place.

“It was a tiny city, really,
with 450 women – all the staff, the kitchens, the chapel and priests, and the gardening, and then the mental health side of things.

The entrance of Holloway Prison in 1947. Picture: Islington Local History CentreThe entrance of Holloway Prison in 1947. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

“Then there’s the local community who know the
prison. It had a bus stop that
said Holloway Prison.

“It was a massive thing, but you could never get into it, and we want to make that line more porous to get a feel of what the prison was like.”

She is hoping for donations or loans of memorabilia from the prison, photos, or diaries women might have kept.

And as well as stories from staff and inmates, the museum is also interested to hear local stories from neighbours.

The entrance of Holloway Prison in 1947. Picture: Islington Local History CentreThe entrance of Holloway Prison in 1947. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

“There are all these little local connections, like the flats built for the guards who drank in a particular Camden Road pub,” said Roz.

“One of the really interesting stories in the prison is how many children were born there. The babies would stay with their mothers until they were one.”

She also wants to explore the impact the closure of the prison has had on the women.

“The government announced
it would close Victorian
prisons that were no longer fit for purpose because they were old and antiquated, and then they said the first prison they would close was Holloway,”
said Roz.

A bird's eye view of Holloway Prison, in an engraving from 1862. Picture: Islington Local History CentreA bird's eye view of Holloway Prison, in an engraving from 1862. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

“Everyone was taken aback, because it was rebuilt in the ’70s, so it wasn’t a Victorian prison at all.

“There is now no women’s prison in London, so what does that mean?

“A lot of it is to do with access to family.

“People are now further away from their kids and that’s had a big impact.”

Holloway Prison. Picture: Islington MuseumHolloway Prison. Picture: Islington Museum

Volunteers and ex-prisoners
are set to receive training in
skills like research, documentation, using archives, blogging and web publication as part of the project thanks to a £73,700 grant from the National Lottery Fund.

The oldest person they are set to inverview so far is a man whose great-grandmother Alice Hawkins was imprisoned in 1907 for being a Suffragette.

They also have a woman who was a baby when she was jailed with her mother in 1940, for
being Jewish refugees from Germany.

Another participant was jailed for her part in the Greenham Common protest, where she invaded the military base.

Roz CurrieRoz Currie

“We want to reflect all people in the prison, and not just the protesters,” said Roz.

“In 1902 a huge amount of women had alcohol dependency issues, and now it’s drug dependency issues.”

She added: “We hope to interview some recent prisoners who are able to talk about their experiences.

“When I went to Holloway before it closed I met the cookery teacher, who had been there for nine years.

Roz CurrieRoz Currie

“It all builds up this picture of what it was like to be there.

“The outcome will hopefully
be that in our museum and archive we will have a collection reflecting the story of the prison that does not exist anywhere else.”

Anyone who has objects or
photos they would consider donating to the project, or who has memories and stories they would like to share with Roz and the exhibition, is asked to e-mail her on roz.currie@islington.gov.uk.

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