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Holloway Prison: 'It will be remembered for some of the most important events in penal history'

PUBLISHED: 14:00 02 December 2015

Inside HMP Holloway in 1970. Picture: English Heritage

Inside HMP Holloway in 1970. Picture: English Heritage

Archant

After more than a century at the forefront of women's history, the notorious Holloway Prison is to shut - but reaction has been mixed.

Ruth Ellis was hanged in Holloway Prison in July 1955 for the murder of her lover, David Blakely. She was the last woman to face judicial execution in the UK. Picture: PA Archive/Press Association ImagesRuth Ellis was hanged in Holloway Prison in July 1955 for the murder of her lover, David Blakely. She was the last woman to face judicial execution in the UK. Picture: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne announced its closure at last Wednesday’s spending review and autumn statement.

The jail, on Parkhurst Road, became Britain’s first female-only unit in 1902.

It was where suffragettes were incarcerated in the early 20th century. The last ever woman to be executed in Britain - Ruth Ellis in 1955 - was hanged there.

The prison is the biggest women’s jail in western Europe. But speaking after Mr Osborne’s announcement, minister for justice Michael Gove rounded on its “inadequacy”.

HMP Holloway: a brief history. Graphic: Kayleigh O'’DellHMP Holloway: a brief history. Graphic: Kayleigh O'’Dell

He said its clsoure was a “new beginning” for female offenders, who will serve their sentences in “more humane surroundings, better designed to keep them out of crime”.

HMP Holloway is expected to close by summer next year. Women offenders in London will be held at two more modern facilities: HMP Bronzefield and HMP Downview, both in Surrey.

Dr Helen Johnston, a senior criminology lecturer at the University of Hull, published research of the prison’s history from 1902-1945 for the London Metropolitan Archives.

She said: “It will be remembered in popular culture for its association with some of the most important events in penal history.

“Not just that, but in its more recent history, it has been a place that has held some of out more notorious prisoners.”

Cllr Paul Convery, Islington’s executive member for community safety, said he was surprised at Mr Osborne’s announcement.

“There had been no hint it was on the list of Victorian jails, like Pentonville, Michael Gove had mentioned for closure. I was perplexed.

“It’s not an old prison. It was rebuilt 40 years ago to replace what was a very bad prison.

“The rationale that it is inhumane is, I feel, wrong. It is one of the best-run prisons in the country.”

Meanwhile, a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said it is “not anticipating” compulsory redundancies of the current prison staff.

She added: “Wherever possible, staff will be redeployed to other prisons or an appropriate civil service position within reasonable travelling distance of their home.

“All staff will be given the opportunity of a personal interview to explain their preferences and any other requirements.”

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