For over 150 years, Strangeways has housed Manchester’s toughest criminals, and held some of the UK’s vilest killers, from Ian Brady to Harold Shipman.

HMP Manchester is the fifth of Britain’s high security jails that we will take a look at. It’s probably better known as ‘Strangeways,’ but was rebranded HMP Manchester after the devastating riots of 1990 that changed the course of prison history.

HMP Manchester is a local prison that accepts prisoners from across the Greater Manchester area. It opened in June 1868 for both women and men, but became a men only prison in 1963. In 1980 HMP Manchester began to accept remand prisoners and finally in 2003 it became a category A prison, part of the high security estate.

Manchester has an operational capacity of 1238, but only holds a small number of category A prisoners, 32, about 4% of the prison population. HMP Manchester has a small special interventions unit for prisoners considered exceptionally dangerous and of danger to the public, police or national security.

Around 15% of the prisoners are there on remand and over 40% are there for violent and sexual offences. It is intended that HMP Manchester become a training prison for Category B prisoners in the near future, but will hold onto its high security role.

HMP Strangeways took its name for the park it was built on; Strangeways Park and Gardens. I used to think it was because of the type of prisoners held there! Most people still know it as Strangeways, although it has been officially HMP Manchester for over 25 years, so I doubt it will ever lose its earlier name. I don’t think that’s a bad thing- it does well to remind the powers that be what happens when you lose sight of prison reform.

In 2017 a report by the Independent Monitoring Board described Manchester Prison ‘as squalid, vermin infested and reminiscent of Dickensian England’. The report said the prison urgently needed modernisation and that assaults on staff were caused in part by staff shortages.

However in a 2018 unannounced inspection the prison was found to operating with adequate resources and had vastly improved in recent months. Mr Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons said “HMP Manchester is a complex prison with a very important role in protecting the public. However, the prison had to guard against complacency and in many respects had to ‘up its game’’.

The report said there had been significant deterioration since the last inspection in 2014 and there was a high level of violence in the prison. For example, in the six months prior to the report there had been 177 assaults, 45 of them on staff, a 30% increase since the previous visit. There had also been 8 suicides since 2014.

Governor, Rob Young, believes he has done lot to improve conditions in HMP Manchester recently. Some of his improvements include:

  • In-cell telephony’ has been brought in to every cell
  • Inmates can’t smoke but they can vape
  • Implemented sessions to help prisoners become better dads
  • Rentokil is on a contract to tackle the vermin problem as best it can in an inner-city, Victorian building.
  • Offenders are spending more time out of their cells, taking part in purposeful activities and education
  • There is an excellent library and education program
  • Ten designated ‘disability cells’ have been introduced ‘to meet the needs of both our disabled and social care population’
  • 73 new Prison Officers have been recruited
  • The challenge Support and Intervention Plan has been implemented for particularly violent inmates
  • Investment in new technology to stop the drug epidemic
  • Reduced the number of broken windows in cells from 700 to less than forty
  • Body-Worn Cameras for officers and new CCTV in residential areas has been introduced

The Gallows


Prior to 1964 Strangeways had rather a grim history, for 100 years it acted as an execution centre for the region. During this time 100 convicts met their death at the Strangeways’ gallows.

To begin with there was just an execution shed but after WW1 it was replaced with a specially built execution chamber. Both men and women were hanged at Strangeways, but the vast majority were men who had killed women.

On Thursday 13 August 1964, Gwynne Owen Evans became the last prisoner to be hanged at Strangeways; his death marked the end of capital punishment in Manchester and the whole of the UK.



The longest and most destructive riots in Britain’s prison history took place in Strangeways in 1990. The riots changed the history of the prison system, or so it was said at the time. But with the deep cuts to the prison system of today are slipping back to the days of Strangeways?

The riot began in the chapel and lasted 25 days. The riot spread throughout the prison and finally ended when the five last rooftop protesters were brought down in a cherry picker. In an attempt to wear the prisoners down, the authorities cut off the electricity supply, sprayed the roof with cold water and played incessant loud pop music. It didn’t work.

One prisoner was killed and one officer dies of a heart attack. 147 prison officers and 47 inmates were injured in the riot. The prison was completely destroyed on the inside.

Strangeways was rebuilt to a tune of £50 million and rebranded as HMP Manchester.

The riot was caused by horrendous conditions at the prison, three prisoners to a cell made for one, and prisoners locked up for 23 hours a day with nothing to do. The prisoners felt no one was listening to them and they had to do something.

The riot led to the writing of the Woolf report, that concluded that the conditions in the prison were intolerable and led to major recommendations for the future of the prison system.

The Guardian newspaper described the report as a blueprint for the restoration of “decency and justice into jails where conditions had become intolerable”.

HMP Manchester’s Infamous Villains


Harold Shipman


The prolific killer Harold Shipman was held there on remand whilst awaiting trial. Harold Shipman, born on January 14, 1946, in Nottingham, died January 13, 2004, in HMP Wakefield by suicide. Shipman was British doctor and serial killer who unbelievably murdered at least 215 of his patients. In 2000 he was convicted on 15 counts of murder and one count of forgery and sentenced to life in prison.


Ian Brady


Brady committed the notorious moors murders alongside Myra Hindley between July 1963 and October 1965. The pair murdered at least five children; four of the children were known to be sexually assaulted.

Brady was born in Scotland, Glasgow in 1938 and met Myra Hindley when they were working together in a small factory in Manchester.

Brady was sentenced for a minimum of 30 years; he died of natural causes aged 79 and was buried at sea to prevent his grave becoming a shrine or tourist attraction. He dies in 2017 after spending 51 years in jail.


Dale Cregan


Dale Creegan is an English drug dealer convicted of four murders and three attempted murders. Creegan, infamous for having only one eye, was recently transferred to HMP Manchester after four years in a secure psychiatric hospital. It was ruled he was; bad, not mad’.

It’s thought Creegan had his left eye carved out in unknown circumstances, but he told friend he’d lost it in a fight when he was in Thailand.


Mark Bridger


Bridger was convicted of the murder of five year old April Jones in 2012. He is currently serving a life sentence. He will spend the rest of his life in prison.

It is thought Bridger sexually assaulted the five year but he disposed of her body so thoroughly it is impossible to prove. Very little of the child’s body was ever found.

Prison Phone, Keeping prisoners and families connected
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