HMP Holloway, one of the UK’s most notorious female-only prisons, is set to close this year, after being in operation for over 160 years.
Ironically, just months ahead of its closure, Holloway received one of the best inspection reports it had been given in years. However, despite this fact, most agree that the prison is simply too large and too outdated to incarcerate female inmates safely.
HMP Holloway – The Victorian Era
Holloway Prison, which opened in 1852, was originally a mixed-sex establishment; housing not only men and women, but children too. However, as the 19th century drew to a close, numbers of female offenders grew significantly; and in 1902, Holloway became a female-only establishment, to accommodate the increased numbers of women inmates.
In the same year, two executions took place – Amelia Sach and Annie Walters; the infamous Finchley Baby Farmers. Sach ran a ‘Lying in Home’, where mothers could leave their babies to be put up for adoption. However, it was discovered that the babies were actually being poisoned by Walters!
Other Famous Inmates at Holloway
- Suffragettes. In the early 1900s, several suffragettes were locked up in Holloway Prison – including Anne Miller Fraser, Emily Wilding Davison and Constance Markeivicz. During their imprisonment, many of the women went on hunger strike and were force-fed – which over time has taken on symbolic significance in the history of women’s rights.
- Edith Thompson. Edith Thompson was a milliner, married to Percy Thompson. However, in a move that caused considerable public horror at the time, she began an affair with a friend, Freddy Bywaters – and the two murdered her husband. Edith Thompson was executed at HMP Holloway in 1923, at the age of just 29.
- Helen Duncan. Helen Duncan, a self-proclaimed psychic from Scotland, offered her services throughout the UK – holding regular séances and spirit-summoning events. In 1944, she was found guilty under the Witchcraft Act and served nine months in HMP Holloway. She was officially the last woman in the UK to be imprisoned for being a witch!
- Ruth Ellis. Ruth Ellis, who was hanged at Holloway in 1955, was the last woman to be executed in the UK. She was sentenced to death for the murder of her lover David Blakely. Throughout her time in prison, her impeccable behaviour and dignity was noted; and it’s now believed that she accepted her sentence to protect another lover, Desmond Cusson – who reportedly gave her the gun to kill Blakely.
HMP Holloway has housed some other notorious female criminals in recent years. Moors murderer Myra Hindley was imprisoned here – and during her incarceration, attempted to hatch an escape plan with a prison warden. Other notable inmates include Rose West and Maxine Carr.
In recent years, the prison has come under considerable criticism for its cramped cells, poor healthcare provision and lack of trained staff. A 2010 inspection noted found that most of the inmates felt unsafe there, and there was, on average, 35 incidents a week of self-harm. Three-quarters of the prison population had mental disorders, 50% had drink or drug addictions, yet provision to deal with addiction or mental illness was poor.
However, in spite of its historically bad conditions, it’s continued to captivate and intrigue the public; and has been referenced in songs, films and television programmes throughout the years.
References:female prisoners, HMP Holloway, UK prison history, Woman's prison