There has probably been a county gaol in Winchester since at least the thirteenth century. It was in the High Street and the Castle at various times. In 1228 it was moved to a site between Staple Gardens and Jewry Street. A new county gaol was built on this site in 1788. In 1805 a new prison for debtors was built along the frontage in Jewry Street and this allowed the closure of the Bridewell which had moved from the High Street to Hyde. This frontage was built by George Moneypenney, who was a well known architect of the time. The work cost £10,000 and the appearance was criticised by a committee of inquiry in 1817 which thought that it was far too opulent for prisoners. There was a period following the building of the frontage when Jewry Street was renamed Gaol Street, but not surprisingly the local residents eventually got the name changed back to Jewry Street (Carpenter Turner, 1986).
In 1845 a committee of magistrates was appointed to decide if a new prison was required. In 1846 work started on the site in Romsey Road. Charles Pearce was appointed to design and build the new prison. He had designed and built a prison at Aylesbury a few years before. Construction did not go well and eventually Charles Pearce and his Clerk of Works were sacked and a local builder Thomas Stopher completed the building. The building was completed and ready for prisoners in September 1849. The prisoners were transferred from Jewry St and also the Bridewells in Winchester, Southampton, Portsmouth and Gosport. The Bridewell at Gosport did not close after the transfer because of the large number of service men being imprisoned there (Constable, 2002).
The transfers did not go smoothly due to water supply problems at the new prison and did not complete until December. The prison was built to the classical Victorian 'radial' design and covered an area of 6 acres. It has five wings of four stories high, each radiating from a centre, with a central ventilation tower. The tower is very prominent and can be seen from all around. The modern impression of Victorian prisons being dark, dank and dingy is probably correct, but this would not have been the case when it was built.
Each wing had a large window at the end which was the height of two storeys. Every cell had its own gas burner to augment the natural light from the windows. In addition there were large skylights in the pitched roof which would have let in natural light. Water for the prison was obtained from a well in the grounds. This was 217 feet deep and it was estimated that the prison used 9,000 gallons per day.
The prison is ventilated through the centre tower and a system of ducting was installed to supply fresh air and this is still effective today (Constable, 2002).
When it opened it was equipped with the most up to date equipment for use by the prisoners. This was the treadmill and hand cranks. The Treadmill could accommodate 48 prisoners. The hand crank was simply a box with a handle that had to be turned by the prisoner. The amount of effort to turn the handle could be adjusted. A warder could adjust the resistance by turning a screw on the side of the box. This is why even today prison officers are known as 'screws'.
Every prison was inspected as is the case today. The report in July 1871 indicated the prison was able to hold 321 males and 31 female prisoners. It also had the capacity for 29 male and 4 female debtors. These were held in a separate building in the prison grounds. The daily average prisoner population was 316. By 1899 the average daily number had risen to 345 with the max males being 356 in February 1899 and 49 females in September 1898.
Changes to the prison were few and far between. In 1908 a hospital was built within the prison walls even though the Royal Hampshire Hospital was directly opposite the entrance to the prison (HRO W/C11/2/7082 & 8722). In 1964 the Remand Centre was built. It was used to house young offenders until 1991 when it was used to house medium security 'Category C' adult men. The Annex was used from 1995 to house women prisoners after a period of 60 years without women prisoners on site. In 2003 this Annex, now generally called West Hill Wing was used as a Democratic Therapeutic Unit for women prisoners.
Various other changes were planned for the prison but were abandoned usually for financial reasons. In 2003 a new Social and Legal visits complex was built. With recent problems with overcrowding and insufficient places a major extension is underway in 2007 – 8 to extend the prison within the prison walls. This involves rebuilding one of the original wings of the prison (URL35).
The Governors of the prison have been:-
Over the years the prison has undertaken 38 executions. The previous executions had been moved from the public Gallows near the Jolly Farmer Pub to the gaol in Jewry St. When the new prison was opened they moved to the new prison. The first execution was Abraham Baker in January 1856. 3 Italian seamen were executed in December 1856. All these hangings were in public. The scaffold for these 'public' hangings was built over the main entrance to the prison.
Other 'public' hangings at Winchester were James Johnson, in January 1861, Thomas Jackson in December 1861. George Gilbert was hanged in August 1862 and attracted a crowd of 10,000. The last 'public' hanging at Winchester was Frederick Baker for the infamous murder of Fanny Adams in December 1867 (URL17). The subsequent hangings were inside the walls of the prison away from public view. The last 'public' execution in England was in May 1868 when Michael Barrett was hanged at Newgate Prison in London (Constable, 2002).
Prisoners who have escaped from the prison are limited in number. One of the earliest was James Sheppard in June 1892. He escaped from the prison hospital using knotted sheets to make a rope. He stole several horses but was apprehended within two days in Stoney Cross in the New Forest. In May 1901 Adolph Vasil aka Keser and/or Marner, a Remand prisoner used cavas to make a rope and escape via the roof space and climbed the prison wall. He escaped across country to Itchen Abbas where he caught a train to London. This was discovered and by telegraph to Woking he was caught on the train.
In April 1909 Johann Witer, A Belgian National escaped. He nearly killed a Warder on duty that night and made good his escape. He lead the police a trail across the local country side until he was caught near Clatford 4 days later.
Terence Cutts escaped in December 1953 and was apprehended within 4 days. Winchester Prison had a dog section from 1971 and in 1980 foiled an escape. Unfortunately in 1997 the Prison lost its status as a category 'A' prison. This resulted in serious budget cuts which included the dog section. This was thought to be a cut too far by many officers and unfortunately this was soon to prove to be true. In December 2001 William Todd, a convicted murderer serving two life sentences managed to escape with third party assistance. It was felt if there had still been dog patrols the escape would have been foiled. As it was the prisoner was caught 4 days later near his home in Reading (Constable, 2002).
Release 1.0 last update 02/09/08
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