Holloway Prison first opened in 1852. It was grand and imposing, dominating the landscape, with huge griffins clutching a key and leg irons in their talons. It became a women’s prison in 1902 and was infamous for its treatment of suffragettes, including force-feeding, which led to the notorious Cat and Mouse Act. The prison was rebuilt on a more human scale in red brick during the 1970s, and it is this long brick wall that can still be seen running along Camden Road.
This project at Islington Museum traces the story of the prison from its beginnings to its closure in summer 2016 through the voices of those who were held and worked there. Highlights of the exhibition include the noticeboard from the original Holloway Prison, when it was a ‘terror to evil doers’, a large embroidery which features the signature of Diana Mosely and other fascist held at Holloway under war-time defence regulations and a banner made by Sisters Uncut who occupied part of the prison following its closure. Many women held in prison are mothers –and many lose their children as a result of going to prison. The exhibition reflects their story, including a letter from an eight-year-old girl whose mother was held at the prison and a small pottery jar made by a prisoner for their child which was never collected.
The exhibition showcases everyday objects from the modern prison to bring into focus the lives of prisoners -a bed and noticeboard, a toothbrush, tube of toothpaste and a bar of soap. To really understand the personal experience of a prisoner is hard –what does it mean to lose your freedom?
The site of Holloway Prison has long been contested –there were protests during the 1970s rebuild by local people who felt the site should become a public park. The exhibition also explores what may happen next on the site –and asks visitors to think what kind of legacy there should be to follow a place with such depth of history.
To hear curator, Roz Currie, talk about the exhibition please follow this link!
Find out more about the exhibition in the press: