Holloway: a network

One of the overriding themes taken away from the Echoes of Holloway Prison project, is the idea of Holloway as a network – a network of women held or working there, of local organisations providing support services,and of the wider community.

From the early beginnings of Holloway, women have campaigned together to improve the living conditions of women held by prisons and their lives once they leave. They range from individual activists and women with personal experience of offending, to established support organisations, each with an inspiring journey to share.

The Treasures Foundation was founded by Mandy Ogunmokun in 2011, who herself was held at the prison. They offer support and guidance to women with a history of drug abuse and offending, through three houses in East London, and were recently awarded funding from SEGRO to benefit the organisation’s Independent Living groups.

Working Chance, founded by Jocelyn Hillman in 2009, provides recruitment support to women. Based on her experiences meeting women held in prison, Hillman saw the need to change the stigma many women formerly held in prisons feel they face by potential employers and society once they leave. The group now have offices in London and Manchester, and run a recruitment office inside HMP Downview in Surrey, where many women from Holloway are now held.

Birth Companions provides free support to pregnant women and new mothers in prisons, including advice, group sessions, resources, and taking photos for the new mother and her child. The organisation developed from the ‘Holloway Doula Group’, which was created in response to reports that women in prisons were giving both without any friends or family around them. They provided support for women at Holloway for 20 years until the site closed, and now run weekly groups for women at Bronzefield and Peterborough prisons.

Women in Prison was also founded by a woman formerly held at Holloway in the 1980s. Chris Tchaikovsky, alongside criminologist Pat Carlen, founded the group in response to the conditions she witnessed at Holloway, and as a means to campaign for change in the criminal justice system and provide support for those women impacted by it. They provide support inside and outside prisons in England, as well as a series of women’s centres across the country. They also produced ‘After Holloway’ in 2015, alongside the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, a study of 50 asking 50 women affected by the criminal justice system whether the closure of Holloway has had an impact.

The Griffins Society was founded in 1965 with the aim of providing hostel accommodation to women leaving Holloway Prison, and was named after the two statues of griffins holding keys in their claws originally placed outside the prison’s gates. The group’s main aim is to bring about change to the criminal justice system by sponsoring practitioner-led research to inform wider policy.

For more information on these groups:

Volunteer Exhibition Closing Workshop

This project would not have been possible without the hard work and insight of our team of committed volunteers. Following the closure of the exhibition, we came together to explore our learning and to discuss next steps. Volunteer Meg Deschamps recaps the event: 

To mark the end of the Echoes of Holloway Prison exhibition and events programme, we held a closing event for all the volunteers who contributed to the project at Islington Museum. The project 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. The closing event was not only a chance to celebrate the project and our hard work, but for everyone involved to have their say. We reflected on specific objects and oral history stories, sharing moments or voices which had particularly impacted our understanding of Holloway’s story. 

Perhaps one of the most insightful parts of the session, besides the pizza, was collating everyone’s impressions on women in prisons before and after the project. Some of the most common themes arising from the pre-project section included: our ideas being based on popular TV shows like‘Bad Girls’ or ‘Orange is the New Black’; a focus on single women; a sense of a ‘gap’ in our understanding of what lay behind Holloway’s walls; an awareness of the suffragettes held at the prison; and a focus on aesthetics, including assumptions about the coldness and harshness of the building itself.

While in stark contrast, ideas that resonated among the group post-project were the increasing need for support and empathy for these women, particularly surrounding mental health services; the complexity of understanding women in prison; a wider understanding of the reasons women are sent to prison; a sense of community, creativity and the support network many women received while at Holloway; and new ideas of motherhood and the ongoing challenges facing mothers in prison. But perhaps most importantly, volunteers expressed that they had developed a much deeper awareness of the voices and personal experiences of ordinary women held by the prison, and an acceptance that these can sometimes be the easiest to ignore and the most difficult to hear.

While we could not offer definitive answers to the broad social issues raised during the session, we were able to meet a consensus that whatever Holloway and prisons more generally are used for, our main focus should be on the personal experiences of the women held there. This fits perfectly with the overriding purpose of the project, and we agreed that our work now should be answering how to carry the power of these personal connections to the wider community and make sure these women’s voices continue to be heard. 

Sisters Uncut ‘Reclaiming Holloway’ Workshop

As part of the Echoes of Holloway Prison exhibition events programme, a North London Sisters Uncut representative ran a ‘Reclaiming Holloway’ workshop at Islington Museum, to address issues surrounding women’s prisons, as well as the group’s occupation of Holloway Prison Visitor’s Centre in May 2017.

The workshop explored the purpose of the week-long occupation, which was to protest government cuts to domestic violence survivors’ services and to urge that the site be used as a safe space for women and the local community. By hosting a community festival at the site, activists hoped to show that a community space was not only feasible but also popular in the area.

The session also provided a chance to see plans showing the community’s vision for the site, which offered a fascinating insight into the needs and wants of the local community.

To end the workshop, Sisters Uncut facilitated a wider discussion about what can be done to stop the cycle of women being held in prisons. The varied group of criminal justice and architecture students, community members, and museum staff and volunteers shared stories and ideas about ways in which women could be better supported.

Items from the occupation, including banners hung from the prison, were displayed in the Echoes of Holloway prison exhibition (13 July-8 October 2018).

Exhibition Events Programme

The Echoes of Holloway Prison Exhibition ran at Islington Museum, from the 13th of July to the 8th of October 2018. The exhibition was accompanied by a varied events programme.  

View our 2018 Echoes of Holloway Prison Events Programme below, and discover more about each event on our blog.

Walk: Winning the Vote: Islington Women

Islington has been a key battlefield in the fight for women’s rights. This 90-minute walk, led by a local Islington and City Guide, introduced visitors to the suffragettes held at Holloway in their campaign for the vote, their attempt to blow up the prison and the site of the first birth control clinic for women.

 Staged Reading: Constance and Kelly                               

Constance Markievicz: Suffragette! Socialist! Soldier!
Pardoned from a death sentence after the Irish Easter rising in 1916, Constance is sent to HMP Holloway where she meets Kelly McCoy.  It’s 2015 and Kelly got 3 months for stealing baby milk…She’s off the drugs and away from her abusive boyfriend and alcoholic mother. What can these 2 women do for each other? 
Written and directed by Laura McCluskey, this piece includes graduates of Clean Break and was performed at Islington Museum.

Workshop: Writing Holloway Prison

Resident artist and musician Hannah Hull led a writing workshop based on her creative process, producing poetry and music inspired by the stories of Holloway Prison. Visitors were invited to use the images, objects and stories of the exhibition to inspire their own creative writing.

Discover more here.

Talk: Freedom fighters or Bad Girls?

Caitlin Davies, novelist, non-fiction and award-winning journalist, gave two talks at the Cat and Mouse Library and Finsbury library in August 2018. Her recent book, Bad Girls: A History of Rebels and Renegades grew out of her long-standing interest in Holloway Prison.

On 21st June 1906 the first suffragette was sent to Holloway Prison, the most infamous jail for women in Europe. In total, around 1300 suffragettes were arrested between 1906 and 1914, with the majority ending up in Holloway. In this talk, Caitlin explored what ‘crimes’ they committed, how they resisted prison discipline, and whether imprisonment strengthened their cause.

Talk: Minnie Lansbury

Minnie Lansbury was an East End Suffragette, socialist,school teacher, champion of the victims of war, and rebel councillor. She was held at Holloway Prison for six weeks following the Poplar Rates Rebellion in 1921 which won its fight to redistribute funding from rich to poorer boroughs. Janine Booth shared her story with an audience at Finsbury Library.

Workshop: Walking Holloway Prison

Resident artist and musician Hannah Hull led a tour around the outside perimeter of Holloway Prison. Visitors joined her to explore the physical and social relationship between the prison and the local area.

Workshop: Protest! Screen-printing.

Holloway Prison has always been a site of protest, from the imprisonment of the suffragettes to the recent protests around its closure.Visitors joined us to discover more about the prison’s relationship with protest and to learn how to create their own screen-printed protest banner.

Workshop: The Empty Space of Holloway Prison

Led by Carly Guest and Rachel Seoighe of Middlesex University, this workshop explored photographs taken of Holloway Prison after it closed. Investigating the images, we discussed what we can learn about prison life and how women held at Holloway made the space their own. The group spoke about institutional spaces, women and punishment, memory, the potential and limits of photography, and visual research methodologies.

Workshop: Reclaiming Holloway

In May 2017, North London Sisters Uncut occupied Holloway Prison’s Visitors Centre, claiming the space for the local community. In this session, a representative from Sisters Uncut spoke about the act of reclaiming Holloway Prison and explored ways to create radical community spaces.

Discover more here.

Under 5’s Storytelling: Suffragettes!

Storyteller Dani took four groups of under 5’s on a journey back in time to meet some real life heroines. In a playful and interactive session, children discovered the meaning behind the suffragette colours, how the suffragettes fought for their rights and learnt about the suffragette who knew jujitsu.

Family Day: Inside Out Holloway!

Inspired by the badge awarded to all suffragettes held at Holloway Prison, artist Alice May Williams led two family workshops exploring the history of protest at Holloway, inside and out. Families created their own protest banners, badges and flags, about issues important to them.

Writing Holloway Prison Workshop

As part of the Echoes of Holloway Prison exhibition events programme, resident artist Hannah Hull led a writing workshop. 

Members of the public worked with Hannah to write poems and prose inspired by the voices, stories and pictures of Holloway Prison. By exploring stories collected during the project we could get closer to understanding the experience of those held at the prison.

These poems were formed from words found in the graffiti of Holloway Prison.

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Hannah has written poems based on photographs of the prison, collected in her ‘Echoes’ Booklet available at Islington Museum. Following this, the group wrote poems based on objects in the Holloway Prison exhibition. The below poem features the griffin doormat which was trodden upon by every new prisoner entering the prison.


Poem -Elizabeth Uter

Holloway Prison Film Workshop


As part of the Echoes of Holloway Prison project volunteers have been creating films to help tell the story of the prison. Here, volunteer Yun Lu, describes his experience:

 During the film workshops, we had the chance to learn how to operate cameras and took a glance at fascinating oral histories already collected for the project. Holloway Prison was a place full of memories, and it was inspiring to interview and film some of the people who had stayed or worked there.


Before conducting the filming process, we participated in a workshop led by two brilliant film-makers, Ruth and Jackie from Chocolate Films. They taught us the technique of using cameras and the aesthetics of visual composition.

When we started shooting the interviews, many touching moments emerged along the way. I remember one of the women who had been held at and later worked in Holloway Prison, telling us her feelings of home and stability in the prison, and at the same time the insecurity of the future when she had to leave. These personal experiences were so powerful, reflecting the women’s resilience and their passion in thinking how women’s prison and correction systems should be improved to suit their real needs.

Besides the human stories, we also photographed objects collected during the project, which revealed the hidden context of the lives and space of Holloway Prison and filmed in the area around the prison itself. Some objects from the collection will also be displayed in the coming exhibition at the Islington Museum. It will be great to see the collection with the film together telling more undiscovered memories of Holloway Prison.




Oral History Training

As part of the Echoes of Holloway Prison project volunteers were trained to record oral histories with people linked to the prison. Jessie Goodison Burgess wrote about her experience:

On the last day of February, a group of nine women braved the cold snowy weather and gathered together in the Islington Museum education room, ready to learn about oral history.

The group varied in ages and professions, from historians and students, to artists and a member of the justice network. All had an interest in oral history, with different levels of experience in the field, and were excited to apply this form of documentation to the Echoes of Holloway Prison project.

The seminar, led by Jen Kavanagh, was a whistle-stop tour of the basics of oral history: how to conduct an interview, both ethically and technically, and how oral histories can be used as a form of historical documentation. The difficulties of using memory as a historical record were stressed. Oral History as a field relies completely on memory, and so can’t be treated as factual evidence. However, it can express a new level of emotion and personal experience that other historical documentation cannot achieve, which is exactly what we wanted to accomplish through the study into life around Holloway Prison.

The seminar summed up with a practice between ourselves, using open questions to find out small details about each other’s lives. This practice was a success, each interviewer satisfied with the detailed accounts that could be achieved through an open conversation.  We all came out assured that together we could contribute a narrative to Echoes of Holloway Prison by leading interviews with those who had been involved with the prison.

Echoes of Holloway Prison aims to look beyond the stone walls of the prison building, and focus on the lives that were affected by the correctional facility over the 20th century. Oral history allows for this more humanising approach. In one-on-one conversational interview settings, our oral history volunteers will aim to document personal stories of life around London’s last women’s prison.

Holloway Prison affected many lives during its 164-year lifetime, from the inside and the outside, and undoubtedly has many stories to tell through those connected to it. These stories can become part of a valuable historical record of histories from below, as the importance of personal stories and remembrances will be emphasised and subsequently preserved for future generations.

Visiting Holloway Prison in 2016

Holloway Prison closed in summer 2016 – the last prisoner left on 17th June 2016. Until May it was the largest women’s prison in Britain, holding around 450 inmates.

The prison was established in 1852 on Camden Road in Holloway, Islington, housing prisoners on remand, convicted women prisoners and debtors. It became female-only in 1902. Many well-known people have been held at the prison during its history, writer Oscar, suffragettes fighting for the right to vote, the British wives of German men interned as enemy aliens during World War I and Second World War fascists, including Diana Mitford and Oswald Mosely. In 1955 Ruth Ellis the last woman ever to be executed in the UK, was hanged at Holloway. In 2016, Sarah Reed, an inmate of Holloway, tragically died under suspicious circumstances.

The entrance to ‘Holloway Castle’ (Islington Local History Centre)

The original Victorian prison ‘Holloway Castle’ was an imposing building with turrets and castellations, its entrance flanked by huge griffins seated on pillars and holding keys in their claws. The prison was rebuilt in the 1970s to 1980s, making the prison more like a hospital with small corridors and privacy for the inmates.

The entrance to the prison, summer 2016 (Roz Currie)

As the prison was closing I was able to visit several times, first while prisoners were still there and later when they had all been moved to prisons outside London. I was not allowed to take pictures inside the prison and all electronic equipment had to be handed over in the gatehouse.

Approaching the prison it is surrounded by blank brick walls with no obvious entrance. The reception is royal blue with a Holloway Griffin doormat. There are signs everywhere mainly to control keys leaving the building. All staff wear a belt and key-chain to which they attach their own bundle, and when going through the double air-lock to leave they have to show their empty key chain to the gate staff, and an alarm which sounds if they forget.

The staircases in the prison are wide and simple with jointed varnished wooden bannisters. Every door needs locking and unlocking, so by the time you’ve actually come into the main prison you’re behind at least 5 locked doors and feel like you might never get out.

The facilities at the prison include a beautiful wooden sports hall, swimming pool with a Holloway Griffin in blue tiles in its centre, an education department including a pottery studio and kiln around a central garden which was increasingly overgrown each time I visited, gardens and a henhouse and a chapel and smaller religious room used for other faiths.

The wings were much more cramped. I didn’t visit wings with prisoners still living there, so there was a strange air of dereliction with photos ripped off the walls, no bed linen or personal belongings. In each cell, whether a single, double or five-bed dorm (of which only four beds were ever used) was a sink or two and a toilet. Above the sink was a tiny plastic mirror 10cm a side. Each bed had a noticeboard above which was where inmates could put up their pictures, covered in drawings, bits of graffiti and toothpaste which had been used as glue. Association rooms in the wings had hairdryers and straightening tongs wired directly into the wall with the same tiny mirrors above.

Roz Currie -Summer 2016 

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