The construction of Holloway Prison, to the designs of James Bunstone Bunning, began in 1849 and was completed in 1852 to form the City of London House of Correction. It originally had three wings for males and one for females and juveniles. It was the main prison for the City of London and had cost £91,547 10s 8d to build. There were 436 cells, 283 for males, 60 for females, 62 for juveniles, 18 refractory cells, 14 reception cells and 14 workrooms.
In the period 1881-1882, B&C wings were extended to provide 340 new cells and in 1883-1884 a new hospital wing was constructed.
Remand prisoners were sent there and perhaps the most famous of these was Oscar Wilde. Female suffragettes were also imprisoned in Holloway. The prison was known locally as “Camden Castle” for obvious reasons.
The ending of transportation and the closure of Newgate necessitated more places for female prisoners and so Holloway was refurbished and became a purely female prison from 1903. In this format it had capacity for 949 women. An additional wing was added in 1905, boosting capacity by a further 101.
As a prison, Holloway housed remand and convicted women prisoners and those sentenced to death in London.
These included the only women to be sentenced to death for spying under the Treachery Acts of 1914 and 1940. During the First World War, Swedish born Eva de Bournonville was convicted of spying, but was reprieved and served six years in prison. In 1941, Dorothy Pamela O'Grady was caught walking in areas of the Isle of Wight that were sensitive and from which the public had been banned. She was also accused of cutting an army telephone line and possessing a document with information on defence measures. She was tried at the Old Bailey, the jury taking just over an hour to find her guilty. The death sentence was mandatory under the Treachery Act. However, hers was also commuted, after her appeal, and she served 14 years in Holloway.
In all, 47 women were to spend time in Holloway's Condemned Cell. Of these, 40 were reprieved and this figure included 18 who had killed their infant children and nine who had killed their older sons or daughters. One case was quashed by the Court Appeal and one woman was found insane and sent to Broadmoor
When the prison was converted for female use, and with the closure of Newgate, there was a requirement for an execution facility. An execution shed, as was then the fashion, was erected at the end of B Wing. This shed contained the gallows which could accommodate two prisoners side by side. At this time, the press could still be admitted to executions although there is no record of this happening at Holloway. Sometime in the mid 1930’s, a new condemned suite was created on the first floor of the prison in E Wing, formed from five ordinary cells, and was quite spacious.
The execution chamber itself was just 15 paces from the day cell and contained a double gallows set over the cell below to act as the "pit." A metal ladder in one corner provided access to the cell above, containing the beam, for setting the drop and to the “pit” below. There was an autopsy room adjacent to this cell. Executions took place at 9.00 a.m. and afterwards there was an autopsy and a formal inquest before the women's bodies were buried in unmarked graves within the grounds at lunchtime on the day of execution.
Five women were to be put to death at Holloway between 1903 and 1955.
Amelia Sachs and Annie Walters were the first women to be hanged here and theirs was to be the last double female hanging in Britain. They were executed for the horrible crime of baby farming on Tuesday, the 3rd of February 1903. It is thought that they may have murdered as many as 20 infants.
Edith Jessie Thompson, aged 28, was carried to the gallows some 20 years later, at 9.00 am on the 9th of January 1923. At the same moment, less than half a mile away, her lover Frederick Bywaters was being hanged in Pentonville prison for the murder of Edith's husband Percy.
After a gap of over 31 years, in which no women were executed at Holloway, although 25 had occupied the condemned cell, there were to be two hangings in eight months.
The first was that of Styllou Pantopiou Christofi, who was a 53 year old Greek Cypriot woman. By 1953, she had not seen her son, Stavros, for 12 years and had saved up sufficient money for the passage to Britain in July of that year. Stavros had married a German girl called Hella Bleicher and Styllou continually picked on Hella and found fault with everything she did until she eventually murdered her.
She was charged with the murder and put on trial at the Old Bailey on the 28th of October 1954 and hung on Wednesday, the 15th of December 1954.
Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be executed in Britain when she was hung at Holloway on Wednesday, the 13th of July 1955, for the murder of her boyfriend, David Blakely.
Only one more woman, after Ruth Ellis, was to spend time in the Holloway's condemned cell. She was Freda Rumbold who had been convicted of murdering her husband in November 1956. All death sentences were being commuted at this time as the new Homicide Act of 1957 was being finalised and she was reprieved and given a life sentence.
The rebuilding of Holloway Prison in 1970 required that the bodies of the five executed women be moved. Sach, Walters, Thompson and Christofi were reburied in unmarked graves at Brookwood cemetery in Surrey, as their families could not be traced or did not want the remains returned to them. Ruth Ellis' body was reburied at St. Mary's Parish Church in Amersham in Buckinghamshire. Edith Thompson’s grave has since received a memorial stone, erected on the 13th of November 1993.
The new prison opened in 1977 with a capacity of 532 women, both convicted and remand prisoners and was equipped with a mother and baby unit.
In 2016 it was announced that Holloway, the biggest women's jail in Western Europe was set to close. Holloway Prison, which famously housed members of the suffragettes and Diana Mosley, has been branded "inadequate" by inspectors. George Osborne announced the jail would close and female prisoners would serve their sentences in "more humane" conditions in future.
A number of other Victorian jails were also sold in order to help fund nine new prisons.
I could go on with the history of Holloway but let’s get to the juicy bit, besides we all have google if we want to know anymore
Well when it was announced that Holloway was due to close on my local news program I instantly started researching it and finding out what the deal was.
Your nuts I was told, in fact I get told that a lot when it comes to exploring lol
I did a fair bit of research and then as normal promptly forgot about it until a lead and rumour popped up on here.
Then various messages flew between myself and @UrbanDuck and we considered it doable but again forgot about it. With both of us running our own business’s times is fairly sparse.
Well then it happened, the usual what we doing this week WhatsApp group got started and Holloway was the subject.
@slayaaaa, bless him assumed we meant the derelict research centre in Holloway and didn’t twig until we were in the car on the way. He has been ill so we forgave him lol
So heading into London in the Urtaxi I found myself in the company of @UrbanDuck @slayaaaa @WildBoyz and @mrstewie.
I had a rough plan calculated from many hours spent staring at google earth, What I didn’t account for was the shear amount of foot traffic running alongside this place, even at gone 10pm it was still fairly busy.
We decided it was shit or bust and I hoicked slayaaaa somewhere, he shimmed along somewhere else, closely followed by myself who may or may not have ripped my trousers mid shimmy. Shimmying was followed by some fairly precarious balancing that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Billy Smarts circus lol That was followed by more climbing, low level running, ducking, tripping, swearing, tripping again, maybe a small wall falling and nearly squishing slayaaaa, a bit more swearing, some more climbing and finally a way in. we relayed this to the others by good ole fashioned WhatsApp and we were soon all stood inside snapping away.
I can’t begin to explain how intimidating this place is, it’s huge, made worse by the fact we decided to do it in the near pitch black.
Apologies for the crappy, badly lit pictures but it was bloody dark