Disorder Contained: Reading

The Prison Cell: Thirteen by Seven by Nine

cosycellTime and again as prisoners were moved to their cells to commence their term of separate confinement they described the cell’s measurements, proportions and appearance, and their dread at entering it, ‘the closing of the door behind them a finality that betokened a dreadful new beginning’. Austin Bidwell examined his cell with ‘curiosity and consternation’ … [Read more …]

The Prison Officers

Prison doc cropped‘Disorder Contained’ features three prison officers – the chaplain, doctor and schoolmaster – all key players in the running of the nineteenth-century prison, alongside the governor and the warders. It was the chaplains who were the strongest advocates of the system of separate cellular confinement  … [Read more …]

Prisoners, Insanity and the Pentonville Model Prison Experiment

pentonville chapelThe relationship between prisoners and mental illness has preoccupied prison administrators, physicians and reformers from the establishment of the modern prison service in the nineteenth century to the current day  … [Read more …]

Insanity and Separate Confinement at the Liverpool Borough Gaol

Walton_Gaol_1910The ‘purest’ form of separate confinement, introduced at Pentonville Prison in 1842, was a ‘failed experiment’, which was modified significantly after 1847. Yet it remained an influential model of prison discipline for the remainder of the nineteenth century, although the rigour of its implementation across England varied … [Read more …]

Separate Confinement and Insanity at Mountjoy Convict Prison, Dublin, 1850–55

for textSir Walter Crofton (1815–1897), prison administrator and penal reformer, looms large in studies of Ireland’s history of the criminal justice system. He is characterised as the key figure in shaping penal policy in Ireland in the later nineteenth century while his introduction of a variant of Captain Alexander Maconochie’s ‘progressive stages’, known as the ‘Irish system’, to Irish convict prisons is often eulogized  … [Read more …]

Beyond Reading Gaol: Prison Writings and Mental Illness


This autumn innovative arts organisation Artangel takes over Reading Gaol to curate an exhibition of art works that respond to the architecture of the prison, the themes of separation and imprisonment, and to the work of Oscar Wilde. Wilde, sentenced to two years hard labour for homosexual offences in 1895, was imprisoned in Reading Gaol from November 1895 until his release in 1897  … [Read more …]