What stories those four walls could tell. Over its long history, women as diverse as Diana Mitford and Emmeline Pankhurst – and as infamous as Myra Hindley and Ruth Ellis – were incarcerated in Holloway Prison. During World War Two, hundreds of female ‘enemy aliens’ were locked up there, most of them Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. More recently, women from Greenham Common were jailed in Holloway in the early 1980s.
It wasn’t always a women-only prison: well-known male inmates included the playwright Oscar Wilde. Built in 1852, Holloway became mixed in 1903. It was, until it closed in 2016, Britain’s oldest surviving prison for women and the largest in Western Europe. The first prison to close in London since Newgate in 1902, inmates were transferred away from London to Bronzefield and Downview. The last prisoner ever to be held at Holloway Prison left on Friday 17 June 2016.
According to the Prison Reform Trust, women are always more likely to have been imprisoned for non-violent offences. In addition, they are highly likely to be victims as well as offenders. Over half the women in prison report having suffered domestic violence with 53% reporting having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child.
In March, a loan of £42 million from the Mayor’s Land Fund enabled Peabody Housing Association to buy the former prison site. The deal requires 60 per cent of over 1,000 homes built to be social rented and genuinely affordable. Planning requirements also include public green space and a women’s space to reflect the history of the place. Construction on the 10-acre site is expected to begin in 2022 and should be completed by 2026. It is my view that this a deal which serves the local community. I hope it sets the bar for future developments on public land.
Peabody says it wants to be an inclusive developer and has written to nearly 10,000 local residents, over 50 community groups, and hosted over 100 people on tours of the prison. It’s running a public consultation process at Holloway during June 2019 (I’m pictured at one of the events above) where attendees have the chance to: work from a blank map of the site; see the constraints of the site; prioritise the future uses of Holloway Prison; leave feedback; view Islington Museum’s Echoes of Holloway Prison exhibition.
As we look forward to the next chapter of this iconic place, let’s not forget the stories of the women who were incarcerated there. The fight for social justice goes on.