Home Site Map Prisons


Millbank Penitentiary.


The inadequacy of the common mode of confining criminals of all descriptions, especially those convicted on very trifling charges, becoming apparent; not only from the alarming increase in the yearly catalogue of crime, but from the afflicting progress of JUVENILE DELINQUENCY; some splendid exceptions, in our own land, promoted by private charity, and some strong proofs drawn from the prisons of other countries, made it incumbent on the ruling powers at least to try a system of imprisonment founded on principles different from those that control such jails as Newgate, Tothill Fields' Bridewell, and the Borough Compter. In such prisons, wavering youth become instructed or confirmed in habits of vice and schemes of villany. The Increase of youthful crime made all men stagger,—it still excites the deepest alarm. Few are aware of its extent. Since 1814, down to August 1818, there were committed to Newgate alone, four hundred and ninety-seven JUVENILE CULPRITs, of whom, however, only fourteen ever belonged to the national schools. Who can learn such a fact without being filled with horror, and filled with anxiety for the future?

To try the opposite system in so calamitous a state of things,—to ascertain whether, even in imprisonment, health might not be improved, and morals reformed, and this by a system of CLASSIFICATION, INDUSTRY, and RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION,—tbe friends of the humane system procured the establishment of the Milbank Penitentiary. It was originally proposed that it should be an octagon building, or a prison with eight towers; but this plan we believe has undergone some change, and from central positions to command a view of the various classes at work; and it is calculated that the whole building will cost 4 or 500,000l. Parts of the building, the whole not being yet complete, are now occupied; and there are male and female culprits within its walls. They are kept regularly at work; and their religious and moral habits, as well as those of industry and cleanliness, are regularly attended to. The female prisoners are under the management of officers of their own sex, the governor himself being restricted by the rules from going round that part of the prison, except in the company of the matron or taskmistress. This circumstance merits particular notice, as the present is the first instance, in which it has been attempted in this country, to place any number of female prisoners under female officers; and because it seemed to have been the opinion of several intelligent gaolers, that women of the description of those received into the Penitentiary, could not be controlled and reduced to habits of obedience by the agency of females. The demeanour, however, of the prisoners in the Penitentiary, is quiet and decorous (although some of them entered the prison with very bad characters in regard to their behaviour in the prisons from which they were removed;) and it has not been found necessary to have recourse to the assistance of any male officer to enforce obedience, except in the single instance of a prisoner, who turned out to be deranged, and has since been removed, under an order from the secretary of state, to a more proper place of confinement for persons in her unfortunate situation. The prisoners appear very sensible of the pains which are taken for their improvement, and are in general thankful for the commutation of their sentences.

In consequence, however, of an alteration which was made last spring in the manner of lodging the prisoners, the buildings at present occupied will be found capable of receiving nearly 300, instead of 200. In the first distribution of the prisoners, they were all placed in different cells by night, from those which they occupied by day; so that two cells were allotted to each of the prisoners of the first class (who are by the 56 Geo. III. to be kept separate from each other during hours of labour as well as by night); but owing to the facility afforded to ventilation by the construction of this prison, it has been found practicable, without inconvenience, to make one cell serve both as a night cell and a day cell for every prisoner of this description.

In the course of the year, one of the female convicts was baptized, and seventeen males and forty-six females were confirmed by the bishop of London, at a confirmation held by his lordship in the fine chapel of the prison. Sixty-three females and ten males have received the holy sacrament.

The prisoners are entitled to a per centage on all their earnings; and the amount is set apart for their use on being discharged out of custody.

If the system be perseveringly acted upon, the prisoners will not only he brought to habits of industry and moral demeanour, but they may be made, as in the Philadelphia prison, to pay the expenses incurred by the necessity of confining them. But be that as it may, if the progress of vice can be checked ;—if the vicious can be snatched from erroneous courses, and the wavering in virtue brought back to the practice of good principles;—much will be accomplished to improve the present generation, and to justify flattering hopes of the future.

More London Prisons:

House of Correction

Tothill Fields Bridewell

Giltspur Street Compter

New Debtors' Prison

Clerkenwell Prison

Fleet Prison


King's Bench Prison

Borough Compter

Sheriffs Officers' Houses


Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819