This weekend is the last weekend in which the Wandsworth Prison Museum will sit in its current location– a small gatehouse near the entry to Wandsworth Prison. In honour of that fact, the volunteer-run Museum is having an open weekend, which will conclude today at 4pm. The museum is the work of Stewart McLaughlin, a serving officer at the prison, and is solely funded by donations.
The museum is small in stature, but contains a wealth of memorabilia from the prison’s history.
The prison was built in 1851 and opened as the Surrey House of Correction. It is built in a similar style to the Eastern State Penitentiary of Philadelphia, with a central hub and rows of cells leading out from there. The prison also initially operated with the same system of imprisonment as the ESP, where prisoners never saw or spoke to their fellow inmates — a practice which was believed to prevent prison gangs and criminal alliances from forming, as well as preventing criminals from recognising each other outside of the cell walls.
The museum collection deals with and showcases objects of regular inmate life, but also has a vast collection of memorabilia pertaining to the museum’s corporal and capital punishment history. Between 1878 and 1961, 135 executions took place at Wandsworth Prison. Most were for murder, but during the war years there were several executions for treason — including that of William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw.)
The noose collection is not comfortable viewing, nor are the photos of the many men executed in the prison and their execution paperwork, but it is a fascinating collection.
There are a series of well-maintained uniforms on display.
The prison has also had a series of famous inmates through its vast doors. James Earl Ray (who shot Martin Luther King) was housed here upon his arrest in London, and Wandsworth was the prison in which train robber Ronnie Biggs escaped from in 1965. Recently, both Julian Assange and Max Clifford have been guests of HMPS at Wandsworth.
An old ‘escape list’ board.
Cell memorabilia and a hanging noose.
The museum is located at 27 Heathfield Road, SW18 3HR, London, England– just slightly down the street from the prison. To visit the museum by appointment please write t:o Wandsworth Prison Museum c/o POA Office, HMP Wandsworth, Heathfield Road, SW18 3HS