HM Prison Wandsworth

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HMP Wandsworth
Wandsworth Prison - - 1030498.jpg
Location Wandsworth,
London, SW18
Security class Adult Male/Category B Local
Population1,488(as of 13 November 2019)
Opened1851;169 years ago (1851)
Managed by HM Prison Services
Governor Graham Barrett
Website Wandsworth at

HM Prison Wandsworth is a Category B men's prison at Wandsworth in the London Borough of Wandsworth, South West London, England. It is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service and is one of the largest prisons in the UK. [1]



HM Prison Wandsworth from the air HM Prison Wandsworth from the air (geograph 4537307).jpg
HM Prison Wandsworth from the air

The prison was built in 1851, when it was known as Surrey House of Correction. [2] It was designed according to the humane separate system principle: a number of corridors radiate from a central control point with each prisoner having toilet facilities. The toilets were subsequently removed to increase prison capacity and the prisoners had to engage in the humiliating process of "slopping out", until 1996. [3]

On 29 July 1879, Catherine Webb was executed for the murder and dismemberment of her mistress, Mrs. Thomas, at Richmond. The murder, which occurred in March, was for the purpose of stealing Mrs. Thomas‘ property and going to America with a man named Webb. The only witnesses to the execution were the sheriff, the surgeon and the chaplain. No reporters were permitted. The sheriff reported that Mrs. Webb met her death with dignity. The body was buried in a shallow grave on prison grounds and covered in lime. [4]

In 1930, inmate James Edward Spiers, serving a 10-year sentence for armed robbery, committed suicide in front of a group of Justices of the Peace who were there to witness his receiving 15 lashes, then a form of judicial corporal punishment. [5]

In 1951, Wandsworth was the holding prison for a national stock of the birch and the cat o' nine tails, implements for corporal punishment inflicted as a disciplinary penalty under the prison rules. [6] An example of a flogging with the "cat" carried out in Wandsworth Prison itself was reported in July 1954. [7]

On 8 July 1965, Ronnie Biggs escaped from the prison, where he was serving a 30-year sentence for his part in the Great Train Robbery. Two years later he fled to Brazil and remained on the run until 2001, when he returned to the UK. [8]

Execution site

Wandsworth was the site of 135 executions, between 1878 and 1961. Built in 1878, the gallows was located near the A wing. [9] In 1911 a new gallows was built between the E and F wings, and in 1938 a new facility was built at the E wing. [9] Among those executed by hanging were:

(in execution-year order)

On 25 April 1951, a double execution took place at Wandsworth, when Edward Smith and Joseph Brown stood on the gallows together and were executed simultaneously. The final executions at Wandsworth were those of Francis Forsyth on 10 November 1960, Victor John Terry on 25 May 1961 and Henryk Niemasz on 8 September 1961 (Forsyth was one of just four 18-year-olds executed in a British prison in the twentieth century).

With the exceptions of Scott-Ford, Joyce and Amery, who were convicted of treachery, all executions were for the crime of murder. The gallows were kept in full working order until 1993 and tested every six months. In 1994, they were dismantled and the condemned suite is now used as a tea room for the prison officers.[ citation needed ]

The gallows' trapdoor and lever were sent to the Prison Service Museum in Rugby, Warwickshire. After this museum permanently closed in 2004, they were sent to the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham, where those and an execution box may be seen.

Recent history

Panorama of HMP Wandsworth from Heathfield Road HM Wandsworth.jpg
Panorama of HMP Wandsworth from Heathfield Road

In October 2009, gross misconduct charges were brought against managers of Wandsworth Prison, after an investigation found that prisoners had been temporarily transferred to HMP Pentonville before inspections. The transfers, which included vulnerable prisoners, were made in order to manipulate prison population figures. [11]

In March 2011, an unannounced follow-up inspection was conducted by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, which found that "...Wandsworth compared badly with similar prisons facing similar challenges and we were concerned by what appeared to be unwillingness among some prison managers and staff to acknowledge and take responsibility for the problems the prison faced." [12]

In May 2015 a prisoner was found dead in his cell, prompting a murder investigation. [13]

The prison today

The prison has made good progress since the inspection in 2009 and has received praise from the MQPL Survey which was undertaken in March 2011, which demonstrated progress over the same survey results in 2009. Wandsworth Prison contains eight wings on two units. The smaller unit, containing three wings, was originally designed for women but is currently closed for refurbishment. It is planned to reopen as a Category C unit focusing on resettlement services.

Education and training courses are offered at Wandsworth.[ citation needed ] Facilities at the prison include two gyms and a sports hall. The large prison chaplaincy offers chaplains from the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Mormon and Jehovah's Witness faiths.

A BBC investigation showed large scale drug abuse and cannabis openly being smoked and harder drugs found. There are allegations of staff corruption, even of staff bringing drugs into the prison. [14] Wandsworth has lost its status as a reform prison. Glyn Travis of the Prison Officers Association said, "Wandsworth staff had bought into the reform process and worked well with the governor to implement the reforms. Now, the prison has lost its reform status and once again, staff and prisoners have been left high and dry as this government’s agenda seems to change at the drop of a hat." [15] Wandsworth is the most overcrowded prison in England and body scanners were not used on visitors to prevent contraband being brought into the prison, allegedly due to shortage of staff. Peter Clarke said, "In essence, there were too many prisoners, many with drug-related or mental health issues, and with not enough to do." Also, not all staff carried anti-ligature knives despite six suicides since 2015. [16]

Notable inmates

Wandsworth is mentioned in multiple forms of media.




Wandsworth is mentioned in:

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Coordinates: 51°27′00.5″N0°10′39.5″W / 51.450139°N 0.177639°W / 51.450139; -0.177639