Tuesday, 1 May 2012

From Chelsea College of Art & Design Archives

From Chelsea College of Art & Design Archives

Byrne, R. (1989) Prisons and punishments of London, London: Grafton.

The immense yellow-brown mass of brick-work is surrounded by a low wall of the same material, above which is sun a multitude of small squarish windows, and series of diminutive roofs of slate, like low retreating foreheads. There is a systematic irregularity about the in-and-out aspect of the building, which gives it the appearance of a gigantic puzzle; and altogether the Milbank prison may be said to be one of the most successful realisations, on a large scale, of the ugly in architecture, being an ungainly combination of the madhouse with the fortress style of building, for it has a series of Martello-like towers, one at each end of its many angles and was originally surrounded by a moat, whist its long lines of embrasure-like windows are bared, after the fashion of Bedlam and St. Luke's. 

  • It was Britain's first National Penitentiary, and a monstrous- monstrously expensive- failure.
  • 1812 the Government bought the land on which Jeremy Bentham had proposed to build his panopticon.
  • Within the octagonal wall were pentagonal blocks, laid out hexagonally. This geometrical complexity enclosed miles of corridor with 'angles every twenty yards, winding staircases, dark passages, immunerable doors and gates...' one prison officer who had worked there for many years still found it impossible to find his way around and 'carried with him always a piece of chalk, with which he "blazed" his path.
  • First prisoners- 40 women.
  • Prison plan was expanded beyond the original plans, with single cells for 1000 prisoners.
  • Style and regime of the prison. Emphasis on values of work and religion.
  • Separation of the prisoners.
  • Changes of governor at 1837. From strict to even more controlled + epidemics of scurvy and cholera= clearing the prison; pardoning the women and sending the men to the hulks.
  • Physical and mental health of inmates was dreadfully neglected.
  • The whole space of the prison has been estimated at about 7 acres.
  • And indication of the scale of the prison can be derived from the fact that the central block of the hexagonical structure stood exactly where the New Conservation Department of the Tate Gallery is situated.
  • Power-Failure-Spectacle.
  • The symmetric, form of the building arose from the needs of the masters to apply control both physically and mentally.
  • Centre of the building is Governor's house.
  • Maze of passages totalling 3 miles in length.
  • Universal optical machine of human groupings.

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