Enter Site

Warders in their first appointment at the prison were classed as `Extra Warders' then after a satisfactory period of probation were named as Warders.

The journal is littered with incidents of fines and suspension of staff - one such is, `Extra Warder Ireland having referred a serious charge against Mr Bradley, the Resident Surgeon, the same was this day thoroughly investigated by the Commissioners. There was no evidence whatsoever to sustain the charge. Warder Ireland was suspended with a recommendation that he should be discharged. The result was in every respect satisfactory to Mr Bradley as being creditable to his moral habits and general character.' A later follow up shows that Warder Ireland was informed he had been discharged and must vacate his cottage by Tuesday night, and deliver up his clothes except one suit and all distinctive badges and marks of that suit.

The Governor from the start had trouble with the cook. Rations were very strictly controlled and diets very precise. In early January 1843 he reports on the delivery of the prisoners' suppers, `yesterday 4 measures were omitted to be delivered by the cook, to which he afterwards made good. I have examined the steward and the cook. The usual quantity of oatmeal was prepared, but either the gruel was boiled too long occasioning waste by evaporation or too little water was added. The latter was probably the fact. The cook alleges that in a few days he will be more practised in the use of steam boilers.'

On the 19th January 1843, the Medical Officer reported that several of the prisoners had for their dinners only half the quantity of soup which other prisoners had, and that the barley in it was imperfectly mixed. The cook alleges he weighed and measured the dinner in the ordinary way and to the best of his judgement. The report was made early enough for me to personally observe the dinner. I beg permission to suggest that if he were reprimanded by the Commissioners, I think it would be of service, and that it would be attended with advantage of the doctor were to inspect the menus very frequently.
The Medical officer is still required today to inspect the menu and the diet of prisoners. For all we know it all started from the inadequacies of the cook on the 19th January 1843, and the poor lunch soup of that day.

On the 6th February the cook was again in trouble, firstly there were complaints that the vegetables were not put in to be boiled in the soup until after 11 am when it should have been done at 8.30, secondly the warders' dinners were improperly dressed and therefore had to be
recooked. The cook's explanation was not satisfactory with reference to the first charge and on the second he thought the meat had been frozen.

On 12th February he was in further trouble, but appears to have talked his way out of it. What is discernible from this entry is that every prisoner was entitled to 6 ounces of beef, which when boiled should have produced 4 ounces without bone and this quantity had to be measured out into every portion per prisoner. The problems with the cook appeared to rumble on for some time. In late March the cook was again in trouble, the portion to some prisoners was again adjudged to be deficient, the cook having failed to allow for bone. The cook was reprimanded.

The correct selection of staff, their development and retention is something all Governors face; `problem staff' is something we seek to avoid but never achieve. So it was in 1843. "Warder W. (his duty for the day being over) quitted the prison at 6pm, 12th inst., and has not since returned or been heard of. On the 13th inquiry was made after him at his house, when his wife stated that he had gone on the evening of the 12th inst. to visit his mother who was ill and had not since returned. This appears however to have been only an excuse to screen her husband, it appearing on further inquiry - made yesterday afternoon in consequence of W's continued absence - that he had absconded on Wednesday evening 12th inst. April 1843 immediately on quitting the prison without assigning any cause; that he had often forsaken his wife before; that he is much addicted to drinking and his character is very indifferent. I have given the necessary information to the police that his movements may be traced."

This in itself led the Commissioners to set down clear standards that were expected of the new staff in respect of drinking alcohol. The Governor records:

"The two resolutions of the Board, expressive of a want of confidence on the part of the Commissioners in any of the warders who could so far forget the respect due to their situations, as to frequent Public Houses or Beer Shops etc. were read and explained to the Warders on Parade."

A further fascinating aspect recorded is that in respect of the appointment of officers, once they had proved satisfactory, staff moved from being Extra Warders to Warders, and at that point they were sworn in as Constables:

`The Commissioners of the Police of the Metropolis have this day appointed and sworn in as Constables the following officers of the Prison to keep the peace within the Prison and within 500 yards thereof, vis. `(there then follows the names of seven warders and ends with) `The remaining Warders will be sworn in on Tuesday next. The Commissioners had limited the Warrants to "The Prison and its Precincts": at my suggestion they have extended their operation to 500 yards beyond the prison.'

There is no other reference to this in the journal. It does seem on the surface that the powers of a constable vested in all Prison Officers still today may emanate from this practice adopted by the Governor of Pentonville in 1843.

The Governor was clearly determined to develop his staff by all means possible, there being no guidance nor external agency, he borrowed from the police whatever was appropriate. In September 1843 he notes that 29 staff have been sworn in as Constables. These have been supplied, each with a Book of Instructions from the Police Office. The 2nd and 3rd Chapters being `an act for further improving the police and near the Metropolis' would also be very useful to the warder. The expense of 30 copies being a mere trifle.
On the 13th January 1843 the Governor records `a person named R Turenage, a hair dresser, has applied for an appointment. He has been a gentleman's servant and brings good testimonials. He thinks he could shave 20 prisoners an hour. When the prison is full, his whole time or nearly would be occupied in shaving. Such a person would be useful. We have then the slight irony of some of the toughest villains being attended to and shaven by a `gentleman's servant'.

The concept of an Orderly Officer would also appear to have the basic origins from Pentonville. It is mentioned in relation to another problem identified by the Governor in this early period. `Lanterns are very much wanted. One of the warders is going round the grounds in the dark, to try the different locks (which is done nightly) nearly met with a serious accident for want of light.'

What is clear is that initially all staff worked a full 7 day week including the Governor and his Deputy. It is recorded that the warders commenced at 6am but it is not precisely clear what time they finished, it may have been 9pm, because there was a night group that commenced then. It is known that the gate keeper was a `sleep in post' and that other staff on duty took rest also. That this was abused is clear from an entry on 15 January. "I visited the prison at half past twelve this morning. I found extra warder Sykes who ought to have been on duty, asleep in his hammock in Divis. D Ward 3 Cell 30. He was completely dressed. I ordered him to give up his keys and retire for the night. Warder Boyd to supply his place. At 9 this morning I examined Sykes. The result was, that I felt it my duty to suspend Sykes until the next meeting of the Commissioners. On 22 February, Sykes was summoned, the Governor having conferred with the Commissioners; he was admonished and then re-instated.

His solution to the abuse was simple: to prevent the warders lying down during their time for night duty, it may be desirable to allow only 3 hammocks for the 4 men on duty. Thus one man could not go to bed until fully and properly relieved. It may also be necessary to order that no warder on night duty shall enter a cell, unless to summons the releasing warder, or to attend to a prisoner. I will make such an order.

The Governor himself attended both Divine Services each day, he visited every prisoner in his cell, he dealt with `charges' (adjudications) attended to administration and staff matters, and was required to undertake at least one night visit a week. That all this was fairly onerous is illuminated by almost an aside entry. "Having given the Deputy leave to be absent from 1/2 past 4pm, for the remainder of the day, I did not attend the afternoon service, it being the only time at which I could take exercise, which I greatly required".

The importance of preventing escapes is nothing new, it was central to the philosophy of the prison in 1843. "I visited the prison at 1/2 past 12pm. The night warder reported that at 11.15 he had been disturbed by sounds - resembling the attempts of a prisoner forcing his way out of his cell by means of a hammer or pick axe. The noise continuing at irregular intervals and not being able to ascertain where it proceeded, the night warder summoned the other warders from their sleeping cells. After traversing the interior and exterior of the prison for some time, the noise was discovered to proceed from the kitchen, and to be occasioned by a portion of steam pressing on some part of the boiler used for steaming potatoes and appearing to lift something out of its place. I have directed the engineer to examine the engine and other machinery daily in future, after the duties of the cook are over."
Also on 1 August 1843 he records, `Fined Warder Nash for carelessly permitting 3 iron instruments used for welding to remain in the grounds exposed, instead of recovering them last night, the same having been under his charge. The instruments might be converted into very effective means for aiding escapes'. On 6 April there is a rather strange entry, `At 3pm left the prison on a journey into Norfolk and Cambridgeshire on business of the prison by order of the Commissioners. By 5pm the next day he was back. It would be interesting to know what this was about, but what is clear is that travel was speedier than we might envisage.

Maintaining discipline amongst staff remained an ongoing pre-occupation, almost to a greater extent than the prisoners. Ext. Warder Corohan appears to have been suspended on the spot for disobeying orders, using strong language and making a disturbance in the corridor within hearing of the prisoners, and for impertinence to the Deputy Governor when admonished for such conduct.

The member of staff who made the biggest impact was the new baker. Originally the prison bought in its bread, but there were ongoing difficulties with the supplier. A decision must have been taken to commence their own baking. The entry for 31 July reads, "At about 1/4 before 2pm it was reported to me that the bakehouse had a few minutes previously been on fire, but that the fire had been extinguished. On proceeding to the bakehouse I found that the baker had gone to his dinner having lighted the fire for heating the oven and left a large body of shavings near the grate and no person in charge. It is supposed that a coal from the grate had rolled out and fallen on the shavings. One of the troughs had been a good deal charred externally and a window in the roof was cracked in consequence of the heat. I had not been aware that the baker had commenced duty at the prison, no report of the fact having been made to me. I have directed that in future no newly appointed servants shall be admitted through the gates until I have been apprised of their arrival and their business. I have admonished the baker to be careful."

It is clear that the Governor was annoyed by the above catalogue. The points he makes as a result are still relevant today.

Even in the Victorian period of efficiency, `balls ups' by the Home Office were not unknown. Hosking's records: "At 9pm Her Most Gracious Majesty's Conditional Pardon was brought to me for 2 prisoners, of the names of James Puckett and William Allibone, mitigating their sentences of transportation from 14 to 10 years. The substance of the same quoad William Allibone was immediately communicated by me to the prisoner but I have no prisoner in my custody of the name of James Puckett. There is however a convict confined in the prison named Joseph Puckett, who at the last Warwick Assizes, was convicted of felony and sentenced to 14 years transportation. I have dispatched a messenger with a letter to the Under Secretary Phillips, apprising him of the facts." Within 24 hours the Under Secretary had returned the Conditional Pardon in the correct name.

Pentonville was clearly a `show piece'. It is interesting to note some of those who visited it in this early period. Many visited and attended Divine Worship in the Chapel. Others went on to a tour of inspection and fact finding. The number of august visitors is legion, but included: the Earl of Devon, with Lady Elizabeth Courtenay, and the Recorder of Maidstone, the Bishop of London, His Grace the Duke of Richmond, the Earl of Chichester, Mr Crawford (Inspector), Earl of Fortescue, Lord Ellington, Mr Perry (Inspector), Major Jebb, Prince Peter and Princess Theresa of Oldenbury, (the Princess's inquiries were unceasing and directed at the most important points and with great intelligence. She expressed the highest satisfaction at everything they saw.) Sir George Grey and Sir Thomas Barry, J Warnsink and M G Von Gendt on a mission from the Dutch government, Dr G de Rapherr on a mission from the Russian government, Mr Blom, Governor of one of the Provences of the Ring of Sweden and Norway on a mission from his government, Sir John Duckworth, Rev Whitworth Russell (Inspector), Mr De Greuentop Cartenschold from Denmark, His Highness Prince Wallenstein, His Excellency Chevalier Bonsen, Professor Jelkampf of New York, The Grand Duke Michael of Russia and his suite, Alexander Prince of the Netherlands, Mr Olver Dufresne, Inspector General of the Department of the Seine, The Governor of Peterborough Goal by direction of the Magistrates of the Borough (to acquire knowledge of the system and discipline).

It is also known that Dostoevsky (the Russain author of Crime and Punishment) visited Pentonville in July 1862.

On 30 May it is recorded that the Governor of the new prison at Usk came under an order from Sir James Graham to make himself acquainted with the system of discipline. After a few days he left, having been supplied with all the information he required, with a variety of forms, such as were suitable for his prison, and with a prison cap, for which he paid one shilling.

The concept of sharing `best practice' is then hardly new!

Besides all his other duties, the Governor was required to visit every prisoner in his cell daily. As the numbers built up this became an increasingly demanding task. In June 1843, the Commissioner agreed that the Governor should visit half of them and the Deputy Governor the other half. Like all good deputies, they are occasionally slow to counter change. `The Deputy Governor omitted to visit his divisions of the prison. He was on duty frequently in the prison, but it being the first Sunday on which he had to visit prisoners in their cells it escaped his recollection.'

As indicated earlier, all staff initially worked a 7 day week. The Governor eventually gained permission from the Commissioners that a proportion of staff could be given a day off on Sunday. This commenced on Sunday 31 July 1843, when 1 Principal Officer and 4 Warders were given the complete day off. `The duties of the day were well performed and without inconvenience'.

This was followed up soon afterwards by a recommendation by the Governor to the Commissioners that every member of staff should have 1 week off a year. "Warder Hilleard has received leave of absence for 1 week commencing tomorrow, in conformity with the order of the board of the 15 July (vide suggestion No. 1 of that date) that every warder should have 1 week's leave of absence in every year. The warders will enjoy this privilege in rotation according to priority of appointment, subject to exception in favour of those whose state of health may entitle them to preference. Warder Hilleard complains of ill health, and has been recommended sea bathing.'

In October it is recorded that the Deputy Governor left on leave of absence for one month. This is the first reference to any leave by senior staff. The Governor himself personally enters the journal until 22 December 1843. It has to be concluded he took no full day off in the first year, he then also took a month's leave.

In order to preserve discipline, the Governor continued his policy of immediate fines for staff who had committed misdemeanours. These included a fine of 2/6 to the engineer who had failed to turn the lighting gas on before leaving the prison. Staff were fined for being even a minute late, if they repeated the offence the scale of the fine increased. One of the Trade Assistants was discovered receiving letters on behalf of a prisoner and sending letters on his behalf. He was reported after the inquiry to the Commissioners and was immediately suspended and within a week dismissed. A labourer was fined for taking out of the prison `his passage key instead of delivering it up to the Outer Porter'. A member of staff was fined for hoisting 6 cans of gruel at one time by the apparatus, an order having been given to hoist only 4 at a time. Warden Neville was fined 2/6 for negligence in omitting to supply 476 with his supper whilst under punishment. Another was fined for leaving his post without any instruction to do so. Others were fined for failing to lock gates, or for not having the cells open ready to receive prisoners coming back from exercise. Fined Warder McCarthy 5/- for using highly improper language at the mess table when speaking to Warder Wood - by saying he was a `damned liar'. He admits expressing words but claims he was severely provoked by remarks made at the mess table. Warder McCarthy is a good officer but extremely irritable. Fined Henry Mills, under messenger, sixpence for coming late and Extra Warder Wardhough for being absent from his ward without leave, and being in the mess room reading the newspaper. Fined Warder McCarthy 1/- for giving a good conduct stripe to the wrong prisoner and allowing him to retain it for a fortnight, the prisoner entitled being left without during that time. As well as the system of fines, the Governor had no compunction in reading out on parade the details of offences and the awards made. Although more than ready to impose a penalty when staff infringed the rules, it is clear the Governor took great pains to weigh up each event.

`Principal Hill having reported Warder Nash for conversing with No. 263 whilst the latter was taking exercise under the supervision of Warder Nash, on matters having no connection with the duties of a warder, on Sunday last, I inquired into the facts and found the charge supported by evidence. Warder Nash exchanged some observations with the prisoner which although in themselves, of a harmless character, relating to matters of health, amounted to a violation of the strict rule. Warder Nash acted with great indiscretion which I can only account for from the fact of his having been accustomed, whilst assisting in my office - as a clerk - to address himself freely to prisoners on various points of business thereby acquiring a habit which possibly have put him off his guard on the present occasion: and from the fact that he has very little practice in the ordinary duties of a warder. I have severely admonished him in the presence of other warders on parade.'

An interesting entry for November states:

`The principal warder of C Division, Jenkins, discovered in Ward 2 of his division, cell 43 (occupied by No. 22) as many as 24 slate pencils and several steel pens, the great number of the latter being worn out, and a bottle containing a small quantity of ink. In cell 29 he found a superabundant supply of thread, a great many pieces of slate pencil, and a small jar of ink. In 10 he found a pair of cloth shoes which he believes (and prisoner admits) have been made of some small pieces of grey cloth furnished to the prisoners for repairing clothes, also a cap for the prisoner's head made out of a piece of linen furnished to him for similar purpose. The prisoners are some of the best conducted men in the prison, and from the fact that the objectionable items having been fully exposed to view in their drawers, I firmly believe they acted with no criminal intention. The case seems rather to show that the pencils and thread had been issued profusely without sufficient checks to prevent wasteful expenditure or misappropriation and also that the warder had not effectively searched the cells. The warders have had very arduous duties to perform and great difficulties to contend with requiring all their energies - considering which I am not greatly surprised at the few irregularities into which they have fallen. But a proper system of checking in the various departments cannot be too soon devised, and put into operation, for the supervision of abuses of this kind. In connection with this subject, I beg respectively to solicit attention to one of my suggestions to be submitted to the board on the subject of searching, which I believe will be found very ineffectual unless extended on every occasion to the person as well as the cell of the prisoner.'

What is here recorded is a classic example of the universal problem of the prisoner who hoards whatever he can scavenge. Something all staff will recognise. The second lasting outcome was the commencement of regular and organised cell searching, a key feature of every-day security still in place today and not that much altered from the plans made by the Governor of Pentonville in 1843. So what became known in the jargon as the `fortnightly search' can be traced right back to the pattern set by Hosking.

The Governor's concern over unauthorised articles in the prison is recorded from an early date in the journal; the following are three such incidents: June 1st 1843 "Reg. No. 319 reported and punished for secreting in his cell after having been warned that it was contrary to the Prison rules for a prisoner to have possession of money. He brought with him into the prison 5/- of which 1/- was discovered on Sunday last. The prisoner then pleaded ignorance and was warned by the Deputy Governor. Whilst being passed by the Reception Warder he kept 5/- in his mouth."
"The Reception Warder H. fined for negligence, having passed 319 with 5/- in his mouth on the 9th inst." Then again on 23rd August 1843: "Reg No. 451 has been reported for bring into the prison 2/- which he secreted in his mouth. Punished him for the offence and fined the Reception Warder for not having detected the act."

Then a more detailed entry on the 19th September 1843 says "Punished Reg. No. 320 for bringing a Sovereign into the prison concealed in his mouth. Prisoner is a remarkably good man so far as concerns conduct in the prison. He had been informed on his road to the prison that he would be deprived of his money and he wished to preserve it but he states that he at length thought it his duty to give it up and therefore he voluntarily confessed to the warder the fact of his having it.

The last mentioned case of 320 involves the conduct of Rec. Warder H. who passed the prisoner without detecting the Sovereign. H. had been twice fined previously for careless searching; this his third offence - according to the Scale of Fines - is therefore reportable to the Commissioners. There is no doubt that a small coin can be so well secreted in the mouth by the prisoner, so to render it extremely difficult - perhaps almost impossible - to detect the offence. And therefore I have felt that these fines have pressed rather heavily on the Reception Warder but I also felt the very difficulty of detecting such an offence, the reason why the penalty for a failure should be severe - so important are his duties in respect of searching. If a prisoner passes from the Reception Warder without being detected, the chances of detection afterwards are very few indeed; and if the difficulty is admitted to any extent, or under any circumstances, as an excuse for the introduction of prohibited articles, careless searching will be the inevitable result."

The issue of notices in languages pertinent to the population is also not new. In January 1843 the Governor notes "The Gaelic notices have been received and placed in the cells occupied by the Scotch prisoners forthwith" !
There was no aftercare service as we know it today. This is not surprising as no prisoner was expected to leave Pentonville except by ship to Van Diemans Island. However the Governor went to great lengths to ensure those that were pardoned were resettled. `Royal Pardon arrived last night at 10 minutes past 8 for 113 Timothy Sullivan, who at his own request was permitted to remain in the prison until today. Endeavoured to get him admission into the Stepney Union, but finding some difficulty, I applied to his later Master and Prosecutor, Mr Clarke, Book Seller of Warwick Lane, who came to the prison for the prisoner and immediately re-installed him in his service.'

An incident in April indicates two points, the need for vigilance in health and safety matters, an issue that has never gone away. Secondly the very early start made by the cooks. `Some inconvenience was caused yesterday in consequence of the state of one of the kitchen boilers, owing to the exhaustion of water in it, and the fire continuing to burn afterwards. It has been the practice to soak the ox heads during the night before for next day's use, and for that purpose to keep in the fire, carefully damping it the previous evening. It does seem an extremely dangerous practice. I have arranged that in future, the fire shall be completely extinguished by the cooks at night, before they go off duty, and shall not be lighted until 4 o'clock on the following morning.'

One of the last concerns attended to by the Governor was that of staff allegedly falling asleep whilst they supervised the 2 hour session of school in the chapel in the afternoon. Warder Craig was reported for having his eyes closed for a few minutes, and his head dropped as if asleep. `Very stringent measures are required for preventing warders sleeping in school. I have arranged that in future they will be relieved every hour and that the Principals shall visit the school every half hour for the purpose of inspecting the warders.'

Those staff who remember when we had prison cinemas will recall the problem well. The solution 150 years later was virtually identical, as were I suspect the excuses made by staff.

HMP Pentonville - 160 Years of History
Chapter 7   -
(click on text)

List of Governors

Chief Warder