HMP Pentonville - 160 Years of History
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Chapter 13   -

Information in respect of these turbulent years comes from another source, the Minutes of the Visiting Committee. These provide a different perspective and a more limited one. They do provide some insight into the issues during this period, especially when the prison was closed between 1941-1946 the Visiting Committee continued to meet.

The Chairman in March 1941 was J S Baker Esq JP. They say `the old ones are the best ones', the burning issue of the Committee for several years was that of having an adequate clerk. When has it not been an issue for the last 50 years. `Resignation of clerk, matter again discussed. Clerk said Prison Commission had no power to defray his expenses.'

Meeting of 6 May 1941. `Earnings and Smoking Scheme.' Governor gave some interesting comparisons of the value of the work done while the scheme was in operation. During period 1939-40 the value of prisoners work was £13,177 and for a period of 9 months from 1940-1941 the value was £14,924/1/11d. He thought this scheme had done a lot to encourage the prisoners to work.

Governor (L C Ball) informed Committee that the Chief Officer W J Lawton had been appointed Governor of Swansea Prison. (He was to return in 1946 to re-open Pentonville as the first post World War II Governor.

The Committee for some reason recorded each month the following 3 statistics, number of restraints, number of deaths and number of aliens. In March and April 1941 there were 24 aliens, but by May there were nil and so it remained for the rest of the year. There were no natural deaths throughout 1941, and only 3 prisoners restrained. The average population of the prison during 1941 was only 312 prisoners. This was probably a consequence of the fact that the prison was damaged by enemy action on May 11 1941, with the death of 2 Prison Officers, 3 wives of officers, the Mother-in-Law of an Officer and 11 prisoners. Considerable damage was done to the prison building which necessitated the removal of 200 prisoners to Wandsworth Prison. The staff that were killed were: Engineer Hirst and his wife, Officer Lewis, Mrs Stokoe (wife of Officer F Stokoe), Mrs Jeffrey (wife of Hospital Officer F Jeffrey) and Mrs Arnold (Mother-in-Law of Officer Jeffrey).

The Committee also heard applications for prisoners. '29 July 1941, 948 Roscoe made a statement about telepathic wave throughout the prison. Complained he had been taken from boot making to B2 (mental observation). Medical Officer stated `prisoner is under
observation but it is not satisfied so far of any signs of lunacy.'

1028 R Taylor asked to be transferred to another Prison Hospital where he could get electrical treatment for his complaint, which he stated if allowed to continue would end in paralysis. He knew that the Medical Officer was doing all he could but considered that the special treatment was necessary. The Medical Officer reported that the prisoner was to a certain degree shamming and that if he thought it necessary, arrangements could be made for the prisoner to attend a local hospital for electrical treatment. It was decided to leave the matter in the hands of the Medical Officer and the prisoner was informed that in the circumstances now ruling, no transfers were allowed.

The Visiting Committee also dealt with serious adjudications. Below is a summary of their handling of a case and its outcome.

49 William Murray (alias Duff) was charged with riotous conduct, attacking and biting a prison officer (3 counts in all). The prisoner pleaded guilty to all the charges and on being questioned said that he attributed his conduct to fits of uncontrollable temper but accused an officer of using bad language. The officers were questioned and it was agreed that there was no foundation for the prisoner's accusation. The Medical Officer reported that the prisoner was quite sane and could control his temper if he wished. After the Governor had reported on the criminal history of the prisoner, the Committee agreed that it was a very bad case and called for a severe penalty.

The prisoner was then sentenced under Rule 59 of the Statutory Rules of HM Prisons to:

15 days No 1 diet
14 days close confinement
42 days No 2 diet
28 days stage
56 days forfeiture of remission

An interesting communication was sent by the Home Officer on behalf of the Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Visiting Committee on 27 August 1941 - it is reproduced in its entirety.

Any communication on the subject of this letter should be addressed to:

The Under Secretary of State, Home Office, C Division, Cornwall House, Stamford Street, SEI

27th August 1941

Corporal Punishment for offences in Prisons and Borstal Institutions

The Secretary of State has had occasion recently to reduce certain awards of corporal punishment for Prison offences. The reasons for his action have been explained to the Visiting Committees who awarded the punishment and he thinks that other Visiting Committees and Boards of Visitors may like to know that his action was taken in consequence of a general decision to give practical effect to certain recommendations of the Departmental Committee on Corporal Punishment which issued its report in March 1938. The following is an extract from Paragraph 78 of the report:

"We think that there should be a reduction of the maximum number of strokes now authorised in the Prison Rules. At present, both in England and in Scotland, the maximum is 18 strokes of the birch for prisoners under eighteen, and for prisoners over that age, 36 strokes of the cat or of the birch. As long ago as 1897, the Home Secretary of the day expressed the view in a circular letter sent to all Visiting Committees, that 24 strokes should never be exceeded except in the gravest cases. Since 1910, the average number of strokes authorised has not exceeded 18 except in three years; in 1922, the average number with the cat was 24 and in 1910 and 1934 the average number with the birch was 20. In recent years, Boards of Visitors and Visiting Committees have rarely made an order for more than 24 strokes, and in the very few cases where a greater punishment has been recommended, the Secretary of State has reduced the order to a number of strokes not larger than 24 As it is admitted that birching may be almost as severe a punishment as flogging with the cat, we see no reason to discriminate in this matter between the two instruments; and we recommend that the maximum punishment for adult prisoners should be 18 strokes either with the cat or with the birch. We think it undesirable that the cat should be used in the case of prisoners under the age of 21. For young prisoners we think that 12 strokes is a sufficient punishment and we therefore recommend that for prisoners under 21, the maximum punishment should be 12 strokes of the birch."

The Secretary of State does not propose, at the present time, to amend the Prison Rules but he is in general agreement with the Committee's recommendations on these points and he has decided as a matter of practice, in considering awards submitted for his confirmation, to regard 18 strokes with the cat-o'-nine tails as the maximum punishment which can be authorised in the most serious cases where the offender is over 21. As regards offenders under 21, he is of the opinion that the maximum punishment should be that recommended by the Committee, namely 12 strokes of the birch rod.
The Secretary of State trusts that Boards of Visitors and Visiting Committees will feel able to agree with his views and act accordingly in any case in which they may have to award corporal punishment.

I am, Sir, Your obedient Servant.

The Chairman of the Visiting Committee HM Prison Pentonville, N7

The Visiting Committee were advised on the 3rd February 1942, that the prison was to be vacated and the prisoners and staff going to other prisons, except for 20 Star prisoners and a handful of staff. In fact the evacuation commenced on 26 January. The Governor it appears went initially to Wormwood Scrubs. Despite the reduction of Pentonville to a maintenance function only, the Visiting Committee continued to meet and carry out its full function throughout the war period. From correspondence that continued to emanate from the Visiting Committee it is known that the Prison Commission vacated its offices in Whitehall, and evacuated to Oriel College, Oxford by 1942. The Governor was still expected to attend Visiting Committee meetings, but was often represented by the Deputy Governor, at this time a Mr Sochon. Despite being on a care and maintenance basis, Pentonville remained responsible for executions and holding condemned prisoners.

The Visiting Committee Annual Report to the Secretary of State (The Rt Hon Herbert Morrison) for 1942 is succinct and gives a flavour of the prison at this time.

Her Majesty's Prison
London N7

2nd February 1943

I have the honour to submit the Annual Report for the year of 1948 of the Visiting Committee of His Majesty's Prison, Pentonville.
In January 1942 the Prison was vacated except for a small staff and a working party of about twenty Star prisoners for purposes of care, maintenance and fire watching.
Both staff and prisoners have been supplied monthly from His Majesty's Prison, Wormwood Scrubs. Condemned prisoners are still committed to Pentonville. The Governor, Medical Officer and Chaplain of His Majesty's Prison Wormwood Scrubs visit Pentonville Prison as often as possible.
The daily average population of the prison up to the 31st December 1942 was twenty, and the number of prisoners received from Wormwood Scrubs Prison was 240. The Committee are pleased to report that the general conduct of the prisoners has been good and no prisoners were punished during the year.

There were no insane of mentally defective prisoners. One condemned prisoner attacked a prison officer, but no serious injury was sustained by the officer concerned. Two condemned prisoners were executed on the capital charge.
The general health of the prisoners has been good.
The Committee have regularly examined the prisoners' food and have always found it satisfactory as regards quality and cleanliness.
The Committee wish to place on record that they consider that the Prison is well administered by the Governor and his staff in an able and efficient manner.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant

Chairman of the Visiting Committee of HM Prison Pentonville.

The Deputy Chairman of the Visiting Committee in 1943 was W Catlow Esq JP. In July 1943 it was announced that he had received a Knighthood from His Majesty, and had been elected High Sheriff for the County of Middlesex. He continued on the Visiting Committee and became the Chairman for the next year.

An interesting correspondence developed in late 1943, when it was discovered that carrots were the only vegetable reaching the prison over several weeks. It is best summarised in the Minutes of the Visiting Committee of 5 October 1943. These also confirm that members rota visits continued.

` A letter from the Governor was read concerning the complaint of lack of green vegetables for the prisoners, in which he stated that provisions for Pentonville were provided by the Governor of Holloway Prison and that he had passed on the complaint to him. The reply from the Governor of Holloway dated 14th October was read in which he said that the shortage was temporary and that no green stuff was available from contractors or other institutions during the period complained of. Green vegetables were issued from 8th September.
The Chief Officer stated that they were now receiving a plentiful supply, and this was confirmed by Mr Moss who saw the supply on his rota visit.'

As a result of this incident, the Visiting Committee pressed the Governor to cultivate the grounds and grow vegetables. The Governor was less than enthusiastic at the time (being based at Scrubs did not help) but the Visiting Committee persisted and made it a standing recommendation in their Report to the Secretary of State. In April 1945 the Committee received the final reply on this issue which stated: `The Secretary of State has brought the Report to the notice of the Prison Commissioners and he is glad to be able to inform the Committee that arrangements have now been made for certain suitable ground within the precincts of the prison
to be put under cultivation in accordance with your suggestion.'

In addition to general maintenance and fire watching by the small resident group of prisoners, the prison was also made available to the Czech Refugee Trust Fund, to store furniture etc for Czech refugees. Also spare staff
accommodation was made available to them.

With the prisoner numbers being so low, there were only 8 officers in all, one of these being a cook, and some works officers. On visiting one lunch hour, the Visiting Member discovered there were only 3 staff on duty, 5 having gone to lunch. Not only was his rota visit delayed, but it was pointed out that if incendiary rockets should fall the prison was not well served to deal with such an emergency. Alternative arrangements were made.

In January 1944 the Visiting Committee were advised that the Governor was being posted to Wandsworth. The Deputy Governor, now Mr J L Weldon, still attended meetings. Mr Hackforth-Jones was thanked on his retirement from the Visiting Committee for his 25 years service on the Committee.

At the April 1945 Meeting the Committee were advised that there were now 134 prisoners in residence who had been brought from Wandsworth Prison, and the Star prisoners had been returned to Scrubs. This arrangement was necessitated by recent damage at Wandsworth by enemy action. The matter was discussed by the Committee and it was considered they should have been advised of these new arrangements by the Secretary of State. The Clerk was instructed to write to the Chairman of Prison Commissioners asking for a full explanation. At the next meeting on 1st May there was still no response, the Clerk was instructed to write expressing the Committee's disapproval that their request had been ignored and asking for a further explanation. This sparked the Commission into action and the Committee received the following letter dated 10 May.


Visiting Committee Pentonville Prison

I regret delay in writing to you in reply to your telephone request concerning the status of the Visiting Committee in relation to the prisoners that were housed at Pentonville Prison from Wandsworth Prison. These prisoners were transferred to Pentonville at a moment's notice following damage at Wandsworth Prison caused by a V2 rocket. It is regretted that in the hurry a notification to your Committee of the position was overlooked. While at Pentonville they were regarded as lodgers and as part of the Wandsworth population. The arrangement was purely temporary and as soon as first aid repairs had been carried out at Wandsworth they were returned to that prison.

The position at Pentonville now is that the small party from Wormwood Scrubs Prison has returned and, to remove any doubts as to what should be done in future, the Governor of Wormwood Scrubs Prison is being instructed that any incident that occurs at Pentonville Prison which would be normally reported to the Visiting Committee should be reported to your Committee. It will then be for your Committee to take any action that may be necessary.

I trust that this belated explanation will be taken as satisfactory in the unusual circumstances and I must again apologise for the delay in this reply.

I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant
(Signed) J W Maddows

At the meeting on 2nd October 1945 the Governor informed the Committee that the Military Authorities had temporarily taken over Block `A' for accommodating condemned military prisoners. He understood that a letter was being sent to the Chairman by the Prison Commissioners, explaining the position. This occupation lasted until the end of the year.

Five German prisoners of war, Kurt Zuehlsdorff, Erich Koening, Josef Mertens, Joachim Goltz, and Heinz Brueling, were executed on the capital charge on 6th October.

The Visiting Committee still dealt with the more serious adjudications. The one that now appears somewhat strange is that of attempting to commit suicide. It has to be remembered though, that all the Christian Churches took a strong line at this time on suicide being a mortal sin.

150 G H Priestley appeared before the Committee charged as follows:

Attempting to commit suicide at 1.55 p.m.. on 24th January 1946, in cell.

The Medical Officer informed the Committee that in his opinion it was not a genuine attempt.

The prisoner pleaded guilty.

The Officer on duty at this time, stated that he found the prisoner in his cell bleeding at his wrist, and further investigation showed that the prisoner had broken the mirror and used a piece of this to cut his wrist. Scratches were also found on his neck as if an attempt had been made to cut his throat.

With one member dissenting, the Committee awarded: 9 days No 1 diet
To forfeit 14 days remission

By March 1946 the prison had returned to normal use. the Governor and staff were back in post, and the prison roll had reached 430 prisoners.

Prisoner 724 D Lederman became a bit of a trial to the Visiting Committee. He was firstly reported to the Visiting Committee for a serious offence. The hearing of that adjudication appears to have been recorded in full, it is reprinted for its general information. He was charged with `using gross personal violence to an officer by butting him in the face with his head at 7.5 a.m.. on the 5 May 1946. He pleaded not guilty.

Officer Nicholas Rhodes sworn stated that at 7.50 a.m.. on 5th May I was in charge of No 2 landing. I found the prisoner in bed. I told him to get out of bed and put his bed and furniture outside of his cell door. While he was doing this I saw a civilian handkerchief on his cell floor. I asked him where he got it from and he said `I got it from the Reception Officer when I came here'. I told him he had a prison handkerchief which lay on his chair in the cell, and that he was not allowed a civilian handkerchief. He then turned abusive and said `that's my handkerchief and I want it'. I told him to get into his cell which he did not do. I got hold of him and forced him back into his cell and he shouted `keep your fucking hands off me you bastard, I'll do you for that'. He then jumped at me and butted me with his head. During the struggle he attempted to butt me three times with his head catching me once with his head on my right ear. I eventually managed to get my right hand free and drew my stave. The prisoner was then taken away to his cell by PO Vanhulk, still shouting abuse.

Prisoner: I admit I struck you back in self defence.

Officer: I deny that I said `you Jewish bastard'. I hit him twice that is all. I got hold of the prisoner by his shirt as he had no other clothing on, to take him to the cell. Prisoner shouted `help, help, he's killing me'. I only had hold of his shirt.

Officer Joseph William Vanhulk sworn stated that at 7.30 a.m.. or thereabouts in `A' Wing I saw Officer Rhodes struggling with the prisoner. With the assistance of Mam and Officer Bowell the prisoner was removed to the punishment cell on C1.

I saw the truncheon hit the ground and it broke then.

You were shouting that you will try and kill him, the officer.

Prisoner on oath said: Officer Rhodes came to my cell and told me to put my bedding out. I carried out the order then I put the chamber out. When I came back the officer was standing inside the cell with the handkerchief produced, it was in his hand, and said `what was you doing with this in your cell'. I said it's mine, I have had it the whole time since I have been here, can I have it now? He said `you are not getting it, it's going back to your own property'. I then said to him there must be a misunderstanding at the reception. I thought I was allowed to keep it. I also said I'll see about the matter to satisfy about seeing things'. He pushed me back further into the cell and struck me a blow in the face with his fist. I don't know where on my face. I struck him back in self defence with my fist. He said 'I'll do you for this'. After a short struggle he took out his truncheon on the top of my head, at the same time saying `take that
you fucking Jewish bastard: He started raining further blows on top of my head. I saw a wild look in the Officer's eyes and I was scared. I believe he intended to murder me. I shouted to Officer Rhodes lay off you are killing me. He got hold of me by my shirt front, I was without a jacket. The door became more open and the officer tried to drag me further inside the cell. I had it in mind that the officer intended to finish me off. I tried to drag myself away from him. I tried to get out on to the landing and I pulled the officer with me. He still rained some blows on my head and I tried to ward them off and caught them on my arm. Both of us got out of the cell on to the landing. I shouted out help, help, he's killing me. Being weak with loss of blood I sank to the ground. While I was on the ground the officer struck me a violent blow thus breaking his truncheon. He gave me a kick with his left foot on my right side, a few seconds later a few officers came along including PO Vanhulk and helped me to my feet. One officer said `take him down below'. While I was being taken down to the cell I said Oh, Oh, he's tried to kill me. It was some time before the Medical Officer was in attendance.

PO Vanhulk:said there was no kicking from the time that he was on the scene.

Prisoner:The visible injuries on the officer's face and head were done by me in self defence.

The Committee took a serious view of this case and after due deliberation the prisoner was awarded the following:

100 days forfeiture of remission
56 days forfeiture of stage
28 days exclusion from associated work
28 days cellular confinement
15 days No1 restricted diet
14 days No 2 restricted diet

In December 1946 he appears before the Visiting Committee again on application, complaining about a different adjudication. He asks whether it was essential for the Governor to be present while he was making his complaint. He was advised it was. This was an issue that would continue to be debated for the next 40 years.

The Report of 1947 indicates that Corporal Punishment as an award by the Visiting Committee remained in the
Rules, none was awarded in 1947, nor in 1948. The Report of 1948 indicates that the prisoner population was building up again and averaged 720, there were only 2 deaths from natural causes and only one prisoner declared insane. In that year the entire Library (which had depended to some degree on voluntary donations) came under the control of Islington Public Library. The Library staff attended the prison twice weekly to supervise the library activities and to give advice to prisoners. (This Library service has remained in place until today.) The Committee also and perhaps smugly, reported that 11 tons of vegetables were grown and stored for the use of the prison.

At this time the industries of the prison were mailbags, mat-making and dismantling Post Office and Ministry of Supply materials. A tailoring industry was introduced making clothing for Government Departments. During the summer months as many as 80 prisoners were employed on farms in Surrey.

Clearly the prison hospital had received serious damage during the war, as reference is made to the ground floor being re-instated and now in use again. Work had also commenced on the damage to C Wing in 1948. It is clear that the repair to the war damage made slow progress, as the hospital was still being completed in 1951. In November 1951 the Governor Major P A Marriot was transferred to Parkhurst, and the Governor of Parkhurst Mr A Harvix came as Governor of Pentonville. No reason is offered for this exchange.

There were in the 50s two interesting developments in the area of adjudication. A prisoner was adjudicated by the Visiting Committee in November 1950 for gross personal violence to an officer, that is smashing the cell observation glass in the officer's eye. On finding the charge proven the Committee made the following award.

12 strokes of the cat
28 days loss of association and earnings
91 days forfeiture of remission

Should the 12 strokes of the cat not be confirmed, Committee recommended the award of:

15 days No 1 diet
28 days cellular confinement
21 days No 2 diet
28 days loss of association and earnings
91 days forfeiture of remission

The award of Corporal Punishment was upheld by the Secretary of State as later minutes confirm it was carried out. This would appear to be the only time such a punishment was awarded in this period.

In January 1953 the Visiting Committee at Wandsworth wrote to their colleagues at Pentonville seeking their support against a ruling by the Commissioners that only five members of the Visiting Committee should be present at an adjudication and that the Governor should also not be present, and that the Clerk of the Committee should not be present other than at monthly meetings. Strong resentment was felt about this by the Committee at Wandsworth, and they sought the views of the Pentonville Committee. (It was still common practice for a number of Visiting Committees to take both prisoner applications and adjudications at a full meeting.) The response from Pentonville was:

A reply had been sent in which it was stated that the Committee were of the opinion that it was better in the prisoner's interests that he should only appear before a small number of members of the Committee, but fully supported the view that the Governor's presence was of the greatest value at adjudications and also that the presence of the Clerk of the Committee was necessary at all meetings.

By 1953 the prison was again functioning to its full capacity, some of the damage to C Wing had been tackled and some cells restored. However by 1954 (some 10 years after the damage) the work was still not completed. `The damaged walls of the bombed portion of C Wing have been rebuilt, the roof has been made weatherproof, and work has now commenced on rebuilding of the interior.'

For those who feel frustrated by the delay in getting any major capital rebuilding approved and funded, history would appear to indicate that it was ever thus!

By now the prisoner population had risen to 1105, of whom 91 were serving sentences of over 4 years, 38 sentences of Preventive Detention (an earlier version of 3 strikes and you're out for persistent offenders, and a sentence with no remission but was served in full) and 41 sentences of Corrective Training of whom 30 were Recalcitrant cases.

During 1953, 7 prisoners were certified insane, there were no suicides, but 2 attempts. One prisoner who was receiving treatment at an outside hospital, escaped but was recaptured by the police the same day, and 2 other prisoners broke away from escort whilst leaving Court, but were recaptured by the officers of the escort. All prisoners were employed including 20 who went each day to Hill Hall Prison for employment in the gardens
and general maintenance, and 20 each day to Holloway for repairs and maintenance work, and 20 to the Civil Defence Depot at Hounslow, for sorting Civil Defence equipment.

So Pentonville, almost fully restored after its war damage, begins its passage into the second half of the 20th century. All was not however to be `plain sailing' for this historic prison.

Finally from this period an agenda for a monthly meeting of the Visiting Committee is reproduced. Much of it will be recognisable by today's Board of Visitors.


Minutes of previous meeting.
Matters arising.
Rota of members visiting.
Governor's report.

5. Change of religion (1):  5123 NEWMAN

6. Applications (4):     4857 PREECE


4077 FANE


Commissioners circulars and memorandum.
Other business - Resignation of Clerk.

Adjudication (1)1474 MCKENDRIX, CJ
Rule 42, Para (6)
Assaulting an officer by grabbing hold of the lapels of his tunic and attempting to butt him in the face and kneeing his private parts at about 10 a.m.., 2/7/54, in the Mail Bag shop.
Officer Evans, J H

Certification:No 15021 MARCUS