HM Prison Portland

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HMP Portland
HM Prison Portland in 2010.jpg
Location The Grove, Portland, Dorset
Security class Young Offenders Institution
Population 483 (as of January 2010)
Opened 1848
Managed by HM Prison Services
Governor James Lucas
Website Portland at justice.gov.uk

HM Prison Portland is a male Young Offenders Institution, located in the village of The Grove on the Isle of Portland, in Dorset, England. Portland YOI prison is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service. The prison was originally opened in 1848 as an adult convict establishment, before becoming a Borstal in 1921, and a YOI in 1988.

History[edit]

Temporary prison 1848-69[edit]

The original Portland Prison opened in 1848 and held convict adults. When the government made the go-ahead for the construction of the breakwaters of Portland Harbour and of the Verne Citadel, two of the biggest government projects at the time, it was decided that more labour would be needed to work on them. In January 1847, the announcement of making Portland a penal settlement was put forward, with the plan of continuing transportation, but a system of probation would reward convicts for good behaviour on Portland, and so they could reduce their time or have a conditional discharge once deported. The government wished to acquire Verne Hill, East Weares and other areas around West Cliff and the Grove, which caused much upset and debate amongst local Portlanders as this was common land.[1] Towards the end of November 1847, the work on temporary prison buildings had started, and barracks were also built to house the guarding soldiers. By June 1848, the first 350 prison cells were complete.[2] The man placed in command of the prison and convict operations was Colonel Joshua Jebb, a Surveyor of Prisons, who would visit Portland on occasion to monitor the progress with the First Lord of the Admiralty.[3] When building the original prison, the discovery of stone circles of 'Druids' Temple' caused much exhilaration, however due to the speed in which the prison was to be built, these discoveries were not properly studied and recorded.[4] The prison's builder was Peter Thompson of Limehouse, and by the end of 1848, he was bankrupt as the government owed him £10,000 on a £50,000 contract that was never actually voted.[5]

The first group of 64 convicts arrived on Portland aboard the HM Steamer Driver on 24 November 1848.[6] They were escorted by police from Weymouth, and a detachment of the 23rd Fusiliers as they walked over Verne Hill to reach the prison on the clifftop. With the prison now officially open, 120 more convicts soon followed, however on the third 'delivery' a storm had forced HMS Driver to land the 116 convicts at Chesil Cove.[2] At the same time as the completion of the prison, a gasworks, water reservoir and blacksmith shop, amongst other buildings were constructed to serve the prison. Various quarries were opened up within the Grove area for convicts to work in, to provide stone for the construction of the breakwaters and the citadel. These were known as the Admiralty Quarries. As a result of this many lime kilns would be built to produce quicklime through the calcination of limestone. They would be built and once operated by convicts from the prison. One of the first tasks for the convicts though was building Grove Road, to link the establishment to Easton village. By 1851, 825 convicts were working in the quarries and on the breakwater.[7]

From the moment of the prison's inception, the convicts became a tourist attraction.[8] The experimental nature of the prison, being built for labour on a major public work scheme, had gained wide interest across the country, and soon curious Victorian tourists began visiting to see the prison and convicts.[7] Many locals who lived along Grove Road in particular, decided to open up cafes in the upstairs of their houses, so that tourists could watch the convicts at work in the quarries.[9] At the same time many postcards would be created featuring the convicts.[10]

The convicts were housed in four large timber halls, which held approximately 700 cells each, and these would be separated by iron partitions. Simple furnishing consisted of basics such as a hammock, stool and table.[11] A high stone wall surrounded the prison, warders and military guards were well armed, and the convicts wore clothes that were noticeably marked. The conditions within the prison were harsh, and although few were successful, escape attempts were common. Convicts were forced to work a 10 hour day, and inevitable fatalities occurred. One notable escape was in January 1850, when two convicts crawled through a drain leading down to the coastline of East Weares. In May 1851, seven convicts were severely punished for planning a mass escape. In June 1854, a convict escaped by disguising himself as a painter in trousers and a smock he made from sheets. However his identity was revealed when he arrived at Ferry Bridge, and could not pay the toll. It was at this bridge that a permanent guard was kept in an armed sentry. Additionally, in case of mutiny, a telegraph line was set up between the Grove troops and the Weymouth barracks.[7]

By 1853 the prison was becoming overcrowded, and had to be extended. Out of 1812 convicts in 1854, only 47 were granted 'tickets of leave'. By 1862 the prison had over 1500 inmates, and not only hosted conventional prisoners but political ones too. The prison also a number of high profile Irish Republican prisoners, and this brought major security problems. By this point 200 warders were in the prison, which equaled one warder to eight prisoners.

It was from the prison in 1855, that 80 convicts were transported on the ship William Hammond to Western Australia. Such events were not unusual, as thousands of prisoners over the years would be bought to the island, exchanged or deported. The Folly Pier Waterworks was built in 1855 by John Coode for the government near Folly Pier to supply the prison with water. It was closed due to an outbreak of typhoid which killed several prisoners who drank the water, and the ruins of the reservoir tanks were later to be used as swimming pools for Borstal Boys during the late 1920s and 1930s. The ruins still exist to date.[12] Around 1866, it was decided to black-out the prison's eastern lights as the bright gas lighting was causing navigational confusion to passing ships.[13]

Permanent establishment 1868-1921[edit]

With the announcement of the end of transportation in 1868, Portland locals hoped this would mean the closure of the prison. However the following year the government announced that the prison was to become a permanent feature. The following outcry on the island, including a strong petition, failed to alter the decision in any way. By this point, the prison had been re-built in stone.[14]

The prison's harsh conditions and regime meant some convicts reacted with violence and Warder Evans became the first on Portland to be murdered whilst on duty in 1863. In 1869, a similar incident led to the hanging of the convict at Dorchester gaol. Some of Portland's harsh punishments had fatal consequences, and for example, within months of the 1869 hanging, a convict died from flogging. Sometimes cries could be heard outside the walls whenever flogging occurred. Those outside of the prison were only made aware of the harsh conditions inside whenever a convict died. Whenever a prisoner became close to death, desperate means were tried to keep him alive. The punishments inflicted at Portland's prison exceeded those at any other prison, both in number and severity. It was twice as many as Dartmoor. In 1875, the rising number of deaths, on average one a week, was beginning to cause public alarm. The inhuman treatment that was alleged would be raised in Parliament at least three times between 1875 to 1890.[15] Onlookers would often gather at the railway station for the transfer of prisoners, and it would often be noted the contrast between fit, new arrivals, and the weak, departing convicts who were in poor shape.

St. Peter's Church, found just outside of the prison, was built in 1870-72 by convicts for use of the prison until it was made redundant in 1973. It remains a Grade II* Listed building.[16][17] In 1902, when King Edward VII arrived unannounced to see Portland Prison and Whitehead's Torpedo Factory, he ordered a treat for the convicts; "half a pound of roly poly and two ounces of golden syrup". During World War I, many convicts were sent to other jails, and military offenders, conscientious objectors and Irish political prisoners were bought in.[18]

One famous inmate from the prison was John Babbacombe Lee, a murderer from Devon, who cheated death three times in a defective hangman's noose. He spent more than 20 years in Portland Prison, before finally being released in 1907. Tour guides at Portland would point him out to tourists, although in reality as all convicts looked alike from the distance, it did not matter who they pointed at.[19]

Borstal Establishment 1921-88[edit]

In 1921 the government announced that the Portland convict establishment was to be converted into a Borstal, as part of the experiment across the UK at the time. This followed Borstals at Rochester in 1902, and Feltham in 1911, with Portland receiving the troublesome cases from these two.[20] The last of the adult convicts were marched out, and a complete transformation took place inside the prison. The military style uniforms were cast out, and warders were replaced by schoolmasterly officers in civilian dress. However it wasn't long before Portland realised that the newly arrived youths could be even more troublesome than older convicts, largely as they were more likely to escape. Whenever the black flag was hoisted, and the maroon fired, doors all over the island were securely locked. However positive work was achieved under the new regime. The Borstal's governor H. Scott conceived a plan to turn an old convict quarry into a sports stadium at the back of St. Peter's Church. After five years this Wembley-sized pitch was complete, and could hold over 3000 spectators.[21][22]

During World War II, Portland was a major target for German bombers and air raids. On 15 August 1940, a raid on Portland saw the Borstal, an easy target, hit by three bombs within Rodney House. This left four boys dead and others severely injured, including five being admitted to hospital. Before the bombing, one fighter had peppered the establishment with machine gun fire from the air.[23] Through the nights of early 1941, air raid sirens would sound on a frequent basis. Over what is now remembered as "Black Easter", a raid over the Grove village destroyed three houses in Augusta Road, whilst the roof of St. Peter's Church was torn off, and the Borstal gymnasium, once the prison chapel, was burnt down.[24] In 1949, the government opened another prison on the island, HM Prison The Verne within the Verne Citadel.[25]

In 1968, Rodney House was rebuilt, and some of the stones saved from the WW2 bombing was used to build the Bowls Pavilion in the Governor's Garden. During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, a new gatehouse, kitchen and administration block were built, as well as Hardy House, the induction wing.[26] By the 1970s, neither this prison, nor the borstal caused much bother to locals, however there was increasing annoyance when road blocks would be set up on Portland's causeway whenever a prisoner escaped.[27] In 1983, the Borstal's name was changed to Youth Custody Center.[28]

Young Offenders Institution 1988-present[edit]

In 1988 the prison was re-rolled as a Young Offenders Institution (YOI, Portland), and has held young males aged 18 to 21 ever since. It was officially titled as a Youth Custody Centre beforehand. Accommodation at the prison is divided into 7 house blocks, Benbow, Raleigh, Drake, Nelson, Grenville, Collingwood, and Beaufort all of which have integral sanitation. Grenville House is an Induction Unit, Beaufort is a Skills Development Unit, Raleigh is the Resettlement wing and Collingwood a 'Super enhanced' Wing. There is also a Care and Control Unit. Most of the original buildings of the prison have been demolished.[28]

The establishment offers a range of vocational training which includes, Bricklaying; Building Operatives; Painting and Decorating; Carpentry and Joinery; Fork Lift Truck; Recycling Workshop; Hard Landscaping; Barbering; Catering; Motor Mechanics; Motor Cycle Maintenance; Multi-Skills in Construction; CSCS (with card being available); BICS; Animal Welfare; Radio Production; Groundsmanship; Performing Manufacturing Operations; Steelworks and Rail Track.

In 2009, the prison was the setting for Ian Wright's Football Behind Bars television series. The Sky1 reality TV series featured Wright's work to transform the lives of 24 serious young offenders. It was based on socializing the young men by organizing them in a football academy. The program was an experiment with the prison authority with an eye to expanding it to other prisons if it was successful. The series ran 6 episodes, aired weekly from 7 September to 12 October 2009.[29][30]

In March 2000, an inspection report by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons severely criticised conditions at Portland YOI, including foul-smelling toilets and filthy showers. There were also complaints of rats in food service areas lodged by inmates.[31] Just over a month later, prison officials were forced to extract 26 prisoners who had for eight hours used furniture to barricade themselves away from their cells.[32]

In November 2004, a report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons highlighted racial tension, and distrust between Muslim inmates and staff at Portland Prison[citation needed]. The report also criticised the fact that inmates were still slopping out, because of poor sanitation facilities at the jail.[33]

A further report in June 2007 following an unannounced inspection heavily criticised conditions at Portland YOI. The report stated that some buildings "were unfit for purpose and lacked basic sanitation", with the continued practice of inmates without access to toilet facilities using buckets which they emptied through their windows.[34] The report criticized other elements of the prison, including opportunities provided to prisoners for physical activity and training, but indicated that the situation was better in Portland than it had been in 2004 at the time of the last inspection.

In April 2011 the prison's role changed to an Adult/Young Offenders establishment.[35] In late 2013, it was announced that the YOI will be one of a number of resettlement prisons. The previous resettlement prison for the area was Dorchester prison but its closure was announced in September. The idea of the are resettlement program is that prisoners are moved close to their local area towards the end of their sentence if it is a longer one, or they may spend the entire of a short sentence in a resettlement prison.[36]

In 2010, with the assistance of the prison, a community project was completed to restore the Governor's Community Garden and open it to the public. These gardens were originally attached to the prison governor's residence opposite the main entrance of the prison. Around 2011, at The Verne prison, the Jailhouse Cafe was opened to the public, which was created to reduce re-offending and to offer prisoners work experience. When The Verne prison was converted to a Immigration Removal Centre in early 2014, the cafe has continued by using prisoners from the YOI.[37]

Grove Prison Museum[edit]

In late 2013, it was announced via local news that a museum would be opened to cover the history of HM Prison Portland, from the initial adult convict prison, the Borstal Years and as a Young Offenders Institution. The Grove Prison Museum opened in March 2014, with initial opening times of three days a week; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.[38]

John Hutton, a retired prison officer had been working with other retired officers Steve Ashford and Chris Hunt to open the small exhibition within the deputy governor's residence, across the road from the main prison entrance. The idea for a museum has dated back over 20 years, when it was agreed to store some prison memorabilia items for a possible future museum. These were left untouched for 20 years in storage. The YOI governor agreed to set aside two rooms for the museum. Among the items on display will be aerial photographs of the area, an old restraining jacket, a replica musket and mannequins showing how the prisoner and officer uniforms changed over the years.[38]

South Dorset MP Richard Drax visited the deputy governor's building to officially open the prison museum and the Lighthouse Learning Centre. After opening the museum, Drax went upstairs in the same building to open the new learning centre offering prison officer access training, where a number of courses are on offer, ranging from IT to literacy and mental health awareness to bicycle maintenance.[39][40]

Grade listed features[edit]

Various features of the prison have since become Grade Listed.

In September 1978, the gatehouse, including the attached VR Letter Box, became Grade II Listed. The gatehouse is dated 1848, and is no longer used for entry.[41] In May 1993, both the east and west cell blocks became Grade II Listed. The East Block, dated 1898, consists of the Grenville and Nelson wings, whilst the West Block, also dated 1898, holds the Raleigh, Drake and Benbow wings. Both the east and west blocks, although of late 19th century, have a characteristically bold design, carried out in very splendid masonry showing little signs of discolouration or deterioration. It replaces the former timber-clad 1848 structures of the original prison group, and the two blocks figure prominently in views from many parts of the island.[42][43] At the same time, the E Hall, a prison cell block with attached punishment block from 1848, became Grade II Listed. It would seem likely that this block was part of the original 1848 prison scheme.[44]

The Overseer's Hut with inclines became Grade II Listed in May 1993, and this was provided for overseeing activities by prisoners entering and leaving by the doorway central to the north wall. It is set on the central axis of the whole complex aligned on the main gate to the south. Built with Portland stone ashlar, including the roof, the back is set partly into a bank. On either side are approach inclines from the main prison level, in large Portland stone setts, and with stone gutter sections on the north side.[45]

Boundary wall[edit]

One of the prison and village's most notable features is a high wall running along the village's main road, Grove Road. This boundary wall remains a significant visual element within the village, and was built in the 19th century to enclose the convict quarry workings. It has an opening to allow traffic to turn off left to the top of the incline road which once ran down to the Naval Base. Set in this wall is an old prison sentry box. Both remain Scheduled Monuments and are not able to be removed. The boundary wall has been Grade II Listed since May 1993.[46] The sentry box, along with the gate pier became Grade II Listed in September 1978. It is about 30 metres west of St. Peter's Church. Dated from around 1848, it is part of a former prison quarrying work ground.[47] The boundary wall, and gate piers, running from St Peter's Vicarage to Alma Terrace, and dating from 1875, was Grade II Listed at the same time as the sentry box.[48] The early 19th century gate piers at the junction with Grove Road, along with the boundary walls to Ivybank and the Vicarage became Grade II Listed at this same time too.[49] In May 1993, the boundary wall west of the prison became Grade II Listed, and this section dates from 1848.[50] The prison's north and east boundary walls have been Grade II Listed since May 1993 as well, dating from 1848 and later. The walls are interrupted by late 20th century structures in the south-east quadrant, as considerable damage occurred during World War II.[51]

Houses[edit]

Alma Terrace, on Grove Road is a terrace of houses, built in 1854, originally as six large houses for prison wardens, and now set out as twelve occupations in two continuous parallel ranges. The terrace has been restored with great sensitivity, and was designated Grade II in September 1978.[52] The wash houses and connecting boundary wall to the rear of the terrace has also become Grade II Listed in May 1993. The five former wash houses, now stores are linked by the continuous rear boundary wall, and probably date from around 1854. They have been well restored with the houses to which they belong, and are unusually grand.[53]

The Governor's House (102 Grove Road), with its front boundary wall, has been Grade II Listed since May 1993. The detached house was formerly the Governor's House to the prison, built around 1850. It is an important part of the group of prison buildings, with a visually significant position at the junction between Grove Road and The Grove.[54] Additionally the prison itself has various Grade Listed features. The adjoining School House of Grove Infant School, along with the rear boundary wall, became Grade II Listed at the same time. Forming an extension of the school, it was originally the house of the Assistant Governor of Portland Prison. Built around 1870, it was possibly from office of Capt. Du Cane, RE. The house is an important unit in a good group, set between St. Peter's Church and the school, and from its detailing clearly from the same design office.[55]

Quarrying industry[edit]

Grove Lime Kiln lies approximately 320 metres north-west of St Peter's Church. The Grade Listed II structure was designated in January 2009.[56] Still owned by the prison service, the lime kiln remains in a derelict and uncared for state. It was built and once operated by convicts from the prison, and is an important survival and one of the last vestiges of lime production in Portland.[56] Another lime kiln is located close-by along the road passing the eastern edge of the YOI, near the cliff edge, and this remaining shell has been fenced off and hidden by the prison service for health and safety reasons.[57]

At the top of the nearby, private incline road is the abandoned Old Engine Shed that once served the cable-operated inclined railway that ran to Castletown through the Navy Dockyard that is now Portland Port. The Portland Gas Trust has made plans for a £1.5m project to transform the buildings into an interpretation centre, which were to be the highlight of the Trust's work for the next few years. Situated on the cliffs above Portland Gas' Dorset facility, the centre was planned to have an audio visual room, display areas and café, and will function as a visitor attraction and an educational resource. However as of 2014, work has yet to start.[58][59] Close to the old engine sheds is a now derelict area which was once used by the Portland Dog Training Club. The shed has been Grade II Listed since January 2001.[60]

Notable former inmates[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°33′01″N 2°25′21″W / 50.5502°N 2.4226°W / 50.5502; -2.4226