HM Prison Wandsworth

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HMP Wandsworth
Wandsworth Prison - - 1030498.jpg
London, SW18
Security classAdult Male/Category B Local
Population1,562 (as of December 2020)
Opened1851; 171 years ago (1851)
Managed byHM Prison Services
GovernorKatie Price
WebsiteWandsworth 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 His Majesty's Prison Service and is one of the largest prisons in the UK.[1]


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 process of "slopping out", until 1996.[3]

On 29 July 1879, Catherine Webster 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. Webster 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, took his own life 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[edit]

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, who was convicted of treachery, and Joyce and Amery, who were convicted of treason, 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.[9]

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[edit]

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 the 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[edit]

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. This unit will focus and house prisoners who attended full time activities.

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]

Chris Atkins'[17] book A Bit of a Stretch: The Diaries of a Prisoner[18] describes ongoing poor conditions during his stay in 2016–2017 with many of the touted improvements merely being described on paper rather than in existence in the prison. He describes some of the changes that were attempted as part of the "Prison and Safety Reform (2016)" that were not successful.

Notable inmates[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

Wandsworth is mentioned in multiple forms of media.


  • Starred Up (2014) was written by a former therapist at this prison.
  • Let Him Have It (1991) features Derek Bentley, who was held in this prison up until he was hanged in 1953.
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971) shows the exterior of the prison (the interiors were filmed elsewhere).



Wandsworth is mentioned in:


  1. ^ "Wandsworth Prison". Ministry of Justice. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  2. ^ Hughes, Amani (25 June 2015). "Surrey House of Correction: Acid bath murderer and Derek Bentley 'let him have it' case among hangings". SurreyLive.
  3. ^ Rowland, David (1 December 2014). "Wandsworth Prison, London". The Old Police Cells Museum. Archived from the original on 31 May 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  4. ^ "A Woman Hanged". The Boston Globe. 30 July 1879 – via
  5. ^ "Wandsworth Walloper". TIME. New York City. 17 February 1930. Archived from the original on 3 December 2007. Retrieved 23 June 2007.
  6. ^ "Memorandum to prisons re Birches and Cats-o-nine tails". Prison Commission. 20 July 1951. PRO: HO 323/13.
  7. ^ "Prison mutiny men get 'cat'". Daily Mirror. London. 7 July 1954.
  8. ^ "1965: Ronald Biggs escapes from jail". BBC News. 8 July 1965.
  9. ^ a b c "Wandsworth prison, London". Capital Punishment U.K. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  10. ^ "The Execution of Lord Haw Haw at Wandsworth Prison in 1946". Another Nickel In The Machine. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  11. ^ "Inmates 'moved before jail check'". BBC News. 20 October 2009. Retrieved 26 October 2009.
  12. ^ Report on an unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Wandsworth (PDF) (Report). Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons. 4 March 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 15 May 2012 – via Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody.
  13. ^ Rawlinson, Kevin (4 May 2015). "Man arrested on suspicion of murder in Wandsworth prison". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  14. ^ Thomas, Ed & Titheradge, Noel (18 May 2016). "Inside Wandsworth prison: Drugs and tension". BBC News.
  15. ^ Allison, Eric (4 June 2017). "HMP Wandsworth loses reform prison status". The Guardian.
  16. ^ "X-ray body scanner not used at Wandsworth prison, report finds". BBC News. 13 July 2018.
  17. ^ a b "Film producers jailed for 'audacious' £2.2m film tax scam". The Guardian. 1 July 2016.
  18. ^ a b "A Bit of a Stretch". Curtis Brown.
  19. ^ Milmo, Cahal (7 January 2011). "Mongolia declares diplomatic war on Britain over arrested spy". The Independent. London. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  20. ^ "Wimbledon star Boris Becker jailed for two-and-a-half years over bankruptcy". Wandsworth Times. Retrieved 29 April 2022.
  21. ^ "Tappin returns to UK prison". ITV News. 30 September 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  22. ^ "What can David Chaytor expect now he has been sentenced?". The Guardian. London. 7 January 2011. Retrieved 7 January 2011.
  23. ^ France, Anthony (6 January 2021). "Drill rappers targeted by police for inciting violence and taunting victims". Evening Standard. Retrieved 1 October 2021.
  24. ^ Patterson, Joseph "JP" (24 November 2020). "Digga D: 'I've learnt from my mistakes'". BBC Three. Retrieved 1 October 2021.
  25. ^ Murray, Robin. "Why was Digga D's black lives matter protest shut down". Clash Music. Retrieved 1 October 2021.
  26. ^ Russell, Bertrand & Griffin, Nicholas (2002). The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Public Years, 1914-1970. London: Routledge. p. 62. ISBN 0415249988.
  27. ^ "Child molester Gary Glitter attacked by inmate just days after returning to jail". Daily Record. Glasgow. 15 February 2015. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  28. ^ "Graham Rix: 'No one will give me a job'". The Independent. 10 March 2013.
  29. ^ "Ike Ekweremadu: Nigerian faces trial over UK organ-harvesting plot". BBC News. 4 August 2022. Retrieved 14 August 2022.
  30. ^ Jones, Charlie (7 August 2022). "Doctor 'conspired with senator to traffic homeless man to UK to harvest organs'". mirror. Retrieved 14 August 2022.
  31. ^ Lewis, Anthony (19 July 1968). "Ray, on U.S. Plane, Leaves Britain". The New York Times. p. 16.
  32. ^ Davies, Caroline; Jones, Sam; Hirsch, Afua (8 December 2010). "Julian Assange denied bail over sexual assault allegations". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 8 December 2010.
  33. ^ Williams, Matt (16 December 2010). "Great to smell fresh air says freed Assange". The Independent. London. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
  34. ^ "Prison, football, family, the Samaritans and me: Mark Aizlewood on life after jail". Wales Online. Retrieved 17 July 2022.
  35. ^ "Max Clifford sentenced to eight years in prison". The Independent. London. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  36. ^ a b c Norrish, Mike (3 November 2011). "Pakistan spot-fixing scandal: live". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 4 November 2011.
  37. ^ Flood, Alison (13 May 2014). "Oscar Wilde's gift to governor who let him read in Reading gaol up for auction". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  38. ^ Clarke, Betty (30 July 2004). "Us against the world". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  39. ^ "Rolf Harris jailed for five years and nine months". BBC News. 4 July 2014. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  40. ^ Sharp, Aaron (19 July 2014). "Rolf Harris taken straight to cushy prison despite reports pervert would do hard time at tough jail". Daily Mirror. London. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  41. ^ "Fraudster escapes from one of Britain's most secure prisons by forging letter granting him bail". The Daily Telegraph. London. 27 March 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  42. ^ "The Kray Twins – He's My Brother". Court TV Crime Library. 2007. Archived from the original on 7 January 2007.
  43. ^ Petrie, Gordon (25 August 1983). "Headmaster was police spy in child-sex group". The Glasgow Herald. p. 1.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°27′00.5″N 0°10′39.5″W / 51.450139°N 0.177639°W / 51.450139; -0.177639