HM Prison Holloway

Coordinates: 51°33′15″N 00°07′30″W / 51.55417°N 0.12500°W / 51.55417; -0.12500
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Holloway (HM Prison))

HMP Holloway
Holloway Prison c. 1896
LocationHolloway, London, England
Coordinates51°33′15″N 00°07′30″W / 51.55417°N 0.12500°W / 51.55417; -0.12500
Security classAdult female/Young offenders
Population501 (as of January 2008[1])
Managed byHM Prison Services
WebsiteHolloway at

HM Prison Holloway was a closed category prison for adult women and young offenders in Holloway, London, England, operated by His Majesty's Prison Service. It was the largest women's prison in western Europe,[2] until its closure in 2016.


British police began using covert photography as a means to document suffragettes in Holloway Prison under falsified names, for later identification

Holloway prison was opened in 1852 as a mixed-sex prison,[3] but due to growing demand for space for female prisoners, particularly due to the closure of Newgate, it became female-only in 1903.

Before the First World War, Holloway was used to imprison those suffragettes who broke the law. These included Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Davison, Constance Markievicz (also imprisoned for her part in the Irish Rebellion), Charlotte Despard, Mary Richardson, Dora Montefiore, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, and Ethel Smyth.

In 1959, Joanna Kelley became Governor of Holloway.[4] Kelley ensured that long-term prisoners received the best accommodation and they were allowed to have their own crockery, pictures and curtains. The prison created "family" groups of prisoners, group therapy and psychiatrists to support some prisoners where required.[5]

In 1965, there was a change in responsibilities and the Probation Service was tasked with looking after prisoners once they had served their sentence. Kelley was not keen on the idea.[6] With Kelley's encouragement,[6] the Holloway Discharged Prisoners' Aide Society reformed into the Griffins Society, the name coming from the statues of two griffins that had been either side of the entrance gates to Holloway. The Griffins Society provided more services than its previous iteration, including accommodations for discharged prisoners, a meeting ground for imprisoned mothers and their children, a psychotherapy group, and a coffee bar. By 1994, the Society offered five hostels for discharged women, holding up to 65 women, and enabling a great deal of independence to former prisoners seeking to re-establish life after release. [7]

Until 1991, the Prison was staffed by Home Office appointed, female Prison Officers. Male hospital officers from Pentonville were on weekly secondments until 1976. Their mission was to provide support for the agency nurses who worked in Holloway. The first 'Male, basic grade' Prison Officer to be posted to HMP Holloway in its (Female inmates only) history, was Prison Officer (Trg) Thomas Ainsworth, who joined the establishment direct from HMP College Wakefield in May 1991.

After the death from suicide in January 2016 of inmate Sarah Reed, a paranoid schizophrenic being held on remand, the subsequent inquest in July 2017 identified failings in the care system. Shortly after Reed died, a report concluded she was unfit to plead at a trial.[8]


Holloway's Governor Joanna Kelley was promoted to assistant director of prisons (women) in 1966.[4] In 1967, they began to rebuild Holloway Prison. The previous design had been a "star" design where a single warder could oversee many potentially troublesome prisoners and then act promptly to summon assistance. Kelley felt this was wrong as at the time most women prisoners were not violent. It was her ideas that inspired the redesigned prison based on her experience as governor. The rebuilding was completed in 1977.[5] During that time she had become an OBE in 1973.[9] The new design allowed for "family" groups of sixteen prisoners. Her ideas were in the design of the buildings but her ideas were never enacted.[4]

Prison exterior in 2013

The redevelopment resulted in the loss of the "grand turreted" gateway to the prison, which had been built in 1851; architectural critic Gavin Stamp later regretted the loss and said that the climate of opinion at the time was such that the Victorian Society felt unable to object.[10]

Holloway visitor centre


Holloway Prison held female adults and young offenders remanded or sentenced by the local courts. Accommodation at the prison was mostly single cells; however, there was also some dormitory accommodation.

Holloway Prison offered both full-time and part-time education to inmates, with courses including skills training workshops, British Industrial Cleaning Science (BICS), gardening, and painting.

There was a family-friendly visitors' centre, run by the Prison Advice and Care Trust (pact), an independent charity.


The then-Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced in his Autumn Statement on 25 November 2015 that the prison would be closed and demolished and the land sold for housing.[11][2] It closed in July 2016, with the remaining prisoners being moved to HMP Downview and HMP Bronzefield, both in Surrey.[12]

As of September 2017, the prison buildings still stand, with draft proposals for the site including housing, a public open green space, playground, women's centre and a small amount of commercial space.[13]

Notable inmates[edit]


For decades, British campaigners had argued for votes for women. It was only when a number of suffragists, despairing of change through peaceful means, decided to turn to militant protest that the "suffragette" was born. These women broke the law in pursuit of their aims, and many were imprisoned at Holloway for their criminal activity. They were not treated as political prisoners, the authorities arguing they were imprisoned for their vandalism, not their opinions. In protest, some went on hunger strike and were force fed[3] so Holloway has a large symbolic role in the history of women's rights in the UK for those in sympathy with the movement. Suffragettes imprisoned there include Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Davison, Violet Mary Doudney, Katie Edith Gliddon, Isabella Potbury, Evaline Hilda Burkitt, Georgina Fanny Cheffins, Constance Bryer, Florence Tunks, Janie Terrero, Doreen Allen, Bertha Ryland, Katharine Gatty, Charlotte Despard, Janet Boyd, Genie Sheppard, Mary Ann Aldham, Mary Richardson, Muriel and Arabella Scott, Alice Maud Shipley, Katherine Douglas Smith, Dora Montefiore, Christabel Pankhurst,[14] Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Emily Townsend,[15] Leonora Tyson, Miriam Pratt,[16] Ethel Smyth and the American Alice Paul. Detainees later received the Holloway brooch. In 1912 the anthem of the suffragettes – "The March of the Women", composed by Ethel Smyth with lyrics by Cicely Hamilton – was performed there.[17]

Irish Republicans[edit]

Holloway held three important people closely associated with the Easter Rebellion of 1916: Maud Gonne, Kathleen Clarke and Constance Markievicz.


Holloway held Diana Mitford under Defence Regulation 18B during World War II, and after a personal intervention from Prime Minister Winston Churchill, her husband Sir Oswald Mosley was moved there. The couple lived together in a cottage in the prison grounds. They were released in 1943.

Norah Elam had the distinction of being detained during both World Wars, three times during 1914 as a suffragette prisoner under the name Dacre Fox, then as a detainee under Regulation 18B in 1940, when she was part of the social circle that gathered around the Mosleys during their early internment period. Later, after her release, Elam had the further distinction of being the only former member of the British Union of Fascists to be granted a visit with Oswald Mosley during his period of detention there.[18] Fridel Meyer was not a fascist, but was nevertheless held at Holloway in 1939 under Defence Regulation 18B for being German. She was released after six months following an intervention by barrister Norman Birkett.[19][20]


A total of five judicial executions by hanging took place at Holloway Prison between 1903 and 1955:

The double execution of Sach and Walters at Holloway Prison

The bodies of all executed prisoners were buried in unmarked graves within the walls of the prison, as was customary. In 1971 the prison underwent an extensive programme of rebuilding, during which the remains of all the executed women were exhumed. With the exception of Ruth Ellis (who was reburied in the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Old Amersham), the remains of the four other women were subsequently reburied in a single grave at Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, Surrey. In 2018, the remains of Edith Thompson were reburied in her parents' grave in the City of London Cemetery.

Other inmates[edit]

Noteworthy inmates that were held at the original 1852-era prison include Oscar Wilde,[21] William Thomas Stead, Isabella Glyn, F. Digby Hardy, Kitty Byron, Lady Ida Sitwell, wife of Sir George Sitwell, and Kate Meyrick the 'Night Club Queen'. Robber Zoe Progl became the first woman to escape over the wall of the prison in 1960.[22]

More recently it housed, in 1966, Moors murderess Myra Hindley; in 1967, Kim Newell, a Welsh woman who was involved in the Red Mini Murder; also in the late 1960s, National Socialist supporter Françoise Dior, charged with arson against synagogues; in 1977, American Joyce McKinney of the "Manacled Mormon case"; between 1991 and 1993, Michelle and Lisa Taylor, the sisters convicted of the murder of Alison Shaughnessy before being controversially released on appeal a year later;[23][24][25] Sheila Bowler, the music teacher wrongly imprisoned for the murder of her elderly aunt, was detained there before being transferred to Bullwood Hall;[26] and in 2002, Maxine Carr, who gave a false alibi for Soham murderer Ian Huntley. In 2000, Dena Thompson was also known to have been imprisoned at Holloway for attempted murder, before she was convicted of murdering another victim.[27] Sharon Carr, Britain's youngest female murderer who killed aged only 12, also spent time at Holloway.[28]

Other inmates included Linda Calvey, Chantal McCorkle, and Emma Humphreys.[29]

In 2014 disgraced judge and barrister Constance Briscoe began a 16-month sentence at the prison.[30]

Inspections, inquiries and reports[edit]

In October 1999, it was announced that healthcare campaigner and agony aunt Claire Rayner had been called in to advise on an improved healthcare provision at Holloway Prison. Rayner's appointment was announced after the introduction of emergency measures at the prison's healthcare unit after various failures.[31]

In September 2001, an inspection report from His Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons claimed that Holloway Prison was failing many of its inmates, mainly due to financial pressures. However, the report stated that the prison had improved in a number of areas, and praised staff working at the jail.[32]

In March 2002, Managers at Holloway were transferred to other prisons following an inquiry by the Prison Service. The inquiry followed a number of allegations from prison staff concerning sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation from managers. The inquiry supported some of these claims.[33]

An inspection report from in June 2003, stated that conditions had improved at Holloway Prison. However the report criticised levels of hygiene at the jail, as well as the lack of trained staff, and poor safety for inmates.[34] A further inspection report in September 2008 again criticised safety levels for inmates of Holloway, claiming that bullying and theft were rife at the prison. The report also noted high levels of self-harm and poor mental health among the inmates.[35]

A further inspection in 2010 again noted improvements but found that most prisoners said they felt unsafe and that there remained 35 incidents a week of self-harm.[36] The prison's operational capacity is 501.[1]

Sarah Reed case[edit]

On 11 January 2016, Sarah Reed, an inmate at Holloway, was found dead in her cell. Her family were told by prison staff that she had strangled herself while lying on her bed.[37] For The Observer, Yvonne Roberts wrote "Sarah's final days were harrowing. She was hallucinating, chanting, without the medication she had relied on for years, sleepless, complaining a demon punched her awake at night. She was on a basic regime, punishment for what was classed as bad behaviour. In spite of her mental and physical fragility, she was isolated, the cell hatch closed, without hot water, heating or a properly cleaned cell. 'For safety and security' a four-strong 'lockdown' team of prison officers delivered basic care."[38] Observations of Reed had been cut to only one an hour though she was obviously severely psychotic, had threatened suicide and had self harmed.[39] A prison officer told Reed's mother, "We deal with restraint and maintaining the law. We're not designed to deal with health issues."[40]

The jury at her inquest decided that Reed took her own life when the balance of her mind was disturbed, but were unclear whether she had intended to kill herself. They said failure to manage her medication and the failure to complete the fitness to plead assessment in a reasonable time were factors in her death. The jury were also concerned about how Reed was monitored and claimed Reed received inadequate treatment in prison for her distress.[41]

Deborah Coles of Inquest said: "Sarah Reed was a woman in torment, imprisoned for the sake of two medical assessments to confirm what was resoundingly clear, that she needed specialist care not prison. Her death was a result of multi-agency failures to protect a woman in crisis. Instead of providing her with adequate support, the prison treated her ill mental health as a discipline, control and containment issue."[41]

In popular culture[edit]


  • The 1953 movie, "Turn the Key Softly" featured Holloway Prison.
  • One of the characters in the 1997 Canadian sci-fi/horror movie Cube is named after Holloway Prison.




  • In the Thames Television series Rumpole Of The Bailey episode "Rumpole and the Alternative Society," the girl whom Rumpole was defending (until she admitted her guilt to him) was sentenced to three years imprisonment which she served at HM Holloway Prison.
  • In the TV series Upstairs, Downstairs, the second-season episode "A Special Mischief" has Elizabeth Bellamy joining a band of suffragettes who go out one night vandalising wealthy homes. Rose, the parlourmaid, follows them; they are apprehended by the police. Rose is mistakenly thought to be a suffragette and is put in a ladies' prison, and Holloway is very much implied. Elizabeth is spared going to jail as her bail is paid for by Julius Karekin, one of the rich men being targeted. Elizabeth and Karekin bail Rose out of prison.[44]

Caitlin Davies has written Bad Girls (published by John Murray), a history of Holloway Prison. The prison closed in July 2016; the site is being redeveloped for housing and a Women's Building as a transformative justice project. Davies was the only journalist granted access to the prison and its archives.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b "Holloway Prison information". HM Prison Service/HM Government Ministry Justice. 5 March 2012 [operational capacity as of 23 January 2008]. Archived from the original on 4 March 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Spending Review: Holloway prison closure announced". BBC News. 25 November 2015. Archived from the original on 21 April 2016. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Holloway Prison closure announced". BBC News. 25 November 2015. Archived from the original on 5 March 2020. Retrieved 26 June 2020.
  4. ^ a b c "Joanna Kelley". The Independent. 6 May 2003. Archived from the original on 30 June 2020. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Joanna Kelley". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Archived from the original on 28 June 2020. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  6. ^ a b Rumgay, Judith (2007). Ladies of Lost Causes: Rehabilitation, Women Offenders and the Voluntary Sector. Routledge. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-84392-298-8. Archived from the original on 2 January 2022. Retrieved 11 December 2020.
  7. ^ Heidensohn, Frances (11 January 2013). Gender and Justice. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-01414-9. Archived from the original on 2 January 2022. Retrieved 11 December 2020.
  8. ^ Taylor, Diane (20 July 2017). "Care failings contributed to death of woman in prison, inquest finds". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 15 September 2017. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  9. ^ "Joanna Kelley". The Daily Telegraph. London. 16 April 2003. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 28 June 2020. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  10. ^ Binney, Marcus (8 January 2011). "Victorian genius brought low by bombs and bulldozers". The Times. p. 93.
  11. ^ "Holloway Prison to close and be sold off for housing". Evening Standard. London. 26 November 2015. Archived from the original on 13 April 2016. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  12. ^ "First prisoners moved to Downview as Holloway closes". BBC News. 3 May 2016. Archived from the original on 24 October 2018. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  13. ^ "Have your say on plans for the future of the Holloway Prison site" (Press release). Islington Borough Council. August 2017.
  14. ^ "Christabel Pankhurst". Archived from the original on 16 May 2015. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  15. ^ "Caroline Townshend". Woman and her Sphere. Retrieved 8 January 2022.
  16. ^ "Miriam Pratt". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 24 May 2023.
  17. ^ Collis, Louise (1984). Impetuous Heart. The story of Ethel Smyth. ISBN 0-7183-0543-4.
  18. ^ McPherson, Angela; McPherson, Susan (2011). Mosley's Old Suffragette – A Biography of Norah Elam. ISBN 978-1-4466-9967-6. Archived from the original on 13 January 2012.
  19. ^ Eichenmuller, Pascale (5 February 2021). "A Little German Girl' — Fridel Meyer's attempt to circumnavigate the UK". Performance Sea Kayak. Retrieved 22 December 2022.
  20. ^ Byde, Alan (April–May 2002). "Fridel Meyer" (PDF). The Sea Canoeist Newsletter (98): 18. Retrieved 1 January 2023.
  21. ^ "Six things you never knew about Holloway". Archived from the original on 19 October 2019. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  22. ^ "Police Capture 'ZIppy' Zoe Progl". Latrobe Bulletin (page 1). 3 September 1960. Archived from the original on 13 December 2021. Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  23. ^ "Exclusive: 'What justice? There is none' – Lisa Taylor, one of the two sisters wrongly imprisoned for the murder of Alison Shaughnessy, talks to Melanie McFadyean". The Independent. 21 August 1993. Retrieved 4 August 2022.
  24. ^ "ALISON WAS STABBED, BUT I LOST MY LIFE TOO; Woman cleared of Irish murder tells of her pain". The Free Library. 3 February 2002. Retrieved 4 August 2022.
  25. ^ O'Mahoney, Bernard; McGovern, Mick (2001). The Dream Solution: The Murder of Alison Shaughnessy – and the Fight to Name her killers. Random House. ISBN 9781780574486.
  26. ^ Grania Langdon-Down (6 February 1998). "'If I had been sent back to prison, I would have died' – Life & Style". The Independent. Archived from the original on 27 July 2015. Retrieved 26 December 2012.
  27. ^ "Bondage case wife is jailed". The Argus. 18 August 2000. Archived from the original on 26 November 2021. Retrieved 26 November 2021.
  28. ^ "Carr, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice [2020]" (Legal application for Judicial Review). casemine. England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court). 11 March 2020. Retrieved 21 May 2022.
  29. ^ For Humphreys, see Mills, Heather (20 December 1995). "Sickening sight of rat-infested jail". The Independent. Archived from the original on 4 December 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  30. ^ Sanderson, David. "Judge jails 'arrogant' liar Briscoe for 16 months". Archived from the original on 2 January 2022. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  31. ^ "Prison calls in Claire Rayner". BBC. 5 October 1999. Archived from the original on 20 August 2003. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  32. ^ "Inmates 'neglected' in women's prison". BBC. 28 September 2001. Archived from the original on 17 April 2004. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  33. ^ "Managers moved from women's prison". BBC. 15 March 2002. Archived from the original on 20 May 2004. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  34. ^ "Women's jail 'still has problems'". BBC. 30 March 2005. Archived from the original on 10 January 2006. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  35. ^ "Bullying 'rife' in women's prison". BBC. 15 September 2008. Archived from the original on 2 January 2022. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  36. ^ "Prison life: what Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce face now". The Week. 11 March 2013. Archived from the original on 14 March 2013. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
  37. ^ Dearden, Lizzie (3 February 2016). "Sarah Reed: Woman who had been victim of police brutality found dead in prison cell". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2 January 2022. Retrieved 23 January 2021.
  38. ^ Roberts, Yvonne (30 July 2017). "I sleep at peace at night because I know I fought for my daughter to the very last". The Observer. Archived from the original on 11 January 2021. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  39. ^ Taylor, Diane (4 July 2017). "Mentally ill woman died in cell after monitoring was reduced, inquest hears". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 9 November 2020. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  40. ^ Gentleman, Amelia; Gayle, Damien (17 February 2016). "Sarah Reed's mother: 'My daughter was failed by many and I was ignored'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 22 November 2020. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  41. ^ a b Taylor, Diane (20 July 2017). "Care failings contributed to death of woman in prison, inquest finds". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 20 November 2020. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  42. ^ George, Elizabeth (1994). Playing for the Ashes (trade paperback ed.). New York: Bantam Books. p. 674. ISBN 978-0-553-38549-6.
  43. ^ The Kinks – Holloway Jail, archived from the original on 3 March 2020, retrieved 26 June 2020
  44. ^ – Upstairs, Downstairs: A Special Mischief Archived 6 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 30 September 2014

External links[edit]