HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs

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Coordinates: 51°31′0″N 0°14′25″W / 51.51667°N 0.24028°W / 51.51667; -0.24028

Her Majesty's Prison Wormwood Scrubs
Main gate to the HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs in spring 2013 (2).JPG
Entrance to Wormwood Scrubs Prison
Location Wormwood Scrubs, London
Security class Adult Male/Category B
Population 1,279 (as of 22 December 2015)
Opened 1874–75
Managed by HM Prison Services
Governor Steve Bradford
Website Wormwood Scrubs at

HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs (informally "The Scrubs") is a Category B men's prison located in the Wormwood Scrubs area of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, in inner West London, England. The prison is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service.


19th century[edit]

The initial steps in the winter of 1874 involved the construction of a small prison made of corrugated iron and a temporary shed to serve as a barracks for the warders. Nine specially picked prisoners, all within a year of release, completed the buildings, after which 50 more prisoners were brought to erect a second temporary prison wing. Building then began on the permanent prison, with bricks being manufactured on site. By the summer of 1875, enough bricks had been prepared to build the prison's first block and its ground floor was finished as winter began. Construction was completed in 1891.[1]

The Second World War[edit]

During the Second World War, the prison was taken over by the War Department and the prisoners were evacuated to other prisons. It was used as secure office space for the duration of hostilities, and housed MI5 and MI8.

Modern era[edit]

In 1979, IRA prisoners staged a rooftop protest over visiting rights. Sixty inmates and several prison officers were injured. In 1982, an inquiry blamed much of the difficulties on failings in prison management. The Governor, John McCarthy, had quit before the rioting. In a letter to The Times, he had described Wormwood Scrubs as a "penal dustbin".

General view to the prison from park

In the 1990s, a police investigation into allegations of staff brutality resulted in the suspension of 27 prison officers and the conviction of six for assault, though three later won appeals against conviction. The Prison Service paid out more than three million pounds in out-of-court settlements with ex-prisoners who had alleged brutality. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons delivered a damning report on the conditions, in which the prison was told to improve or close.

In March 2004, a further report from the Chief inspector stated that Wormwood Scrubs had greatly improved after making fundamental changes. Three quarters of inmates at the prison had said that staff treated them with respect, which was better than the national average. However, the report also stated that inmates spent too much time in their cells, and that only 36 per cent of eligible inmates were involved in education or work.[2]

In November 2008, another report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector stated that conditions at Wormwood Scrubs had deteriorated since the last inspection. Heightened prison gang activity had been detected, and 20 percent of prisoners had failed drugs tests.[3]

On 10 March 2009, the prison was listed as a Grade II building, principally because of its distinctive gatehouse.[4]

Major structural changes to the prison's management took place in 2013. In 2014, another report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons was critical of the prison, describing it as "filthy". The inspectors also stated that there had been a failure to put into place recommendations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman to deal with suicide and self-harm. The Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, a charitable body, said "I have never seen a public service deteriorate so rapidly and so profoundly."[5]

The prison today[edit]

Building inside the prison area

Wormwood Scrubs is a Category B prison for adult males, sentenced or on remand from the local courts. The prison has five main wings and a number of smaller dedicated units. All the accommodation has electricity and integral sanitation with a TV and accompanying bedroom furniture:

  • A wing – remand and sentenced prisoners
  • B wing – induction wing
  • C wing – prisoners on an Intensive Drug Treatment Service
  • D wing – high risk prisoner requiring single cells
  • E wing – for prisoners attending Education
  • Super enhanced wing – enhanced prisoners who are considered to be trustworthy
  • Conibeere Unit – prisoners who require a substance misuse stabilisation regime
  • First Night Centre – for prisoners during their first day(s) in custody

There is a contracted prison shop previously run by Aramark, but now run by DHL, which provides a selection of consumables for purchase by prisoners.

The two oval plaster reliefs on the front of the prison depict Elizabeth Fry and John Howard, both well known figures in prison reform.

Visitor centre of the prison

The prison is infested with rats and cockroaches, and is overcrowded. Some prisoners are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day. The prison is dangerous for staff and inmates, prisoners outnumber prison officers, and officers are concerned for their safety. There are 40 to 50 violent incidents a month and violence is increasing.[6] [7] Peter Clarke described “an extremely concerning picture” including, “intractable failings” continuing since earlier inspections from 2014.[8]

In 2018, a prisoner was stabbed to death and three other prisoners were charged with his murder.[9]

Notable former inmates[edit]

In popular culture[edit]


  • Death of a Train (1946) An Inspector French Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts
  • One of the main characters in Sarah Waters's novel "The Night Watch" (2006) served his sentence at the Scrubs.
  • Peter Wildeblood was imprisoned in the Scrubs in 1954. His book "Against the Law", in which he describes his trial and imprisonment, was described in the New Statesman as "the noblest, and wittiest, and most appalling prison book of them all".
  • The prison is mentioned in the Russian novel Figurehead, by Danil Koretsky (Данил Корецкий, Подставная фигура). The parents of the principal character are held in the Scrubs and are unsuccessfully sought-out by the Russian SVR.
  • Bunny Manders, the narrator of the A. J. Raffles stories by E. W. Hornung, serves his sentence at Wormwood Scrubs.

Film and television[edit]

In films and TV programmes set in Britain the front entrance of Wormwood Scrubs is frequently chosen as a location for scenes showing a character being released from prison, as, for example, in:

A two-part documentary, Wormwood Scrubs, was shown on ITV1 in May 2010.


  • Gary Moore is shown at the prison entrance on the cover of the 1978 album, Back on the Streets.
  • The prison is mentioned in The Jam's hit song, "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight" and in Billy Bragg's 'Rotting on Remand' from the Workers Playtime album.
  • The Pete Doherty song "Broken Love Song" is about the singer's tenure in the prison in early 2008.
  • Spike Milligan recorded "The Wormwood Scrubs Tango" about an elderly car thief in the prison.
  • In the mid 1980s three Prison Officers and three 'Lifers' were the members of a rock band known as 'The Scrubs' who made two records for charity. The first record, "Battle", was based on an idea for a song originally written by one of the lifers and then co-written with Tug Wilsson, one of the prison Officers and front-man of the band. The second record, "Time For You", was written by Tug Wilsson who claimed it had taken him only seven minutes to write and had taken the band only ten minutes to learn.[citation needed]
  • Gorillaz bassist Murdoc Niccals is currently located here as an inmate.


External links[edit]