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 1279 (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 in who in turn erected 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, whose ground floor was finished as winter began. Construction was completed in 1891.[1]


During World War II the prison was taken over by the War Department and the prisoners evacuated. 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. 60 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. He had described Wormwood Scrubs as a "penal dustbin" in a letter to The Times.

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 (three later won appeals against conviction). The Prison Service paid over £3 million 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 and regime 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 only 36% of eligible inmates were involved in education or prison work.[2]

In November 2008, another report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector stated that conditions at Wormwood Scrubs Prison had deteriorated since the last inspection. Heightened prison gang activity had been detected, and 20% 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. A 2014 report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons was critical of the prison, describing it as "filthy". The inspectors 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 plus 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 stabilization 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 who provide a selection of consumables for purchase by the prisoners.

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

Visitor centre of the prison

The prison is rat and cockroach infested and overcrowded. Some prisoners are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, there is poor support for prisoners on release. 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]

Notable former inmates[edit]

In popular culture[edit]


  • Death of a Train (1946) An Inspector French Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts
  • Author Sarah Waters published the book "The Night Watch" (No. 1 Bestseller) in 2006, one of the main characters had served his sentence at the Scrubs prison.
  • Journalist Peter Wildeblood was imprisoned in the prison 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 Figure-head, by Danil Koretsky (Данил Корецкий, Подставная фигура). The parents of the principal protagonist are held in HMP Wormwood 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, when someone is shown being released from prison, the front entrance of Wormwood Scrubs is frequently chosen as a filming location, e.g.

A documentary entitled Wormwood Scrubs was aired on ITV1 in May 2010. It showed the life of the prisoners and staff over a two part series.


  • 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.
  • Comedian 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]


External links[edit]