Site of 164-year-old Holloway Women’s Prison where suffragettes were force fed will be turned into nearly 1,000 homes in 14 multi-storey blocks
- Fourteen buildings up to 14 storeys in height are expected to be constructed
- Holloway Women’s Prison has stood empty since it was closed in 2016
- Developer Peabody’s is expected to build 985 residential home on the site
- A park, sensory garden, Women’s Building and commercial spaces are planned
The 164-year-old Holloway Women’s Prison could be turned into nearly 1,000 homes after a planning application was submitted today.
Fourteen buildings up to 14 storeys in height are expected to be constructed on the site of the former women’s prison – five years after it last housed inmates.
The institution, which was once the largest women’s prison in Europe, housed suffragettes during the time they were force fed while taking part in hunger strikes to campaign for the right to vote in the early 20th century.
The jail first opened in 1852 before becoming the UK’s first female-only prison in 1902, going on to house infamous inmates including murderers Myra Hindley and Rose West.
It also hosted a third of all female executions in the UK in the 20th Century. It is where Ruth Ellis was hanged in 1955 after being sentenced to death for shooting her lover outside a pub.
The prison was completely rebuilt between 1971 and 1985 on the same site to modernise its facilities and around 500 women were kept in its cells at any given time.
The developer Peabodys will flatten the area once again, but plans to keep a nod to its past with a Women’s Building where troubled women can access support. Parks, a sensory garden and commercial spaces also feature in the design.
Fourteen buildings up to 14 storeys in height are expected to be constructed on the site of the former women’s prison – five years after it last housed inmates
The developer Peabodys will keep a nod to its past with a Women’s Building where women can access support. Parks, a sensory garden and commercial spaces are also planned
Suffragettes, including Emmeline Pankhurst (pictured) and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, had been force-fed after going on hunger strike during their time there. Left, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, another suffragette
Fourteen buildings up to 14 storeys in height are expected to be constructed on the site of the former women’s prison – five years after it last housed inmates. Pictured, the prison in 1853
In an effort to stay green the developers have drawn up proposals for more than 2,000 bicycle storage spaces.
In 2015, when announcing plans to close the prison, the then Justice Secretary Michael Gove described it as ‘inadequate and antiquated’ and cited inspection reports that noted the ‘size and poor design make it a very difficult establishment to run’.
He said women could be held on remand in the more modern HMP Bronzefield in Surrey instead.
The buildings will be various heights, with one planned to stand 14 storeys high
Holloway Prison, pictured, was first opened in 1852, and has been home to a number of notorious inmates
In 2019 the sire was sold by the Ministry of Justice to the housing association Peabody for £81million. This is what is could look like once work is finished
In 2019 the prison was sold by the Ministry of Justice to the housing association Peabody for £81million.
Building work will start at the end of 2022 and after it finishes the site will be opened to the public for the first time.
Peabody was lent £42million by the Mayor of London’s Land Fund, on the condition that 60 percent homes on the site are social rented and genuinely affordable.
Peabody’s designs for the site include 985 new homes and a new 1.5 acre park.
Most of the social homes will be two and three-bedrooms for families, and there will also be 60 extra care one-bedroom homes.
Peabody and Islington Council are also proposing a 1,400 sqm community building for women to access support services, which they say will ‘provide a fitting legacy for the site’
Designs for the women’s building will see a single storey used underneath a residential block, which one architect said was ‘dismissive, arrogant and patronising’.
Peabody was lent £42million by the Mayor of London’s Land Fund, on the condition that 60 percent homes on the site are social rented and genuinely affordable
The plans have been criticised by Community Plan for Holloway and prominent female architects.
The women’s building will only be a single storey taken from a floor underneath a residential block, which one architect said was ‘dismissive, arrogant and patronising’.
Sarah Akigbogun, vice-chair of Women in Architecture UK, called it ‘another example of the marginalisation of women’s needs but also of women in the construction and the procurement processes’.
Local Islington architect Sarah Wigglesworth said: ‘Women should design and build this building. This would empower and skill up a generation of construction professionals and show that construction is a viable – even desirable – occupation for girls and women.’
Holloway hosted five executions between 1903 and 1955, which made up a third of all the female hangings in Britain in the 20th Century.
The first women to be hanged were Amelia Sachs and Annie Walters, the last double hanging of women in British history.
The pair ran a house in Finchley where they told women they could adopt unwanted babies, but actually poisoned the children with morphine.
It is thought they murdered some 20 babies and they were executed at the prison before being buried in unmarked graves in the prison grounds.
Prisoner sweeps the floor of the prison. Holloway hosted five executions between 1903 and 1955, which made up a third of all the female hangings in Britain in the 20th Century
Although more women spent time in Holloway’s ‘condemned cell’, the 1957 Homicide Act led to the commuting of all following death sentences. Pictured, a prisoner
The prison was knocked down and rebuilt in the 1970s to make it more fit for purpose
The grounds have stood empty since the site was closed in 2016
Edith Thompson was another controversial case in 1923 after she was executed for the murder of husband Percy, committed with lover Freddie Bywaters, with her conviction based upon a series of love letters exchanged with Bywaters.
Then 31 years later 51-year-old Greek woman Styllou Pantopiou Christofi was sentenced to death for murdering her German daughter-in-law Hella Bleicher at her Hampstead flat out of jealousy of her relationship with son Stavros.
Christofi hit the younger woman over the head with a pan before strangling her and trying to dispose of her body by burning it. She was found guilty of murder at the Old Bailey and executed in December 1954.
Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be executed in Britain in 1955 for the murder of her boyfriend David Blakely.
After he refused to see her, she lay in wait outside the Magdala pub in north London and shot him five times.
A former model and nightclub hostess, she was arrested by an off-duty police officer, quickly convicted and then hanged at Holloway.
Serial killer Rose West (right), who was convicted of 10 murders in 1995, was briefly an inmate at the prison. Left, Myra Hindley, who carried out the Moors murders with Ian Brady, was imprisoned at Holloway in 1966
Maxine Carr, girlfriend of Soham murderer Ian Huntley, spent time at the prison after admitting perverting the course of justice when she gave Huntley a false alibi to police investigating the murders of 10-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman
Thousands signed a petition urging her sentence to be commuted and her family had campaigned to have her conviction changed from murder to manslaughter on grounds of provocation, arguing Mr Blakely hit her and caused her to have a miscarriage.
On the day of her execution a crowd of some 500 people gathered outside Holloway, with some banging on the doors urging Ellis to pray with them.
Although more women spent time in Holloway’s ‘condemned cell’, the 1957 Homicide Act led to the commuting of all following death sentences.
Initially the death chamber was an ‘execution shed’ erected near B wing, that included gallows that allowed for two people to be hanged side by side.
In the 1930s, a new ‘condemned suite’ was built comprising a spacious cell that was just 15 paces away from the execution chamber.
Myra Hindley, who carried out the Moors murders with Ian Brady, was imprisoned at Holloway in 1966 after being found guilty of killing children Edward Evans, Lesley Ann Downey and John Kilbride in what is now Greater Manchester in the early 1960s.
Serial killer Rose West, who was convicted of 10 murders in 1995, was also briefly an inmate at the prison.
Maxine Carr, girlfriend of Soham murderer Ian Huntley, spent time at the prison after admitting perverting the course of justice when she gave Huntley a false alibi to police investigating the murders of 10-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.
Horrors that haunt Holloway: The untold stories of its infamous inmates including suffragettes, notorious murderers and even one woman who knocked off so many husbands she asked for an undertaker’s discount
Mary Elizabeth Wilson (pictured) was a remarkably cheerful character
For a woman who had buried three husbands in the space of only two years, Mary Elizabeth Wilson was a remarkably cheerful character.
At the funeral of her third spouse, a wealthy estate agent who died only 12 days after their wedding in Newcastle in the summer of 1957, she jokingly suggested that the undertaker should give her a ‘trade discount’.
Neither did her ‘humour’ appear much dimmed when, only a few months later, she married husband number four, Ernest. Some sandwiches and cakes were left over at the wedding reception, and when a friend asked what she wanted to do with them, Mary had a ready reply.
‘Keep them for Ernest’s funeral. They’ll still be fresh enough,’ she quipped.
Her new husband laughed with her, but within two weeks he too was dead — dispatched with rat poison, although not before his new bride had ensured that she would inherit his bungalow and a tidy sum in life insurance.
She might have got away with the murder, had her breezy attitude towards widowhood not aroused the suspicions of the local police. In 1958, after two of her husbands’ bodies revealed high levels of poison upon exhumation, 64-year-old Wilson was found guilty of their murders. She was spared the death penalty only because of her age.
Wilson died in 1963, living out the last five years of her life at Holloway Prison, that forbidding North London institution which for more than 150 years has been home to some of the most notorious female inmates in Britain.
Amelia Dyer (pictured) was a Bristol-born midwife whose trial in 1896 was one of the most sensational of its time and turned her into a household name and even the subject of popular songs
Few will mourn the passing of the grim jail that serves as a reminder of the evils perpetrated in this world, not just by such infamous 20th century hate figures as Myra Hindley but by twisted women whose crimes date back as far as the Victorian era.
Take, for example, Amelia Dyer — a Bristol-born midwife whose trial in 1896 was one of the most sensational of its time and turned her into a household name and even the subject of popular songs.
Operating under various aliases, she purported to run a fostering service, telling unmarried mothers that for a fee of £10 — a sizeable sum in those days — she would take their unwanted babies and ensure that they were placed in comfortable middle-class homes.
Instead, she strangled the infants with lengths of white dressmaking tape and dumped their bodies in rivers. She was caught only when one of the corpses resurfaced and the police were able to make out her address from a label on the wrapping paper she had used for a shroud.
It was later suggested that she might have killed as many as 300 infants and, despite her plea of insanity, it took a jury only four-and-a-half minutes to find her guilty. Although she was incarcerated in Holloway during her trial, she had to be hanged at nearby Newgate because at that point Holloway did not have its own gallows.
This was soon remedied and a total of five women would subsequently face the hangman’s rope at Holloway.
Ruth Ellis (pictured) was the last woman to be executed in Britain in 1955 for the murder of her boyfriend David Blakely
The first two were Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, better known as the ‘Finchley Baby Farmers’ after the North London suburb in which they operated. Their motive and modus operandi were almost identical to that of Dyer but they plied their terrible trade by poisoning, rather than strangling, the dozens of babies unfortunate enough to fall into their hands.
When they were eventually brought to trial in 1903, the evidence against them included the huge quantity of baby clothes found at their homes.
Amelia Sach protested her innocence to the end. The executioner Henry Pierrepoint noted that she collapsed in her cell on the day of her death and had to be carried to the scaffold crying and screaming. By contrast, Annie Walters seemed unperturbed as she was hooded next to her accomplice.
‘Goodbye, Sach,’ she called calmly as Pierrepoint opened the trapdoor and dispatched the two of them in what became the last double female hanging in Britain.
The next woman to be hanged there was 29-year-old Edith Thompson, a scarlet woman who took a rather imaginative approach to murder. In 1923, the fashion buyer from London was convicted of inciting her lover, an 18-year-old sailor named Freddie Bywaters, to kill her husband Percy.
Holloway was home to some rowdy scenes over the years including this rooftop protest by Pat Breslin, 18
In love letters produced by the prosecution at her trial, she admitted lacing her husband’s mashed potato with fragments of glass from a crushed lighbulb, along with a hefty dose of poison.
When this failed to do the trick, it was agreed that the Thompsons would attend a show at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus, and that Bywaters would drag Percy into a bush as they made their way home and stab him. This he did, paying the price when he and Edith were hanged simultaneously — she at Holloway, and he at nearby Pentonville — in 1923.
Of course, it was not only murderers who passed through the door of Holloway. A number of famous political prisoners were incarcerated, some receiving more favourable treatment than others.
Suffragettes, including Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, had been force-fed after going on hunger strike during their time there. But Lady Mosley, the beautiful wife of British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, had a rather different experience of prison life.
When the former Diana Mitford was imprisoned for her fascist sympathies during World War II, her friendship with Winston Churchill ensured that she and her husband were allowed to live in a cottage in Holloway’s grounds, with other inmates acting as their domestic staff. It was said that the handsome Sir Oswald drove the female inmates to distraction by stripping off his shirt to sunbathe, and their more lenient treatment caused great controversy at the time.
There was little such outcry when, in 1954, a Greek Cypriot woman named Styllou Christofi became the fourth woman to hang at Holloway, convicted of killing her daughter-in-law by bashing her across the back of a head with a shovel.
It was far from the perfect crime to begin with, given that it was carried out in the home they shared. Blood was spattered everywhere, and Christofi’s fate was sealed when she tried to get rid of the body by dousing it in paraffin and setting it alight in a misguided attempt at cremation.
She set the whole house ablaze, and the discovery of the battered and charred corpse led to her mounting the scaffold at Holloway in December 1954, just seven months ahead of Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in Britain.
A 28-year-old mother of two, she was convicted of the murder of her playboy lover, David Blakely, after shooting him four times outside the Magdala pub in Hampstead, North London.
A similar fate might have awaited Myra Hindley, perhaps Holloway’s most infamous resident. But in November 1965, a month after she and her lover Ian Brady had been arrested for the Moors Murders and while they were awaiting trial, the carrying out of the death penalty was halted, ahead of its abolition in 1969 — partly owing to the outcry over the death of Ruth Ellis.
There was little such outcry when, in 1954, a Greek Cypriot woman named Styllou Christofi became the fourth woman to hang at Holloway, convicted of killing her daughter-in-law by bashing her across the back of a head with a shovel
Many would have been glad to see her on the gallows but Hindley clearly believed that she did not deserve even a life sentence, at one point attempting one of the most audacious escape attempts in Holloway’s history. In this, she was helped by Pat Cairns, a lesbian police warder who became her lover.
The plan, hatched in 1973 but only revealed decades later when official files were opened, was for the two of them to flee to Brazil, which had no extradition treaty with Britain.
They took passport photos of Hindley, who wore a wig when posing for them in the prison chapel, and also made impressions of the prison’s master keys in bars of pink Camay soap, smuggled out of the prison in an old tea packet.
The idea was to have metal copies made by an accomplice outside, and the plan was foiled only when the parcel was intercepted by police, suspicious that it might be a bomb at a time when the IRA were terrorising the British mainland.
Hindley would later be moved to other prisons, ending her days at Suffolk in 2003, but there would be no shortage of other evildoers to take her place — most notably the serial killer Rosemary West, who was convicted of ten murders in 1995. Her husband, Fred West, killed himself in his cell while on remand at Winson Green prison in Birmingham.
She has long been transferred elsewhere but for the moment Holloway remains a hulking and formidable presence.
Of those who were executed at Holloway, there is no longer any physical trace, their remains long disinterred from their graves in its grounds and removed to a cemetery in Surrey. But demolition alone will do little to erase the memories of this prison’s dark and terrible past.
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