Duke Street Prison
Duke Street Prison first opened its doors in 1798 in the center of Glasgow, Scotland. Designed to implement the “separate system” of housing prisoners in isolation, the layout consisted of narrow corridors with separate cells on each side. The prison quickly filled with inmates from around the wider region.
Local offenders from Glasgow and nearby towns comprised the first prisoners sentenced to serve time here. Petty criminals, debtors, and others found themselves locked within the confines of this aging facility in subsequent decades.
Role as a Women’s Prison
As Glasgow expanded its prison system in the late 1800s, Duke Street Prison transitioned into primarily housing female prisoners. Their protests over dismal conditions contributed to future reforms.
Appointing a Female Governor
In 1946, the Hon Victoria Alexandrina Katherine Bruce became the first woman appointed as Governor of a Scottish women’s prison when she assumed leadership of Duke Street. This represented progress for the status of women in the field.
Campaigners Jailed Here
The cramped cells of Duke Street held numerous political activists and suffragettes fighting for women’s voting rights in the early 20th century. Their first-hand experiences fueled their reform efforts.
Jailed suffragettes like Ethel Moorhead and Dorothea Chalmers Smith staged hunger strikes and smashed windows to draw attention to their cause. They endured prison staff retaliation as they demanded recognition as political prisoners.
Incarcerated for 60 days for refusing to pay national insurance, Scottish nationalist Wendy Wood emerged focused on improving prison conditions. She actively lobbied authorities up through Duke Street’s closure in 1955.
Executions at Duke Street
As one of Glasgow’s main prisons for over 150 years, Duke Street Prison hosted 12 death penalty hangings between 1902-1928. Those executed had been convicted of murder.
Last Woman Executed
Susan Newell met her demise at the end of a Duke Street rope in 1923, becoming the last woman in Scotland to face capital punishment. Convicted of strangling a young paperboy, her execution revived debate over this practice.
Closure and Demolition
By the mid-20th century, the subpar state of Duke Street Prison could no longer be maintained. After the transfer of prisoners to more modern facilities, demolition commenced despite some community objections.
Transfer of Prisoners
Male inmates moved to Barlinnie Prison in 1882 once its expanded capacity opened up. Women prisoners got shifted to other institutions by 1955, paving the way for Duke Street’s closure after 157 years of operation.
Demolition work on the outdated prison structure began in 1958. Within a few years, most traces of the prison vanished as the land got cleared for redevelopment.
Former Site Today
The former location of Duke Street Prison is now occupied by the Ladywell housing scheme constructed between 1961-1964. A small portion of the old boundary wall still remains standing.
While long gone, Duke Street Prison had lasting impacts that resonated far beyond its demolished walls.
Impact on Prison Reform
The substandard conditions brought to light by former inmates raised awareness and sparked improvements in Scotland’s prison system. Campaigners called for more humane prisoner treatment.
Items Preserved from Prison
Some relics found new life, like a cast iron umbrella stand painted by imprisoned suffragettes. Housed at the Glasgow Women’s Library, it serves as a symbol of their resolve and resistance.
Suffragette Umbrella Stand
This multicolored stand sat in the office of a sympathetic prison Governess. Salvaged before Duke Street’s fate, its unique history inspired donation to the women’s library and even a fictional short story.
For over 150 years, the formidable facade of Duke Street Prison presented a stark sight in Glasgow. As the women’s shouts and protests slowly faded after its closure, their legacy lived on through prison reforms and commemorative artifacts like the colorful suffragette umbrella stand on display today. Though the prison only exists now in historical records, it will remain interwoven with the regional fabric as a site of suffering that ultimately brought progress.
What years was Duke Street Prison open?
Duke Street Prison operated from 1798 until its demolition in 1958, just over 150 years.
Why did it close?
By the mid-20th century, Duke Street could no longer be maintained as standards and expectations for prisons evolved. Its prisoners got transferred to more modern facilities before demolition.
Who was the last woman executed there?
Susan Newell, convicted of murdering a young paperboy, met her death by hanging at Duke Street Prison in 1923. She was the last woman executed in Scotland.
What gets built on the former prison site?
The land is now occupied by the Ladywell housing scheme constructed between 1961-1964. Part of the old boundary wall still stands.
Where is the suffragette umbrella stand today?
The cast iron stand, painted by imprisoned suffragettes, resides in the collections at the Glasgow Women’s Library. It represents their perseverance and impact.