hm prison holloway

HM Prison Holloway

HM Prison Holloway first opened in 1852 as a mixed-sex prison in London. However, due to growing demand for space for female prisoners, it eventually became female-only in 1903. In the early years, it held both men and women from the local courts who were either on remand or had been sentenced. The original design was a “star” layout so guards could easily monitor prisoners.

Suffragettes and Activists Jailed There (1900s-1930s)

Before World War I, Holloway became well known for imprisoning suffragettes fighting for women’s right to vote. These activists, who were jailed for crimes related to their protests, included famous names like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison. Irish republican activists and fascists were also held at Holloway in the early 1900s.

Rebuilding Holloway Prison (1960s-1970s)

In the 1960s, Holloway underwent major rebuilding to update its facilities. This was overseen by Governor Joanna Kelley, who wanted to move away from the harsh “star” design. The new Holloway was centered around “family” units of prisoners with a more rehabilitative focus. However, many of Kelley’s progressive reforms were not fully implemented.

See also  HM Prison Wandsworth

Notable Inmates Over the Years

In addition to the suffragettes, many other high-profile women prisoners served time at Holloway. These included Fascist Diana Mitford in WWII, Moors Murderer Myra Hindley in the 1960s, and Maxine Carr, who provided Ian Huntley a false alibi in the 2000s.

Conditions and Controversies

While Holloway moved towards more modern conditions, it still faced criticism over the years for issues like overcrowding, safety, hygiene and healthcare. There were a number of inquiries into conditions at the prison. The 2016 death of inmate Sarah Reed, where she was poorly cared for, contributed to Holloway’s closure.

Closure of Holloway Prison (2010s)

Due to the aging facilities and ongoing issues, the decision was made to close Holloway Prison in 2016. The remaining inmates were transferred to other prisons. The closure ended over 150 years of history at Holloway.

Life Inside Holloway Prison

Daily Routine for Inmates

Life inside Holloway was structured around a strict routine. Inmates were housed in single or dormitory-style cells. Mornings started early with breakfast, followed by work duties or education programs. Prisoners got one hour of exercise in the yard and two meals a day. Evenings were for recreation, religious services, or educational classes.

Education and Rehabilitation Programs

Holloway offered a range of education courses and skills training to inmates, including gardening, painting, cooking and industrial cleaning. There were also group therapies and counseling sessions focused on rehabilitation. However, overcrowding sometimes limited participation.

Prison Work Programs

Inmates who were not taking classes often worked prison jobs, like kitchen duty, laundry, or cleaning. These programs taught useful skills but were unpaid.

See also  Shrewsbury Prison

Education Courses

Academic education like math or English classes were available at Holloway, along with vocational courses in sewing, typing or hairdressing. Inmates could study for GCSEs and other qualifications.

Visitation and Communication

Prisoners were allowed restricted visits from family and friends. There was also a dedicated visitor’s center run by a charity, where children could safely see their mothers. Letters and phone calls were permitted, providing a lifeline to the outside world.

Healthcare and Mental Health Services

Holloway struggled with providing medical and mental health services at times due to lack of funding and resources. Long waiting lists for mental health treatment were an ongoing issue. However, there was access to doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, and group counseling programs.

Impact and Legacy of Holloway Prison

Important Role in Women’s History

As Britain’s largest women’s prison for many years, Holloway played a major role in the history of women’s detention and justice. Suffragettes left a legacy of activism there that resonates to this day. It represents women’s ongoing fight for equality and social reform.

In Popular Culture

Holloway has been depicted frequently in books, films, TV, and music over the decades. Visual images of suffragettes behind its imposing gates remain an iconic representation of women protesting for their rights. Holloway still looms large in Britain’s cultural memory.

Future Use of the Holloway Prison Site

While the prison buildings are now closed, the legacy of Holloway lives on. There are proposals to build affordable housing, a women’s center, and public green space at the site. Repurposing the land to benefit the community will help create a positive future at Holloway.

See also  Tothill Fields Bridewell


For over 150 years, HMP Holloway played a complex and important role in Britain’s justice system. While it faced many challenges, its lasting impact on female imprisonment, justice, activism and equality remains. Holloway’s powerful place in British history will not be forgotten, even as the site itself is transformed. The women who passed through its gates left an indelible mark.


What years was Holloway Prison open?

Holloway Prison was open from 1852 until its closure in 2016, so just over 150 years.

Who were some of the most famous inmates held at Holloway?

Some of the most high-profile inmates were suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst, Irish republican Constance Markievicz, fascist Diana Mitford, Moors Murderer Myra Hindley, and Maxine Carr.

What was daily life like for prisoners at Holloway?

Prisoners had a strict routine involving work, meals, exercise, education classes, recreation time and lights out. They were housed in cells alone or together in dorms.

Why did Holloway Prison close?

Holloway was closed due to its aging, outdated facilities and ongoing issues with conditions, healthcare and rehabilitation programs inside the prison.

What will the Holloway Prison site be used for now?

There are proposals to redevelop the site into housing, a women’s center, green space and some commercial space. It aims to benefit the local community.

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