hm prison manchester

HM Prison Manchester

Perched in the Strangeways area of Manchester, England stands the imposing structure of HM Prison Manchester, an institution with a long and dark history. Originally opened in 1868 as Strangeways Prison, the facility has witnessed executions, riots, and violence, earning it a reputation as one of the toughest prisons in the United Kingdom.

Over 150 years, Strangeways/Manchester Prison has housed some of England’s most notorious inmates and been the site of major disturbances and questionable conditions. Yet it remains operational today as one of the country’s few maximum security facilities for male prisoners.


Origins and Early Years as Strangeways Prison

Construction on Strangeways Prison began in 1862 based on a design by architect Alfred Waterhouse. The prison opened its doors in 1868, boasting an innovative layout focused on prisoner isolation and a striking 234-foot ventilation tower that became a recognizable Manchester landmark.

Named after the area of Manchester in which it was located, Strangeways could house over 1,000 inmates in its early years. It served as a local prison and also began accepting executions starting in the 1860s.

Notable Executions at the Prison

For nearly a century, Strangeways carried out capital punishment by hanging within its walls. The first execution took place in 1869, and between then and 1964, a total of 100 hangings occurred. Among the most famous was that of Dr. Buck Ruxton in 1936 for murdering his wife.

Ten executions were conducted after World War II, the last being Gwynne Evans in 1964. He was one of the final two people put to death in the UK before capital punishment was abolished. Bodies of the executed were buried in unmarked graves on prison grounds.

See also  HM Prison Humber

Strangeways Riots in 1990

In April 1990, Strangeways exploded into violence when prisoners staged a massive riot lasting 25 days. Prisoners took control of much of the facility, injuring dozens of staff and fellow inmates. The riot caused extensive damage and was finally quelled after the involvement of hundreds of police officers.

The government ordered an official inquiry, which found conditions and oversight at the prison were severely lacking. The antiquated facilities clearly required modernization to meet 20th century standards.

Post-Riot Rebuild

Damage from Riots and Decision to Rebuild

The 1990 Strangeways riot left the prison largely destroyed internally. The costs of repair and renovation were estimated at over £80 million. After review, the decision was made to fully rebuild and rebrand the institution as HM Prison Manchester.

Renaming as HM Prison Manchester

With construction beginning in 1991, Strangeways Prison was reborn as HM Prison Manchester. The outdated Victorian design was replaced with modern cell blocks and facilities befitting a high-security prison.

Cost and Completion of Rebuild

Repairing riot damage and creating a new prison came with a hefty price tag upwards of £80 million. Construction on the new Manchester Prison finally wrapped up in 1994.

Contemporary Era

Following rebuild, HM Prison Manchester reopened with an emphasis on higher security. While still taking in inmates from local courts, Manchester Prison began housing more dangerous prisoners from around the country.

Focus as High-Security Prison

As a Category A facility, Manchester holds offenders deemed high-risk, from convicts prone to escape to notorious inmates. The prison has capacity for over 1,200 prisoners.

Facilities and Inmate Programs

In its present form, Manchester Prison comprises nine wings with a mix of single and double-occupancy cells. Work and education programs are offered to inmates, including vocational skills like construction trades, cleaning services, and textiles manufacturing. Recreational sports and fitness activities are also organized.

See also  HM Prison Swaleside

Issues such as Suicides and Poor Conditions

Unfortunately, HM Prison Manchester has developed a concerning track record when it comes to inmate welfare. From 1993 to 2003, the prison had the second highest number of inmate suicides in the UK. High profile cases like serial killer Harold Shipman have put scrutiny on the prison’s suicide prevention efforts.

Manchester has also faced recent criticism over its aging, vermin-infested facilities prone to violence. Understaffing continues to pose challenges to running the prison safely and humanely.

Notable Inmates Over the Years

In addition to housing inmates from Manchester and the surrounding area, HM Prison Manchester has held some of Britain’s most infamous criminals.

  • Serial killers like Ian Brady, Harold Shipman, and Doctor Buck Ruxton
  • Gangsters like Charles Bronson
  • High profile convicts like politician Ernest Marples and rockstar Pete Doherty
  • Suffragettes such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison
  • Irish nationalists and activists like Brendan Behan
  • Other notorious murderers, rapists, and violent offenders

The diversity of infamous inmates speaks to Manchester’s status as one of England’s toughest and most notorious prisons for well over a century.

Impact on Popular Culture

Given its visibility and reputation, Strangeways Prison has made regular appearances in British media and culture over the decades.

  • Smiths song “Strangeways, Here We Come” named after the prison
  • Referred to in songs by The Streets, Morrissey, Kaiser Chiefs, and John Cooper Clarke
  • Inspiration for the name of the Strangeways Brewery founded in Manchester
  • Featured in books like Jeff Noon’s Pollen and the graphic novel Hellblazer
  • Frequently mentioned in the BBC TV series Shameless

HM Prison Manchester remains a recognizable landmark, both physically and culturally, in the heart of Manchester.

Recent Developments

Age and design deficiencies at HM Prison Manchester have led to mounting calls for change in recent years.

See also  HM Prison Cornton Vale

Criticism of Aging Facilities

Watchdog groups have called current conditions at Manchester Prison “Dickensian,” citing problems like vermin, leaking sewage, and crumbling walls. The prison today lacks modern amenities and connects multiple inmates to single toilets.

Calls for Closure or Relocation

Manchester city officials have argued that Strangeways is no longer suitable for a modern prison. Major renovations are likely cost-prohibitive. Some have called for the prison to be closed entirely, while others suggest relocating to a new facility constructed outside Manchester.

However, the Ministry of Justice has so far rejected these proposals, claiming there are “no plans to close or relocate” the iconic prison.


HM Prison Manchester remains a critical part of the England’s justice system, housing high-risk offenders just as it did over 150 years ago. However, the aging, problem-plagued prison is at a crossroads.

While the original Strangeways is an important piece of Manchester’s history, many argue it is no longer fit to serve as a state-of-the-art correctional institution. Manchester Prison’s future remains uncertain as pressures build for a drastic solution whether that involves massive renovations, relocation, or outright closure.

Yet despite its critics, HM Prison Manchester stands resilient as one of the toughest and most notorious prisons in the UK. For now, this imposing Victorian complex continues to loom over Manchester as a reminder of the city’s dark history of crime and punishment.


When was HM Prison Manchester first opened?

HM Prison Manchester was opened in 1868 as Strangeways Prison. It has been in operation as a prison for over 150 years.

What was the 1990 Strangeways Prison riot about?

In April 1990, prisoners at Strangeways launched a massive riot lasting 25 days in protest over conditions and treatment. Much of the old prison was damaged or destroyed.

Why was Strangeways Prison rebuilt in the 1990s?

The extensive damage from the riots, along with the prison’s outdated facilities, led to a decision to fully rebuild and modernize the prison. It reopened as HM Prison Manchester in 1994.

Who are some of Manchester Prison’s most infamous inmates?

Some notable inmates over the years have included Ian Brady, Charles Bronson, Emmeline Pankhurst, Harold Shipman, and others. It has housed some of the UK’s most dangerous criminals.

How has Strangeways Prison influenced British culture?

The prison has been mentioned in songs, books, and TV shows. Its striking tower and history have made it an iconic landmark in Manchester.

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