Occupation of prisoners: shoemaking, carpentry and stitching

A report shown on BBC news today asked ‘Can fashion prepare prisoners for life on the outside?’  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29086003

bbcholloway

The report revealed a collaboration between the London College of Fashion (LCF) and Holloway Prison, which will enable women to work towards an NVQ and will also lead to high street sales of goods produced by the women in Holloway Prison. Professor Frances Corner explained that this was part of LCFs commitment to “widening and transforming lives”. One of the women interviewed said that the course also took away the boredom of being locked in a cell for much of the day.

Prison as a place of rehabilitation, rather than simply a punishment, is of course not a new idea and the provision of useful occupation was an early consideration when Birmingham’s Borough Council were preparing to open the town’s first house of correction in the mid-nineteenth century. At a meeting in July 1850, the Gaol and Buildings Committee of the Town Council reported that a foreman carpenter had been appointed for the gaol “under whose superintendence several of the prisoners have worked advantageously”.  In the same year the visiting justices recommended (and the council subsequently approved) the appointment of an instructor shoemaker at 20 shillings per week, with 6 shillings deducted for food and clothing. The wages of the instructors were revised in the same year, after a  further report from the visiting justices concluded that they were “insufficient to secure the services of efficient persons” and the weekly wage was increased to 30 shillings per week, with an instructor tailor being added to the payroll in 1851.

winson-green

The prison was at that time occupied by men and women, adults and juveniles, although it seems likely that only males received supervision from the tailor and shoemaker. It also seems likely that such supervision was intended to keep the men occupied as much as to teach them a new trade.  However, both a school master and a school mistress were appointed for the gaol in 1850, at annual salaries of £60 and £20 respectively. So it would seem a fair conclusion that female juveniles, at least, received some sort of education. 

The 19th century reports featured here can be seen at Library of Birmingham, Archives, Heritage and Photography BCC1/AA/1/1/2 [Minute books of Birmingham Council, volume 2]

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