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HM Prison Wandsworth, is a Category B men's prison at Wandsworth in the London Borough of Wandsworth, South West London, England. It is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service and is the largest prison in the United Kingdom.[1]

HMP Wandsworth
Wandsworth Prison - - 1030498.jpg
Location Wandsworth, London
Security class Adult Male/Category B Local
Population 1,877 (as of 29 May 2013)
Opened 1851
Managed by HM Prison Services
Governor Ian Bickers
Website Wandsworth at



HM Prison Wandsworth from the air

The prison was built in 1851, when it was known as Surrey House of Correction.[2] It was designed according to the humane separate system principle: a number of corridors radiate from a central control point with each prisoner having toilet facilities. The toilets were subsequently removed to increase prison capacity and the prisoners had to engage in the humiliating process of "slopping out", until 1996.[3]

In 1930, inmate James Edward Spiers, serving a 10-year sentence for armed robbery, committed suicide in front of a group of Justices of the Peace who were there to witness his receiving 15 lashes, then a form of judicial corporal punishment.[4]

In 1951, Wandsworth was the holding prison for a national stock of the birch and the cat o' nine tails, implements for corporal punishment inflicted as a disciplinary penalty under the prison rules.[5] An example of a flogging with the "cat" carried out in Wandsworth Prison itself was reported in July 1954.[6]

On 8 July 1965, Ronnie Biggs escaped from the prison, where he was serving a 30-year sentence for his part in the Great Train Robbery. Two years later he fled to Brazil and remained on the run until 2001, when he returned to the UK.[7]

Execution siteEdit

Wandsworth was the site of 135 executions, between 1878 and 1961. The gallows was located on "E" wing. Among those executed by hanging were:

(in execution-year order)

On 25 April 1951, a double execution took place at Wandsworth, when Edward Smith and Joseph Brown stood on the gallows together and were executed simultaneously. The final executions at Wandsworth were those of Francis Forsyth on 10 November 1960, Victor John Terry on 25 May 1961 and Henryk Niemasz on 8 September 1961 (Forsyth was one of just four 18-year-olds executed in a British prison in the twentieth century).

With the exceptions of Scott-Ford, Joyce and Amery, who were convicted of treachery, all executions were for the crime of murder. The gallows were kept in full working order until 1993 and tested every six months. In 1994, they were dismantled and the condemned suite is now used as a tea room for the prison officers.[citation needed]

The gallows' trapdoor and lever were sent to the Prison Service Museum in Rugby, Warwickshire. After this museum permanently closed in 2004, they were sent to the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham, where those and an execution box may be seen.

Recent historyEdit

Panorama of HMP Wandsworth from Heathfield Road

In October 2009, gross misconduct charges were brought against managers of Wandsworth Prison, after an investigation found that prisoners had been temporarily transferred to HMP Pentonville before inspections. The transfers, which included vulnerable prisoners, were made in order to manipulate prison population figures.[9]

In March 2011, an unannounced follow-up inspection was conducted by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, which found that "...Wandsworth compared badly with similar prisons facing similar challenges and we were concerned by what appeared to be unwillingness among some prison managers and staff to acknowledge and take responsibility for the problems the prison faced."[10]

In May 2015 a prisoner was found dead in his cell, prompting a murder investigation.[11]

The prison todayEdit

The prison has made good progress since the inspection in 2009 and has received praise from the MQPL Survey which was undertaken in March 2011, which demonstrated progress over the same survey results in 2009. Wandsworth Prison contains eight wings on two units. The smaller unit, containing three wings, was originally designed for women but is currently closed for refurbishment. It is planned to reopen as a Category C unit focusing on resettlement services.

Education and training courses are offered at Wandsworth, and are contracted from A4e.[citation needed] Facilities at the prison include two gyms and a sports hall. The large prison chaplaincy offers chaplains from the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Mormon and Jehovah's Witness faiths.

The establishment has a multi-award winning community radio station called 'Radio Wanno' which was managed by Kevin Field for Media for Development from 2003 until 2016, the project is now run by the same team but under the management of the prison.[citation needed]

The Spurgeons Visitors Centre is used to support families and friends of prisoners visiting Wandsworth Prison. Facilities include a rest area, refreshments and a children's play area. The centre also provides information on a selection of support agencies, such as the Prisoners' Families & Friends Service.[citation needed]

By contrast a BBC investigation showed large scale drug abuse and cannabis openly being smoked and harder drugs found. There are allegations of staff corruption, even of staff bringing drugs into the prison.[12] Wansworth has lost its status as a reform prison. Glyn Travis of the Prison Officers Association said, "Wandsworth staff had bought into the reform process and worked well with the governor to implement the reforms. Now, the prison has lost its reform status and once again, staff and prisoners have been left high and dry as this government’s agenda seems to change at the drop of a hat."[13]

Notable inmatesEdit

In popular cultureEdit

Wandsworth is mentioned in multiple forms of media.


  • Starred Up (2014) was written by a former therapist at this prison.
  • Let Him Have It (1991) features Derek Bentley, who was held in this prison up until he was hanged in 1953
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971) shows the exterior of the prison (the interiors were filmed elsewhere)



Wandsworth is mentioned in:


  • 12 February 2011 episode of Saturday Night Live featured a satirical theatrical trailer for the British film Don' You Go Rounin' Roun to Re Ro. In the clip, character Terry Donovan is shown being released from HM Prison Wandsworth.
  • In the television series Survivors, Tom Price escapes the prison after a deadly virus epidemic and kills the one remaining prison officer.


  1. ^ "Wandsworth Prison information". Ministry of Justice. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "David Rowland | Wandsworth Prison, London. | Prisons | Local Historians". The Old Police Cells Museum. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  4. ^ "Wandsworth Walloper". Time. New York. 17 February 1930. Retrieved 23 June 2007. 
  5. ^ "Memorandum to prisons re Birches and Cats-o-nine tails". Prison Commission. 20 July 1951.  PRO: HO 323/13.
  6. ^ "Prison mutiny men get 'cat'". Daily Mirror. London. 7 July 1954. 
  7. ^ "1965: Ronald Biggs escapes from jail". BBC News. 8 July 1965. 
  8. ^ "The Execution of Lord Haw Haw at Wandsworth Prison in 1946". Another Nickel In The Machine. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  9. ^ "Inmates 'moved before jail check'". BBC News Online. 20 October 2009. Retrieved 26 October 2009. 
  10. ^ Report on an unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Wandsworth (PDF) (Report). 4 March 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  11. ^ Kevin Rawlinson. "Man arrested on suspicion of murder in Wandsworth prison | Society". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  12. ^ Inside Wandsworth prison: Drugs and tension BBC
  13. ^ HMP Wandsworth loses reform prison status The Guardian
  14. ^ Milmo, Cahal (7 January 2011). "Mongolia declares diplomatic war on Britain over arrested spy". The Independent. London. Retrieved 9 January 2011. 
  15. ^ Ellery, Ben; Fifield, Nicola (28 September 2013). "Golf club boss jailed for selling arms to Iran says he was 'broken' by rat-infested prison run by gangs as he returns to Britain". Daily Mail. London. 
  16. ^ "What can David Chaytor expect now he has been sentenced?". The Guardian. London. 7 January 2011. Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  17. ^ Lewis, Anthony (19 July 1968). "Ray, on U.S. Plane, Leaves Britain". The New York Times. p. 16. 
  18. ^ Davies, Caroline; Jones, Sam; Hirsch, Afua (8 December 2010). "Julian Assange denied bail over sexual assault allegations". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 8 December 2010. 
  19. ^ Williams, Matt (16 December 2010). "Great to smell fresh air says freed Assange". The Independent. London. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  20. ^ "Max Clifford sentenced to eight years in prison". The Independent. London. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  21. ^ a b c Norrish, Mike (3 November 2011). "Pakistan spot-fixing scandal: live". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 4 November 2011. 
  22. ^ Flood, Alison (13 May 2014). "Oscar Wilde's gift to governor who let him read in Reading gaol up for auction". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  23. ^ Clarke, Betty (30 July 2004). "Us against the world". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  24. ^ "Rolf Harris jailed for five years and nine months". BBC News. 4 July 2014. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  25. ^ Sharp, Aaron (19 July 2014). "Rolf Harris taken straight to cushy prison despite reports pervert would do hard time at tough jail". Daily Mirror. London. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  26. ^ "Fraudster escapes from one of Britain's most secure prisons by forging letter granting him bail". The Daily Telegraph. London. 27 March 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  27. ^ Crime Library – He's My Brother Archived 7 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  28. ^ "Child molester Gary Glitter attacked by inmate just days after returning to jail". Daily Record. Glasgow. 15 February 2015. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 

External linksEdit