Friday, July 10, 2009

Beastly Matrons - a Prayer

More images of the Female Prison

Prisoner in a padded cell at Woking Prison

At the chapel

Prison Classes

In Woking Convict Invalid Prison, there were 5 classes of female prisoner, each wearing a different costume.

Probation class = first nine months of prison life
Third-class = second nine month period of prison life
Second-class = third nine month period of prison life
First-class = fourth nine month period of prison life
Special class = within nine months of expiration of sentence

From what I can gather, the uniforms (or costumes) were as follows:

Probation class = lilac cotton skirt with blouse bodice, a chequered blue and white apron, cap and bonnet and square of brown serge for the shoulders. This was replaced by a thick blue serge dress in winter.

Third class = plain blue skirt in summer, this being replaced by a brown serge dress in winter.

Second class (and first class) = a spotted skirt in summer, replaced with a thick green serge gown in winter.

Special class = "princess" robe of dark grey striped flannel.

Images of the Prison 1889

Saluting the Matron

Female prisoners at the fire pump

Female prisoners at the exercise yard

Images of the Female Convict Prison, drawn by Paul Renouard for a newspaper feature that appeared in The Graphic on Saturday August 31st 1889.

Our little house on Raglan Road

We already know that our house was inhabited by Subordinate Officers.

Here, a newspaper article / feature on Woking Convict Invalid Prison written in 1889 refers to our house as 'humbler quarters' ...

Hmm. We prefer to think of it as 'cosy and cute'.

Mme "make me beautiful for ever" Rachel

In the legal section of The Graphic dated Saturday October 23rd 1880, the following was reported:

Mme Rachel, the person who became notorious a few years ago as claiming the power to make people "beautiful for ever" and who, after suffering seven years penal servitude for fraud, was convicted a second time in 1878, died in Woking Prison last week from dropsy. An inquest was heard and the jury returned a verdict of "Died by the Visitation of God".

Mme Rachel (aka Sarah Rachel Leverson or Levison and Sarah Russell) was a British criminal and con artist in Victorian-era London during the late 19th century. Operating a prominent beauty salon, from which she personally guaranteed her clientele everlasting youth (using grandiose sounding concoctions comprising everyday ingredients such as bran and water) she would blackmail many wives of London's upper class ...

More can be found on Mme Rachel here:

Or at

An interesting article on Female Convict Prisons, including Woking can be found here at the British Library Newspaper Archives.

Murderous Reverend held at Woking Convict Prison 1872

According to Wikepedia, the Reverend John Selby Watson (1804 – 6 July 1884) was a British classical translator and murderer. He was sentenced to death in 1872 for killing his wife, but a public outcry led to his sentence being reduced to life imprisonment.


Born in 1804 Watson was educated by an uncle and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin in 1838. He was ordained Deacon to the Bishop of Ely in 1839 and married Anne Armstrong in January 1845 at St Marks, Dublin. Due to his poverty Watson had been engaged to Anne for quite a number of years before they could marry. He moved to London in 1844 where he became the headmaster of School. Because of falling pupil numbers he was laid off in 1870. But during his long career as headmaster, Watson had made a reputation for himself as a scholar and translator, publishing translations of the classics for Bohm's Classical Library that subsequently became volumes in the popular Everyman's Library series. He also wrote biographies, religious books, and a volume Reasoning Power in Animals. Still with all his learning and activities he made a very small income. When the Board of the Stockwell School fired him, they refused to give him any pension.


A few weeks after finishing his four-volume History of the Papacy to the Reformation, on 8 October 1871 Watson was found unconscious by his servant, Ellen Pyne, having taken prussic acid. Two notes were found: one addressed to Pyne contained her wages. The other was to his doctor. It said "I have killed my wife in a fit of rage to which she provoked me". His wife's body was found in a bedroom, having been battered to death with the butt of his pistol two days earlier.

Watson recovered and stood trial at the Old Bailey in January 1872. Despite a history of arguing with his wife, Watson did not argue provocation. Instead, he pleaded insanity, as his counsel put it: "an antecedent improbability in the deed which would lead everyone in the first instance to seek an explanation in insanity." The judge, Mr Justics Byles, opposed this excuse strongly in his summing-up. After deliberating for an hour and a half, the jury found him guilty of murder but with a recommendation that mercy be shown because of his age and previous character. Byles however sentenced him to death.

After the trial many affidavits from doctors were presented testifying to Watson's insanity at the time of the murder. Byles then changed his mind and told the Home Secretary that the medical evidence presented at the trial suggested that "this is not a case in which the sentence should be carried out." After more investigation the Home Office decided that some "imprecise mental unsoundness" had been present and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Due to no obvious signs of madness, however, he was not sent to Broadmoor Hospital; instead he served his time in Parkhurst prison where he died twelve years later, aged 80, on 6th July 1884. His death was due to falling out of his hammock at the prison. (I would dispute the idea that he served all his time at Parhurst given the article featured above). In the words of Martin J. Wiener, "the incongruity of the offence and the lack of any lesser defence pushed the system to a controversial finding of "temporary" insanity to prevent the unedifying spectacle of the hanging of a clergyman of the Church of England. In a sense, in Watson's case, provocation (by his wife, under the stress of his forced retirement) had been reconceived as temporary insanity."

Attempted Murder of Woking Prison Governor

In the Penny Illustrated Paper dated Saturday December 18th 1869, an article reports that an attempt was made to take the life of Captain Bramley, Governor at Woking Prison. It states: As the convicts were filing out of chapel after Divine service, one of the prisoners ... rushed upon the Governor ... and stabbed him twice in the breast and once in the loin. BLIMEY!

Newspaper article courtesy of British Library