Wandsworth Museum exhibition marks 160 years of Wandsworth Prison

By Culture24 Reporter | 07 September 2011
A photo of a woman holding a prison artefact
Exhibition: Separation and Silence: Wandsworth Prison, Wandsworth Museum, September 16 – December 31 2011.

A stone’s throw from Wandsworth Museum, Her Majesty’s finest had some unpleasant offerings for this show.

An execution box, dating to the twenties, handily giftwraps two ropes, a block and fall tackle, a pair of straps, a measuring rod, chalk, a pack thread, copper wire and a cap.

An accompanying noose was used in capital punishment routines at the time, and central concerns for the display include the “separate system”, which drew inmates mad through solitary confinement during the 1940s, and the “silent system”, adopted two decades later to break the will of prisoners through “needless hard labour”.

Perhaps the identity of some of the sufferers is more surprising – Oscar Wilde was one of them, remembered here by a desperate letter from his wife, Constance, dated to 1895. Other exhibits include the Inside Eye series, a project concentrating on photographs from the inside, made in the 1990s.

“It explores the prison’s extensive history and asks visitors to discover how things have changed over the last 160 years,” says curator Tatiana Chierici, who says the first temporary exhibition since a major redevelopment of the venue is “very fitting”.

“From harsh punishments and the cell conditions to rehabilitation and well known inmates, the display gives a perspective of life inside, from the view of the inmates themselves.”

Another famous former incumbent comes in the form of Ronnie Biggs, and paintings and a quilt have been produced by prisoners of the 1,665-capacity fortress.
  • Open 10am-5pm (except Monday). Admission £3/£2.
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