A display tracing the Victorian history of HMP Liverpool, also known as Walton Jail, is to be hosted at the Museum of Liverpool starting this month (July-Aug 2023).
Highlights will include original artwork and poetry created by people who were held in the prison earlier this year, as well as specially commissioned photography from Andy Aitchison.
The event forms part of a three-and-a-half-year research project, 'The Persistence of the Victorian Prison', which considers how the fabric and function of Victorian prisons have changed over time, what it has felt like to live and work in Victorian prisons in the past and in the present, and what the persistence of the Victorian estate means for the contemporary prison system.
The project is led by the University of Birmingham’s Professor Dominique Moran, Professor Matt Houlbrook, and Dr Jennifer Turner, and Professor Yvonne Jewkes of the University of Bath, in partnership with The Howard League for Penal Reform. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Some of the written work on display was enabled through creative writing sessions in the prison supported by Matt Exley, Participation Producer (Adults) at National Museums Liverpool.
We were delighted to be able to work with HMP Liverpool to create this display. The history of this prison mirrors the wider history of Victorian-era prisons in the UK, but during our time at Liverpool we were struck by the perspectives and experiences shared by prisoners and staff, and in particular, the strong connection that has existed between this prison and its wider community throughout its history.Professor Dominique Moran, University of Birmingham
Professor Moran, Professor in Carceral Geography at the University of Birmingham, said: “We were delighted to be able to work with HMP Liverpool to create this display. The history of this prison mirrors the wider history of Victorian-era prisons in the UK, but during our time at Liverpool we were struck by the perspectives and experiences shared by prisoners and staff, and in particular, the strong connection that has existed between this prison and its wider community throughout its history.
“We are particularly privileged to be able to bring the artwork and writing of current prisoners to an audience beyond the prison. This work speaks both to the contemporary experience of incarceration and the ‘presence’ of the history of the prison in daily life.”
Kay Jones, Lead Curator of Urban and Community History at the Museum of Liverpool said: “We are delighted to work with the University of Birmingham on the Persistence of the Victorian Prison project. Visitors to the museum will be able to explore the significance of Walton Jail’s Victorian history alongside life there today through the creative work produced in art classes, or independently in prison cells.”
The Victorian era was the most significant period of prison construction in UK history. During the period 1842 to 1877, a total of 90 prisons were built or significantly expanded, as part of a concerted building programme. Liverpool prison was one of the earliest to be completed, and one of many Victorian prisons built with a hub-spoke layout, with wings of cells organised around a central hub.
Several of the prisons built, altered or extended during the Victorian period were subsequently closed, but Liverpool is one of 32 still in operation in England and Wales today. Together, they hold 22,000 prisoners or about one in four currently-serving prisoners. Since most are ‘local’ prisons, serving the courts and holding prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing, almost all male prisoners will have spent time in one at some point.