The construction of Holloway Prison, to the designs of James Bunstone
Bunning, began in 1849 and was completed in 1852 to form the City of London House of Correction,
opening in October 1852. As built, it had three wings for males and one for
females and juveniles. It was the main prison for the City of London and had cost £91,547 10s 8d. There
were 436 cells, 283 for males, 60 for females, 62 for juveniles, 18 refractory
cells, 14 reception cells and 14 workrooms.
In the period 1881-1882, B&C wings were extended to provide 340 new cells
and in 1883-1884 a new hospital wing was constructed.
Remand prisoners were sent there and perhaps the most famous of these was Oscar
Wilde. Female suffragettes were also imprisoned in Holloway. The prison
was known locally as “CamdenCastle” for
obvious reasons – see picture below.
The ending of
transportation and the closure of Newgate necessitated more places for female
prisoners and so Holloway was refurbished and became a purely female prison
from 1903. In this format it had capacity for 949 women. An additional
wing (DX Wing) was added in 1905, boosting capacity by a further 101.
As a prison, Holloway (seen here in the early 1900's) housed remand and
convicted women prisoners and those sentenced to death in London. (Previously, London's female executions had been carried
out at Newgate.)
These included the only women to be sentenced to death for spying under the
Treachery Acts of 1914 and 1940. During the First World War, Swedish born Eva
de Bournonville was convicted of spying, but was reprieved and served six years
in prison. Men were not so fortunate - 11 were shot and one hanged for spying
during this war.
In 1941, Dorothy Pamela O'Grady was caught walking in areas of the Isle of Wight that were sensitive and from which the
public had been banned. She was also accused of cutting an army telephone line
and possessing a document with information on defence measures. She was tried
at the Old Bailey, the jury taking just over an hour to find her guilty. The
death sentence was mandatory under the Treachery Act. However, hers was also
commuted, after her appeal, and she served 14 years in Holloway.
"lucky" lady was 18 year old Elizabeth Maude (also given as Marina) Jones. Jones came
from Neath in South Wales and was working as a
barmaid, waitress and cinema usherette, before becoming a striptease artist in London, under the stage
name of "Georgina Grayson." She met up with a young
Swedish-American army deserter, 22 year old Karl Gustav Hulten, who passed
himself off as Second Lieutenant Ricky Allen and impressed Jones with his
claims to being a gangster from Chicago.
For a short while, they both engaged in robberies and other more minor crimes.
But on October the 7th 1944,
Hulten and Jones got into a taxi driven by George Edward Heath at Chiswick in London. Hulten ordered
Heath to drive around before shooting him in the back and stealing his money
and the car. Heath's documents were found on the body and a description of the
Ford V8 car was able to be circulated. Two days later police found the car in London's Fulham Palace Road
and lay in wait to see whether anyone would come for it. A little later, a man
dressed as an American officer approached the car and was arrested. He gave the
name of Richard John Allen. He was interrogated by the American Army CID to
whom he revealed his correct name. Although he had gone absent without leave
and had stolen a pistol, it was decided by the American authorities to hand him
over to the British civil authorities for trial on the much more serious murder
charge. Hulten denied the shooting and implicated Jones who had told a friend
that, "If you had seen somebody do what I have seen done you wouldn't be
able to sleep at night." This was reported to the police and she too was
arrested, making a statement saying Hulten had shot Heath. He in turn stated
that she had been an active and willing participant in the crime.
They both stood trial at the Old Bailey, from the 16th of January 1945 for six days. The jury
found them equally guilty and the inevitable death sentences followed. Hulten
was hanged at Pentonville on Thursday,
the 8th of March 1945. Jones was in the Condemned Cell at Holloway
and would presumably have been hanged at the same time on that Thursday, had
she not have been reprieved two days earlier. Her sentence was commuted to life
and she remained in prison until 1954. It is thought that her age was a major
factor in the decision to spare her.
47 women were to spend time in Holloway's Condemned Cell. Of these, 40 were
reprieved and this figure included 18 who had killed their infant children and
nine who had killed their older sons or daughters. One case was quashed by the
Court Appeal and one woman was found insane and sent to Broadmoor. Twenty two
year old Elsie Yeldham was convicted in 1922 of a robbery/murder and had to
live through the hanging of her husband, to whom she had only been married for
three months, in nearby Pentonville, although she herself was reprieved two
weeks before his execution.
The gallows at Holloway. When
the prison was converted for female use, and with the closure of Newgate, there
was a requirement for an execution facility. An execution shed, as was
then the fashion, was erected at the end of B Wing. This shed contained
the gallows which could accommodate two prisoners side by side. At this
time, the press could still be admitted to executions although there is no
record of this happening at Holloway. Sometime in the mid 1930’s, a new
condemned suite was created on the first floor of the prison in E Wing, formed
from five ordinary cells, and was quite spacious. It comprised of a visiting
cell with a glass partition to separate the prisoner from the visitor, a
bathroom and a day cell (Cell 17). The lights were kept on 24 hours a day and
the prisoner guarded round the clock by at least two wardresses. On one wall of
the day cell, there was a wardrobe which normally hid the door into an empty
cell between the day cell and the execution chamber (Cell 19). The execution
chamber itself was just 15 paces from the day cell and contained a double
gallows set over the cell below to act as the "pit." A metal ladder
in one corner provided access to the cell above, containing the beam, for
setting the drop and to the “pit” below.There was an autopsy room adjacent to this cell. Click here for a plan of the facility. Executions took place at and afterwards there was an
autopsy and a formal inquest before the women's bodies were buried in unmarked
graves within the grounds at lunchtime on the day of execution.
Executions at Holloway. Five
women were to be put to death at Holloway between 1903 and 1955. This
represents 33.3% of all 20th century female hangings in England and Wales.
Amelia Sachs and Annie Walters were the first women to be hanged here and
theirs was to be the last double female hanging in Britain. They were executed for the
horrible crime of baby farming by William Billington and Henry Pierrepoint on Tuesday, the 3rd of February 1903.
It is thought that they may have murdered as many as 20 infants. Click here for a detailed account of their case.
Jessie Thompson, aged 28, was carried to the gallows some 20 years later, at on the 9th of January 1923 to be hanged by John
Ellis in the old execution shed. At the same moment, less than half a mile
away, her lover Frederick Bywaters was being hanged in Pentonville prison for
the murder of Edith's husband Percy.
Her execution caused considerable public disquiet as many doubted her guilt and
the true meaning of the various love letters that passed between her and Bywaters.
Click here for full details of this case. While Edith was
in the Condemned Cell, there was another woman under sentence of death at
Holloway. She was 36 year old Daisy Wright who had been convicted of murdering
her daughter and was subsequently reprieved.
gap of over 31 years, in which no women were executed at Holloway, although 25
had occupied the condemned cell, there were to be two hangings in eight months.
The first was that of Styllou Pantopiou Christofi,
who was a 53 year old Greek Cypriot woman. By 1953, she had not seen her son,
Stavros, for 12 years and had saved up sufficient money for the passage to Britain in July
of that year. Stavros had married a German girl called Hella Bleicher and they
lived together in Hampstead in London.
He worked as a waiter and she as a shop assistant and they had three children
and a happy marriage. But all of that was to change with the arrival of his
mother. Styllou continually picked on Hella and found fault with everything she
did until the point was reached where Hella decided to go to Germany with
the children for a holiday on the understanding that Stavros would get his
mother to go back to Cyprus
before she returned. Before Hella could get away, tragedy struck. On the night
of the 29th of July, she went to take a bath, having got the children to bed
when her mother in law came into the bathroom and hit her over the head with a
heavy ash pan from the boiler. Having knocked Hella unconscious, Styllou then
dragged her into the kitchen and strangled her. In an effort to dispose of the
body, she poured paraffin over Hella and lit it, setting fire to the house in
the process. In panic and fearing for her grandchildren, she ran into the street
and raised the alarm. The police and fire brigade turned up to find Hella's
partly burnt corpse in the kitchen. One of the police officers noticed the
marks of strangling on her neck and Styllou was arrested. She told him,
"Me smell burning, me come down, me pour water, but she be
died." A neighbour had seen Styllou set fire to the body but had not
realised it was a human body, thinking rather that she was trying to burn a
She was charged with the murder and put on trial at the Old Bailey on the 28th of October 1954.
Her counsel put forward a defence of insanity which the jury rejected. She was,
therefore, sentenced to death and returned to Holloway to be hanged by Albert
Pierrepoint on Wednesday, the 15th of December 1954. She asked for a Maltese Cross to be put on the wall of the execution chamber
opposite to where she would stand and this wish was granted - it remained there
until the room was dismantled in 1967. Her motive for the killing appears to
have been jealousy over what she saw as Hella replacing her in Stavros'
affections. It is thought that she had also committed an earlier murder in Cyprus. Click here for full details of this case.
Ellis became the last woman to be executed in Britain when she was hanged by
Albert Pierrepoint at Holloway on Wednesday, the 13th of July 1955, for the murder of her
boyfriend, David Blakely. He had refused to see her over the Easter holiday so
she lay in wait for him outside the Magdala pub and when he came out, shot him
five times with a revolver on the Easter Sunday evening. She was arrested
immediately by an off duty policeman and equally quickly convicted by the Old
Bailey jury. Her execution caused a great deal of public controversy, both at
home and abroad. Pierrepoint remarked to waiting journalists afterwards that
for all their interest in Ruth they had shown scant interest the previous year
when he had hanged Styllou Christofi. Click here for a detailed
account of this famous crime.
more woman, after Ruth Ellis, was to spend time in the Holloway's condemned
cell. She was Freda Rumbold who had been convicted of murdering her husband in
November 1956. All death sentences were being commuted at this time as the new
Homicide Act of 1957 was being finalised and she was reprieved and given a life
rebuilding of Holloway Prison in 1970 required that the bodies of the five
executed women be moved. Sach, Walters, Thompson and Christofi were reburied in
unmarked graves at Brookwood cemetery in Surrey,
as their families could not be traced or did not want the remains returned to
them. Ruth Ellis' body was reburied at St. Mary's ParishChurch in Amersham in Buckinghamshire.
Edith Thompson’s grave has since received a memorial stone, erected on the 13th of November 1993.
prison opened in 1977 with a capacity of 532 women, both convicted and remand
prisoners and is equipped with a mother and baby unit.
Molly Cutpurse has a lot of further information about the original Holloway
prison and this can be viewed here.