At the CWA annual conference in Lincoln, we had a reception on the Saturday evening, before dinner, at the Victorian prison in Lincoln Castle. This was a fascinating place, and we had a chance to look around the condemned cell and elsewhere, nerves appropriately steadied by a glass of wine paid for by the admirable Flambard Press.
Here are a few photos, but I’d like to draw your attention in particular to the prison chapel. This is the only surviving example in Britain of a chapel where the ‘separate system’ was operated. In the mid 19th century, there was a vogue for keeping prisoners completely isolated. They were denied all contact with each other, using solitary cells, a rule of silence – and hoods.
The pews in the chapel were specially designed so that the prisoners could only see the chaplain in his pulpit. Each prisoner stood, or sat, in a wooden compartment which was locked before another prisoner was admitted. Condemned criminals sat at the back, women at the front and debtors to the side. Sitting was actually not easy, since the ‘seats’ were slanted rather than straight – anything to deny comfort, I suppose (and anyone unwise enough to fall asleep mid-sermon would slide on to the stony floor...)
Even in those days, it was recognised before long that this was an utterly inhumane way of dealing with people, and the ‘separate system’ was abandoned. But seeing it was a reminder that being ‘tough on crime’ means very different things to different people at different times.