The National Archives
MyPage (not signed in)
Search The National Archives
Advanced search


by Edward Marston
Five hundred years of life behind bars
Format: Hardback
Date of publication: January 2009
Publisher: The National Archives
ISBN: 9781905615339
Only £4.99
Was £18.00
You save £13.01
Add Prison to basket

A compelling history of our most feared institution charting the growth of prisons throughout the country from castle dungeons to the infamous Reading Gaol.

Edward Marston's utterly compelling carceral miscellany is full of ...esoteric fare. New Statesman

a brilliant new book Daily Express

Drawing on rarely seen material from The National Archives, it vividly portrays aspects of prison life that stayed constant for centuries: loss of liberty; privacy and comfort; hard labour; restricted rations; solitary confinement; corporal punishment and execution - as well as tracing key developments such as Jeremy Bentham's panopticon, the Victorian spate of prison-building, and successive reform Acts. The book also relates the curiosities, abuses and scandals that occurred within prison walls, from the racking of Henry VIII's enemies to the force-feeding of suffragettes centuries later.

At the heart of the book are dramatic stories of the men, women and children who lived - and died - behind bars. Their extraordinary tales range from those of political prisoners incarcerated in the Tower of London to celebrities such as Oscar Wilde who wrote so movingly of his imprisonment at Reading Gaol. Prison tells the stories of wartime convicts, suffragettes and highwaymen, cult criminals such as the Krays and 'ordinary' prisoners like armed robber James Edward Spiers - who in 1930 committed suicide at Wandsworth Gaol in front of a group of JPs gathered to see him receive 15 lashes. There are also fascinating accounts of officers, governors and executioners as well as reformers like John Howard and Elizabeth Fry, who spent their lives seeking to improve the lot of prisoners within.

Introduction - Life behind bars
1. The Great Gaols of London
2. The State of Eighteenth-Century Prisons
3. Rat-infested Prison Hulks
4. A Most Victorian Zeal
5. No Place for a Woman
6. Suffragettes and the New Century
7. Prisoners of Two World Wars
8. The Last Executions
Conclusion, A Note on Sources, Further Reading, Index

Edward Marston is a renowned writer of historical fiction and non-fiction. His most recent books include John Christie ( 2007) for The National Archives. He has taught drama in prison and has a strong interest in penal conditions and reform.