These are the haunting mugshots of the male criminals condemned to Pentonville Prison in
At the time, Pentonville was the most famous of the Victorian separate system jails.
Prisoners were forbidden to speak to each other, forced to wear masks whilst exercising and were kept alone in their cells for weeks.
It was believed that the silence and boredom would enable offenders to reflect on their crimes – but it instead led to increased rates of suicide and mental health problems amongst prisoners in Pentonville.
The harrowing mugshots were taken between February to July 1877.
Although the mugshots carry no information about the crimes that got them incarcerated, the portraits reveal the grisly and hardened faces of the men sent to Pentonville – which remains a high profile and controversial prison to this day.
George Wood (left) was admitted on April 25, 1877 and George Harris (right) entered Pentonville prison on February 9, 1877. Pentonville was designed by Royal Engineer Sir Joshua Ebb in 1840
Henry Goddard (left) was admitted on March 9, 1877. Thomas Jones (right) was incarcerated on April 23, 1877. Inmates were made to hold the seams of their shirts in mugshots so officers would be able to identify them by any possible hand tattoos they may have
John Gallagher (left) entered the prison on February 26, 1877. Samuel Franklin (right) was admitted on April 23, 1877. The layout of the prison meant that inmates were visible to staff at all times. There was a central hall with five radiating wings
Patrick Gerrard (left) entered the prison on March 3, 1877. William Williamson (right) was locked up on May 7, 1877. Prison staff used the ‘separate system’ which saw each prisoner given their own cell
John Sullivan (left) entered the prison on March 9, 1877. James Gayon (right) was admitted on February 9, 1877. Pentonville could house up to 520 inmates. The cost of housing an inmate was 15 shillings a week, roughly £340 today
Charles Coward entered the prison on February 26, 1877. Alexander Pinkerton was admitted on April 27, 1877. Prisoners were forbidden to speak to each other, forced to wear masks whilst exercising and were kept alone in their cells for weeks
Patrick McClean (left) entered the prison on March 8, 1877. William Stanton (right) entered on April 25, 1877. Prisoners were made to visit chapel everyday and sit in separate cubicles which the inmates referred to as ‘coffins’
Robert Jardine was locked up on April 25, 1877. Alex Seitch entered on March 5, 1877. Because of conditions of living at the prisons, a report noted that ‘for every 60,000 persons imprisoned in Pentonville there were 220 cases of insanity, 210 cases of delusion, and 40 suicides’
Alfred Brawley entered on April 23, 1877. George Bensey was locked up on March 9, 1877. Pentonville became the model for British prisons; a further 54 were built to similar designs over six years and hundreds throughout the British Empire
William Dodd entered the prison on March 5, 1877. Edward Evans was incarcerated on February 28, 1877. Crumbling Pentonville now holds 1,215 inmates in a 175-year-old jail designed for under 900 men and has the highest number of seriously disturbed prisoners of any local prison in the UK
History of Pentonville – the most feared Victorian prison
Interior of Pentonville prison
In the 19th century, the number of people in prisons in Britain grew dramatically. Prison sentences became a far more common penalty for criminals as many forms of capital punishment died out.
Some of these new Victorian jails were run as separate system prisons – a form of prison management based on the principle of solitary confinement.
In separate system prisons, convicts were isolated from each other in individual cells and were kept alone in cells for weeks. Prison chaplains would visit their cells and try to encourage them to live a more Christian, crime-free life.
Prisoners were only allowed out of their cells for exercise and church services. Even then, they exercised in silent isolation and special chapels were built with booths to keep prisoners physically separate.
Pentonville prison was the most famous jail that was run as a separate system prison. Built in 1842 in Islington, North London, Pentonville was designed as men’s prison with separate cells for 860 convicts. Each cell was 13 feet long, seven feet wide and nine feet high with little windows on the outside walls and opening on to narrow landings in the galleries.
Pentonville Prisoners were forbidden to speak to each other and when out on exercise, they would tramp in silent rows, wearing brown cloth masks. In chapel, which they had to attend every day, they sat in cubicles, or ‘coffins’ as the prisoners referred to them, their heads visible to the warder but hidden from each other.
The Pentonville chaplains were very influential, making individual cell visitations, urging the convicts to reform, and supervising the work of the schoolmasters.
The prisoners chapel at Pentonville Prison
The objective of Pentonville was that of penance by the prisoners through their silent reflections upon their crimes. However the harsh conditions of the London led to higher incidences of prisoner suicide and mental disturbance.
An official report admitted that ‘for every sixty thousand persons imprisoned in Pentonville there were 220 cases of insanity, 210 cases of delusion, and forty suicides’.
Nonetheless, Pentonville became the model for British prisons; a further 54 were built to similar designs over six years and hundreds throughout the British Empire.
Pentonville is a high-profile prison today which has often come under scrutiny in recent years.
Crumbling Pentonville holds 1,215 inmates in a 175-year-old jail designed for under 900 men and has the highest number of seriously disturbed prisoners of any local prison in the UK.
The Category B prison saw 114 violent incidents in 2018 alone amid reports of drugs and mobile phones used openly and inmates not let out in the open for weeks on end. A 2018 watchdog found Pentonville to be dilapidated and rife with vermin.