Oxford Tour, part II
—Kerry B. with E. Kline

 Tour Home


Being careful not to bump our heads on the low arched doorway that was designed for short medieval persons, leading from the top of St George's Tower, we make our way back down the 101 steps to the museum in the old D-Wing of Oxford prison. D-Wing was built quite a bit earlier than A-Wing (or G-Wing as we know it) in the closing years of the 18th century, so they do look rather different. The various wings of the prison all bear testimony to the development of the prison system over the centuries of its use, with D-Wing reflecting the reforms promoted by John Howard, who had condemned the earlier prison buildings as unfit for human habitation. The Victorian A-Wing of 1852-6 reflects the innovations introduced at Pentonville, and is the best surviving example of this in the country.

Part I: Doorways & Gates

[069]: You've seen this door before in items [19] and [20]—but from the other side! If you have a look at the thumbnail, you'll see the little green door just over halfway down the stair turret of St George's Tower. This is the view from the very close confines of that stair turret. This door is yet another one that appears to lead out into thin air!

[070]: You'll be forgiven for wondering if there were caves hidden in the precincts of Oxford prison when looking at this photo—but no, this is actually a doorway: the photo was taken on the move down St George's Tower in an attempt to get a shot of the room that houses the water tanks in the accompanying two thumbnails. These water tanks were installed in St George's Tower in order to store water for the Victorian prison. They were supported by the sturdy cast iron beams which you can see here; there was just one problem, as you might be able to make out from the main photograph: they were not covered at the top. Which meant that rats and birds and their droppings, and every other bit of dust and dirt that you could expect in an 11th century tower could fall into the tanks and contaminate the water supply—not something I'd like to quench my thirst with on a hot day! Oh, and there was actually one other problem too—the tanks contained lead, which wasn't exactly conducive to the ongoing good health of the prison population either! The tiny bright yellow spots you see in the first thumbnail towards the bottom right-hand side of the photo are for monitoring the structure—to see if it's settling, deflecting, etc.

[071]: The doorway to and from the stairway to the top of St George's Tower—you won't be breathing as heavily after coming down the stairs, but you'll know by now that you have calf muscles!

[072]: The doorway leading to the cells on D-Wing—as you can see the whole structure is very different to the Victorian model of G-wing: this is all solid with none of the ironwork galleries, bridges S2 Ep7 [10:52], and stairways S1 Ep2 [47:55] that we see in Bad Girls. It seems altogether a much darker, more forbidding place without the benefit of the light that enters G-Wing through the large end windows, and the skylights in the roundarched roof S2 Ep7 [28:08], S3 Ep3 [08:14] and S3 Ep1 (36:40). The cold stone floors are worn from the feet that have trodden them over the centuries—Yvonne would certainly have needed her scrap of carpet on the floor of her cell if she'd been on this wing!

[073]: The iron-shod cell doors on D-Wing somehow look even more narrow than the ones on G-Wing, and like those doors they are also very low. I think the green is perhaps slightly more fetching though!—or perhaps it's the accessory... S3 Ep2 [13:07].

[074]: Look familiar? Well, more than a little anyway! S3 Ep2 [10:40]. It was really hard to get this in focus because the doors were wedged open and there wasn't any space behind them—I managed to push this one closed a bit, but clearly nobody else had been behind there for a while, and it could have done with a visit from the Julies with their dusters!

[075]: This gate leads from the D-Wing cells to the Debtors' Tower at the opposite end of the wing from St George's Tower. Until 1869 when modern bankruptcy laws were introduced, the Debtors' Tower housed both first and second class debtors, with separate exercise yards for each class.

[076]: Still more stairs to climb—this is the door at the top of the stairs up to the second floor of the Debtors' Tower. A bit surreal looking with its large clock which is part of a display indicating the 19th century prisoners' work schedule for the day, which included time spent on the treadwheel, and also oakum picking. Picking oakum was work that was undertaken by male prisoners, and it involved stripping between two and five pounds of old rope down to its fibres, each day. Often this rope came from ships and was covered in pitch, so it wasn't particularly kind to the hands! The fibres were then sold to be used for caulking ships' timbers. The sign above this doorway reads 'D2  1 to 7'. There were seven compartments on each floor of the Debtors' Tower, but the partitions have now been removed. The gate itself is rather unusual, and different to what we're used to seeing in Bad Girls. If you have a look at the first of the thumbnails, you'll get a better idea of what it looks like. The gate in the thumbnail is one that leads into the entrance to St George's Tower and D-wing from the Unlocked Museum shop. We see this gateway in the S1 Extras, Bad Girls in Oxford [11:43]. In this screenshot you can see Jack Ellis going through the same gateway as the one in our first thumbnail, into the rather dark interior of St George's Tower.

[077]: The magic of photography: almost identical shots on different settings. One looks nearly romantic; the other... not. As you see, the gates are a bit less substantial-looking than those in Bad Girls, S2 Ep7 [46:38]. This gate is in the Debtors' Tower, and leads to a narrow, winding fire-escape stairway. The floors in the Debtors' Tower are wooden, and the exposed wooden trusses and ceiling of the roof structure can be seen in the second thumbnail photo, in which they are currently in need of a bit of extra support from some wooden props—as would you be after over 210 years of holding up the conical lead roof which rises above its crenellated parapet which you can see in the third and fourth thumbnails.

[078]: Well I pushed the fire-escape gate open didn't I? And clearly one is required to do a spot of fire fighting as you flee the burning building down those stairs—well it's better than falling over the fire extinguisher on the way down I suppose!

Part II: Cells

[079]: Cell D206. This is one of the cells on D-Wing—complete with a bit of stylish graffiti! As you can see they are even smaller than the ones in Bad Girls. In this wing there is also no evidence of there being loos or wash-hand basins in the cells either—quite frankly they wouldn't fit. For those of you who are interested, the wording on the walls reads:

"Now you shall know our usage after we were in the Castle, under Captaine William Smith, the first night we were put up into the Tower, the place being so little that we were forced to lie one upon another...living on the boards, many fell sick and very weak in body, almost all of us like to perish and end our daies by the bloody flux...

When his prisoners have had no reliefe in 24 hours and have earnestly begged for water, and hath with all possible respect been desired thereunto, he hath violently fallen upon them, knocking of them down and beating of them, in as much as some of their limbs are likely to be lost thereby, and after such beating, being cast into irons head and heeles, all night, for no other cause, then for asking a little water.

There was one Richard Cawdle, and one Robert Neale, that escaped out of Bridewell, and were taken againe, he burnt them with match betweene the fingers to the bone, and laid them in irons hands and feet, suffers no Surgeon to come to them, so keeps them 8 weeks, and they both in this extremity ended their days in much misery."

[080]: This little cell has an interesting double-barrel or groin vault ceiling that is rather different from the barrel vault ones in Bad Girls, which we don't get to see very often. The thumbnail shows the ceiling more clearly. In addition to more 'graffiti', this cell also has a rather fetching display-poster on the left wall, part of which you can see at the extreme left of this photo....

[081]: Ahem... yes, well... er, it's a little out of alignment—I apologise for that... but I think you can see why! (For those of more Adventurous Spirit, or who simply want to know all the gory details [for research purposes only, yeh yeh...], click on the photo to enlarge. Wouldn't want to confuse ankle fetters with leg irons during those culturally sensitive exchanges.) The sign dates these accoutrements from the Civil War, 17th century.

[082]: This cell has the more conventional barrel vault ceiling that we see in Bad Girls—we don't very often get a full view of it, usually only a part view such as in S1 Ep9 (04:33) and [10:11]. But we do however get a pretty good idea of it in S1 Ep2 [31:28], and while I am loathe to parade Nikki's humiliation at the hands of the 'Squat Squad', it is about the best example we're going to get in Bad Girls. Let's just call it "Curves", shall we?

[083]: When I was scrolling through these photographs, I did a double-take when this one came up, because it reminded me of the Bad Girls' titling! But look how tiny the opening part of the 'twatting twat' window is—I'd be claustrophobic too! Compare it with Zandra's window in S1 Ep9 [09:25].

[084]: Well this isn't strictly speaking a cell, but it's inside the Debtors' Tower and that was originally partitioned into cells. The debtors were clearly more fortunate than the rest of the prisoners and had a fireplace to warm them—perhaps this was the section for first class debtors, and the more lowly second class debtors had to shiver, because I didn't notice a fireplace on the other floor. Featured in the wall poster to the right is John Howard, who was responsible for a lot of the prison reforms of the 18th century. The wording on the poster says "One of the most influential of the reformers was John Howard [?1726 - 90]. Howard conducted a tour of almost every county gaol in England and Wales, including Oxford. His book, The State of the Prison (1777) shocked many people with its graphic descriptions of the dreadful scenes behind bars."

[085]: Not a cell either, but you'd find it in one. Believe it or not, this isn't a handy rack for prisoners' luggage, but a bed—and Yvonne complained hers was hard and narrow! As part of a regime introduced in the 1860s and 1870s, where punishment and deterrence took precedence over reformation, the 1865 Prison Act introduced the hard plank bed, which continued in use until 1945. So the beds in the thumbnail would have been a vast improvement—and the Larkhall bunks relatively posh by comparison!




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