Oxford Tour...

Interior con'd, pg 2

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PART III: Maps

[086]: Displayed in the D-Wing museum are a variety of plans of the Oxford prison complex at various stages of its history, some of them more interesting than others, but the most interesting and detailed of them is this one from 1878. You'll need to zoom in to see the detail of course! [click on Map itself to enlarge]

There would have been some changes from this incarnation to the prison that we recognise from Bad Girls, but essentially the main structures that we are familiar with are all there. The Castle Mill which can be seen abutting St George's Tower was demolished in the 1930s. The separate wing for female prisoners, B-Wing, which can be seen to the right of the plan, numbered 1, was also destroyed. As you can see, the female prisoners had their own separate exercise yard, and a separate exercise yard for female debtors. The building where Thomas examined Pam Jolly is where the female wash houses are on this plan.

Dominating the plan to the top left is Castle Hill, the 80ft high castle motte or mound with its well chamber, which along with St George's Tower is all that survives of the original Norman castle built for William the Conqueror by Robert d'Oilly in 1071. A castle keep, initially of wood and then stone, crowned the summit. D-Wing is to the left of the plan, with the St George's Tower, which possibly dates from the pre-conquest period and may have begun as part of the Saxon town defences, at its southern end. The Debtors' Tower (not labelled as such on this plan), with its adjoining 1st and 2nd class debtors exercise yards, is at the map's northern end.

Also indicated is the St George's Chapel Crypt. St George's Church was founded in 1074, as a collegiate church for secular canons, one of whom was Geoffrey of Monmouth. Monmouth is credited with being one of the early teachers of the developing university in Oxford in the 12th century. But St George's Chapel and the crypt may already have been in existence in Saxon times—before 1071. The vaulted crypt below D-Wing is the oldest part of the prison buildings, and is all that survives of the chapel. Its decorated Romanesque columns are among the earliest in Oxford. At times when the castle was under siege, because the subterranean crypt was cold, bodies were stored there to preserve them until they could be safely buried elsewhere. They would have shared the space with the food supplies which were kept there for the same reason—well, not to be buried later, but because it was cold down there! (There's a healthful environment for your foodstuffs—right next to the dead bodies. Yum.)


To the right of D-Wing is a structure labelled "Shot Drill Shed" (numbered 3) and another building to the right of that. These were no longer in existence in Bad Girls, which meant that the exercise yard was bigger. The two buildings behind these two structures, labelled 'Stores' are the Houses of Correction buildings that we see in Bad Girls, which were built in 1788 by William Blackburn, and later altered; they would have replaced the Shot Drill Shed as a place where the prisoners were put to hard labour. The Tread Wheel house (labelled 4) is behind the Shot Drill Shed.

To the right of the Exercising Yard is C-Wing, ending at the Round Tower where we began the exterior tour of the prison. The tower base is known from excavation to be the remains of one of the bastions of the castle wall. C-Wing, built in 1785, was the first wing designed by William Blackburn. Blackburn was the first specialist in prison design, and those for the two wings of Oxford prison were among his earliest. C-Wing has been altered a great deal more than D-Wing, both inside and outside.

The largest of the wings on the plan is A-Wing, or Bad Girls' G-Wing. It was built between 1852-1856 by HJ Underwood and JC Buckler, who were also responsible for the link building (the so-called 'hospital wing' in Bad Girls) that joined A-Wing to the earlier entrance tower and range, that with machicolated towers at each corner resembled a Norman castle. (It was from behind one of the front towers that Helen climbed out onto the roof to speak to Zandra in S2.) A-Wing was built to house male prisoners and had 92 cells, but at one time it housed nearly 300.

The County Hall building at the top right of the plan housed the law courts, and was designed in the Norman style by Plowman and built in 1841, replacing the old 12th century Shire Hall within the castle bailey that housed the County Assize Courts.


[087]: [click on map to enlarge] This is the plan of the 20th century prison—so this is what it would have been like when Bad Girls was filmed there. The Key to the plan reads:

1) St George's Tower
2) D-Wing including Debtors' Tower
3) Castle Mound
4) A-Wing—north range including the workshop
5) C-Wing
6) Prison entrance range including the trap door to the tunnel leading to the county court
7) Houses of Correction
8) Treadwheel building
9) Governor's House
10) Main exercise yard
11) Prison perimeter wall—demolished in 2005 as part of the regeneration of the site
12) Prison warders' houses—demolished as part of the regeneration of the site and now under the Living Room restaurant
13) Old County Hall—formerly the county court


[088]: [click on map to enlarge] The ownership of Oxford Prison was transferred from the shire authorities in 1878 to Central Government. Following the 1996 closure of the Prison, and in terms of that 1878 the agreement and the Prison Act of 1877, the Oxfordshire County Council was able to buy back the prison from the Home Office for the princely sum of £9,009—the price it was sold for in 1877! Oxford Archaeology was commissioned by the County Council to prepare a report on the known archaeological potential of the castle and prison. This report was followed by various stages of fieldwork—the plans for one of which, the trial trenches excavated in 1999, are shown here. These continued until the completion of the development in 2006. All the archaeological remains removed during the course of the building works have been investigated and recorded by the Oxford Preservation Trust. This plan also gives an idea of what on the site is 'new build'.

I'm not sure about that little structure right next to the main entrance archway though (which houses Krispy Kreme Donuts), it seems much more extensive than that and extends right to the wall of the prison building, as you could see in Photo [039] of the exterior tour.


PART IV: Posters

[089]: [click on poster to enlarge] Part of the museum displays are large wall posters of old photographs of the former prison, with an inset information panel. My apologies for any camera shake in these shots, but they had to be taken without a flash to avoid reflection off the surface. This poster shows what the old A-wing interior looked like before it was converted. One major difference between this A-Wing interior and the Bad Girls G-Wing set is the skylights which light the atrium—these Oxford prison ones are centrally situated in the roof—the Bad Girls ones are on the sides, as you can see in S1 Ep1 [21:17] and S1 Ep2 [47:49]. I have to wonder though, how much good the few little ceiling fans did in that huge space!

As mentioned in the introduction, A-wing was based on the Pentonville model. Pentonville prison in North London was built in 1842, and it became the model for fifty-four other British prisons, including A-wing at Oxford. The design for Pentonville was itself influenced by the Separate System (the belief that locking up prisoners separately would have reforming powers), developed at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Of Pentonville's mixed mandate, Trevor May, author of Victorian & Edwardian Prisons, quotes Robin Evans (author of The Fabrication of Virtue: English Prison Architecture, 1750-1840, Cambridge 1982) as commenting that Pentonville "was at once too well-appointed to deter, and too dreadful to reform". If you look at the accompanying thumbnail of Pentonville prison you can see just how much the design of A-wing was influenced by it.




[090]: [click on poster to enlarge] This is an aerial shot of the old exercise yard and the adjacent A-wing building. The steel mesh security fence doesn't appear to have been in place at this stage, because in Bad Girls it extends from the gable-end of the wing across to the Houses of Correction building on the right. There also does not appear to be a fence surrounding the paved area at the base of A-Wing—possibly to allow easier access for the collection of er, 'night waste'! If you look very closely at the left base of C-Wing on the opposite side of the yard, there appears to be a little outdoor 'privy'—something that wasn't there in Bad Girls—maybe bladder control had improved!


[091]: [click on poster to enlarge] Bad Girls gets a mention in this one! In this shot the steel mesh security fence at the top end of the exercise yard seems to be in place, and the privy isn't. It must have been taken more recently than the one above.



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