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Christmas in Prison

An account by the Reverend J W Horsley, last Chaplain of Her Majesty's Prison, Clerkenwell, 1887.


How I got there does not matter - at least to you; but there I was, and this is how I felt and what I heard and thought. Haven't I said where I was? Well, if you must have it, I was in prison.

On Christmas Eve, of all days in the world, the blow fell. I had to present myself at the police court, and almost as quickly as I can say it sufficient evidence was brought against me to justify a remand, and remanded I was. Down from the dock in a stupid bewilderment I was led, into a tiny cell, one of many, however, I found by the various noises on either side.

One I could hear howling out defiantly curses against the police; another with a feeble attempt at bravado, singing some inane ditty; another hammering at the door, apparently in a state of incipient delirium tremens, while on my right I could hear the low but sustained sobs of a young girl, and on the left the restless pacing to and fro of a well-dressed and evidently educated man, whose case had been tried just before mine. No window, little light, no quiet, for being below the varied sounds in the corridor I could hear the sea-like sound of many feet in the streets hurrying to get their Christmas dinners and their Christmas presents.

But soon a change came, and in such a state any change is welcome. Up the steps we were summoned, and one by one from the door we made a hurried and shame-faced ascension of the steps of the hearse-like prison van. Jolt, jolt, we rolled along the streets, while my fellow-travellers tried vigorously to make their voices heard to one another from the coffin-like cupboards, upright ship-berths, in which we were separately enclosed. At last a stop, a delay, and forward movement, and then with a clang the gates of the prison had enclosed us.

I need not linger on the taking of our descriptions by warders, or the taking of baths by us; time passed rapidly in the novelty of each successive event, and soon I found myself leaving a long iron and slate gallery, and ushered into one of the innumerable (as it seemed) cells of the prison. A few brief directions, briefly but not unkindly given by the warder, and I was locked in and left alone.

'A Christmas in Prison' taken from 'Jottings in Jail: Notes and Papers on Prison Matters' by Reverend J W Horsley, Late and Last Chaplain of Her Majesty's Prison, Clerkenwell, 1887