The interactive parts of this resource no longer work, but it has been archived so you can continue using the rest of it.

  Find Out More



In the eighteenth century prisons were often run privately and warders charged the inmates for food and other services. Extra payments could also lead to separate rooms, and frequent visitors. Wealthy prisoners could live almost as well in prison as they could outside.
But for the poor, the situation was very different. Prisoners were squashed into rooms, which could hold fifty or more people. There was no hygiene and typhus, known as jail fever, was widespread.

A Victorian Prison
  The first attempts to reform prisons came in the 1770s when John Howard, a magistrate, visited prisons and then passed an Act of Parliament that led to warders being paid a salary rather than charging fees. Elizabeth Fry, who campaigned to improve prison conditions, began to visit Newgate Prison in the early nineteenth century and her efforts led to the setting up of Holloway prison for women.
But the most important changes in prisons came in the middle of the nineteenth century, when a new design of prison was introduced. This was called the 'separate system'. Here prisoners were kept in separate cells in wings radiating out from one central block. This enabled the warders to keep an eye on the prisoners as easily as possible.