The project

The project ‘The Persistence of the Victorian Prison: Alteration, Inhabitation, Obsolescence and Affirmative Design’ considers the persistence of Victorian prisons in the UK today.

Project scope

In England and Wales, 22,000 prisoners are held in Victorian-era prisons, equivalent to one-quarter of the prison population. This project explores the implications of the continued operation of Victorian-era prisons, and asks how we will know when they have reached the end of their operational lives.

Project aims

The project aims to answer five questions about the continued use of these historic prisons:

  • How has the fabric of Victorian prison buildings changed over time?
  • How do Victorian prisons function today?
  • What does it feel like to live and work in Victorian prisons?
  • How has the cultural framing of the Victorian prison shaped the collective consciousness?
  • What is the fallout of the continued operation of Victorian prisons?

We want to understand what these prisons are like to live and work in, and how has this changed over time. We are examining the ways that these prison buildings carry traces of the past, while operating in the present day.

The project considers how and why these buildings have survived for so long, and asks how we will know when they have reached the end of their operational lives. We consider the significance of the Victorian prison in shaping public and professional ideas of what prison should be like. Crucially, this project explores the implications of the continued operation of Victorian-era prisons for the contemporary prison service, and aims to inform policy development.

Project methods

This interdisciplinary project combines a wide range of methods, including:

  • Archival research
  • Oral histories
  • Discourse analysis of literary and media sources
  • Interviews
  • Creative methodologies
  • Public engagement and co-production

We will engage with people who have experience of living and working in Victorian-era prisons, including current and former prisoners, current and former prison staff, and prison contractors. We will run a series of events to engage with these groups, as well as the general public.