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  • Victoria Bone

Research for Prison Residency.

Updated: Feb 10


The residency will take place in C-Wing at Shepton Mallet decommissioned prison. From September 18th until October 2nd 2021. Public are welcomed to visit daily between 11am and 4pm to see the artists at work.

https://www.sheptonmalletprison.com/


13 woman have been selected by Prison_Residencies curator artists Luminara Florescu and Amanda Lynch, to create new work in response to C-Wing. C-wing is where the woman prisoners were held until 1918. There was a working prison on the site from 1625 until it was decommissioned in 2013.








History of women in prison in the 1800/1900's

In the summer of 1871 an average of 500 women, notable for their “drunkenness and depravity”, were locked up there each night.


In the Victorian period Sir Joshua Jebb designed new prisons for female convicts. He maintained that they were unable to withstand the prolonged nine-month terms in separate confinement imposed on male prisoners at the beginning of their sentences. Consequently, women were isolated for four months, confined to individual cells where they ate, slept and worked for 23 hours per day.

Women’s prisons, shaped by the ideologies of domesticity and ideals of motherhood, focused on restoring female and maternal qualities. Women required saving twice, firstly from their criminality and then from their deviance from anticipated female behavior.


Woman at Shepton Mallet Prison.

The last female prisoner was 26 year old Lily Maud Birrell. She received 1 month 2nd Division (The divisions were introduced as a form of prisoner class system). After the closure of the prison on the 2nd December 1918 she was sent to Exeter to serve out the rest of her term which expired just before the new year. The document reference for this is A_BRI_3-2, register number 58, page 140.


Typical length of sentence for women between the years 1893 and 1918 were around 7 - 14 days with the most popular offences drunkenness, public disturbance, vandalism or assault.


The women at Shepton Mallet would have been doing 'domestic' work such as working in the laundry, clothing repairs etc. as well as other day to day prison running tasks. An idea of the length of working time can be seen in the chart below along with the daily routine of woman prisoners and how much time was spent in their cell each day.


Columns show staff, prisoner and staff:


Time Description Whom Day Source Year

06:00 Bell rings; officers muster Staff Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

06:05 Prisoners rise, clean cells etc. Prisoner Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

06:30 Prisoners commence labour Prisoner Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

07:45 Prisoners cease labour for breakfast Prisoner Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

08:00 Officers (except those on parole) go to breakfast Staff Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

08:40 Officers return; patrols go to breakfast Staff Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

08:45 Prisoners recommence labour Prisoner Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

11:15 Bell rings for prayers Prisoner Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

11:25 Prayers Prisoner Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

12:00 Prisoners' dinners Prisoner Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

12:15 Officers (except those on parole) go to dinner Staff Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

13:25 Officers return; patrols go to dinner Staff Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

13:30 Prisoners recommence labour Prisoner Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

17:45 Prisoners cease labour for supper Prisoner Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

17:55 Officers go off duty Staff Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

18:15 Officers to sleep in the prison come on duty Staff Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

18:15 Prisoners recommence labour Prisoner Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

20:00 Prisoners cease labour. Prisoner Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

20:00 Night watchmen come on duty Staff Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

20:10 Lock up Prisoner Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

20:30 Lights out Prisoner Weekday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

07:00 Bell rings; officers muster Staff Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

07:05 Prisoners rise Prisoner Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

07:30 Prisoners' breakfasts Prisoner Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

07:45 Officers (except those on parole) go to breakfast Staff Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

08:45 Officers return ; patrols go to breakfast Staff Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

10:15 Bell for divine service Prisoner Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

12:00 Prisoners' dinners Prisoner Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

12:15 Officers (except those on parole) go to dinner Staff Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

13:25 Officers return ; patrols go to dinner Staff Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

14:30 Bell for divine service Prisoner Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

16:00 Officers go off duty Staff Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

17:30 Officers to sleep in the prison come on duty Staff Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

17:45 Prisoners' suppers; prisoners locked up Prisoner Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

20:00 Night watchmen come on duty Staff Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879

20:15 Lights out Prisoner Sunday Report On The Commissioners Of Prisons 1879


Hard labour tasks would have been as follows, report on Shepton Mallet Prison. Female and males for comparison.:


Hard Labour Tasks

Description Location Class

Treadwheel All Male - First

Cranks in cells All Male - First

Shot Drill All Male - First

Capstan All Male - First

Staonebreaking All Male - First

Matmaking All Male - First

Platting coir All Male - First

Oakum picking All Male - First

Weaving (misc) All Male - First

Ropebeating All Male - First

Netting All Male - First

Twine Spinning All Male - First

Sugar chopping All Male - First

Pounding stone into gravel All Male - First

Blacksmithing (and other handicrafts) All Male - First

Stone Breaking SMP Male - First

Weaving (misc) SMP Male - Second

Sheeting SMP Male - Second

Oakum picking SMP Male - Second

General Servies of the prison SMP Male - Second

Washing SMP Female

Knitting SMP Female

Repairing Clothes SMP Female



No woman were executed at Shepton Mallet although there were many that died in prison - according to John Hippisley around 3 -4 per week according to his report from around 1817 which was also when the prison reached breaking point. Executions began at the prison from 1889 on wards (Samuel Rylands A. K. A. The Yeabridge Murderer) as the prison became the County gaol. Previously, executions were held in Taunton up until 1884. There are very early accounts of a female witch who was burned at the market cross in Shepton Mallet town center. Her sister died in the prison.



In some prisons hard labour included Oakum picking.

Oakum picking was the teasing out of fibers from old ropes and was very hard on the fingers. The loose fibers were often sold to ship-builders for mixing with tar to seal the lining of wooden craft. They could also be used to make matting or bandaging.



Women prisoners clothing:




How did the convicts of Woking Women's prison dress?

F.W. Robinson, in his 7 September 1889 article for The Graphic, tells of how ‘There is a considerable thought as to dress in the prison…as befits a lady’s establishment.’


He writes how ‘Each class has a different style of costume – which is very necessary even for purposes of identification – and there are five classes in all at Woking Prison.’ The classes corresponded to the length of time an inmate had been in the prison, and their clothing can be broken down as follows:


  • PROBATION CLASS (First Nine Months) – summer wear – ‘lilac cotton skirt, with blouse bodice, a square of serge for the shoulders, a checked blue and white apron, small linen cap with goffered border, and a plain untrimmed coarse white straw bonnet of what is termed the

  • ‘cottage shape.’ Winter wear – ‘the lilac dress is replaced by thick blue serge, with a neckerchief of the same material, and a thick fawn-coloured circular cape is also allowed for the shoulders.’

  • THIRD CLASS (Second Nine Months) – summer wear – ‘a plain blue cotton skirt with stripes, and a square of brown serge for the shoulders.’ The same white bonnet of the probation class is worn. Winter wear – brown serge dresses and fawn-coloured capes.

  • SECOND CLASS (Third Nine Months) – summer wear – ‘a full blue cotton skirt with white spots, a blouse-bodice of the same material, and a square of thick green serge for the shoulders.’ Winter wear – ‘a thick green serge gown, the other details of dress being the same as the preceding class.’

  • FIRST CLASS (Fourth Nine Months) – summer and winter wear has ‘little or any distinction from the second class.’

  • SPECIAL CLASS (Nine Months until Release) – summer & winter wear – ‘a Princess robe of dark grey striped flannel, a cap of cross-bar muslin, with goffered border and broad muslin strings.’






Suffragette prisoners 1900's

















My practice:

Reinterpreting restrictions placed on a woman's body is a key area of my work. For this residency I am looking at historical apparatus and clothing used to mute and impede women. Such as scolds bridle, introduced sometime in the 1500's.


Scolds bridle, Museum of witch craft and magic.




Article from https://tidingsofyore.wordpress.com/


“THEY BRIDLED THE SCOLD.

Awful Punishment to Which Women Were Subject at One Time.New York Press.

An instrument of punishment formerly much used in England, but never in this country, was the ‘brank,’ or ‘scold’s bridle,’ or ‘gossip’s bridle,’ used on women. It consisted of a crown framework of iron, which was locked upon the head and was armed in front with a gag, a plate or sharp-cutting knife or point which was placed in the mouth so as to prevent the tongue being moved without it being cut in a horrible manner. With this cage upon her head and with the gag pressed and locked against her tongue, the miserable creature, whose sole offense perhaps was that she had raised her voice in defense of her social rights against a brutal or besotted husband, or who had spoken honest truth of some one high in office in the town, was paraded through the streets led by a chain held in the hands of the bellman, the beadle, or the constable, or else she was chained to the pillory, the whipping post or the market cross, and subjected to every conceivable insult without even the power left her of asking for mercy or of promising amendment for the future; and when the punishment was over she was turned out from the town hall maimed, disfigured, faint and degraded, to be the subject of comment and jeering among her neighbors, and to be reviled by her persecutors.”


I relate the Scolds Bridle to the face masks prisoners were forced to ware for the silence and separate system brought in in the mid 1800's was thought this would create deep seated and lasting reform.


The silent and Separate systems were also introduced in the mid-1800s, keeping prisoners in complete silence throughout the day and completely separated from one another in single cells, further punishing and breaking the will of the prisoner.




Chastity belts were another form of restrictive apparatus for women.


Chastity belts

https://allthatsinteresting.com/chastity-belt

Medieval men were worried. Here they were, heading off to war or out on a pilgrimage, with no one to check the fidelity of their wives. What to do? Well, the Medieval men came up with a Medieval solution: The chastity belt.
The device, a metal contraption that fit around a woman’s waist — locked, of course, with a key held by her husband — has long bedeviled historians. Chastity belts appear in Medieval texts dating back to the 15th century. But there’s suspiciously little physical evidence to support their existence.

Research of historical UK ritual folk costumes and masks.

The Straw Bear ritual takes place in Whittlesey on the Tuesday following Plough Monday (the first Monday after Epiphany). It marks the traditional start of agriculture for the year.

The Straw Bear was led through the streets on a rope by a man holding a collection box. The bear danced for food, gifts and money. The bear is a man covered in straw to resemble a sheaf of corn.


Traditional the Burryman is meant to collect the burrs himself, some recruiting help to gather the large number of burrs (approximately 11,000), which are meshed together into about 25 flat panels, A3 in size, like natural, which can be wrapped around his body on the morning of the ceremony. The process takes about half an hour. He dresses in several layers of clothing to protect himself from their hooks and a balaclava covers his head and face; it too is covered with burrs, leaving only small eye and mouth holes; a flower-covered bowler hat tops off the outfit.On his route he accepts glasses of whiskey and its considered good luck to meet him.

Quote johns experience of this.

John Nicol describes the mental and physical preparation needed the role. At the end of the day, when the costume is ripped off and the agony was over he had a sense of being reborn.


My interest in these types of costuming is smothering and imposed physical movement by the costumes, and use of large amounts of the same material.


Given prisoners had to buy food and bedding in 1800's, and knowing how resourceful prisoners are with what little they have. I imagine women having to make their own masks. I will play with fabric from used clothing to make masks that greatly reduce my vision and gag me.



Ritual costume - ceremony, not ordinary/everyday, brings the wearer into a different state of being, presents to their roll in the ritual.

Ritual movement - walking: associated with; procession ,festivals, religion,pilgrimage, parades,

Action to measure time, space and movement: picking, unraveling, scratching, indenting, mark making.

site specific: relating to the physicality of the building, of confinement, to the history of the building.


Links to my practice: large sculptural costumes, used clothing for embodiment and absence of figure, walking as a simple action and ritual practice.

Themes: Restriction to women represented by suppression of movement through restrictive costume.


Materials list:

fabric, thread, used clothing, leather, paper, ink, ash, charcoal.




Coping mechanisms:

Damien Echols was falsely convicted of committing 3 murders and served 18 years on death row, Echols credits the practice of magick for helping him survive.




Research list:

  • Shepton Mallet Prison Museum archives.

  • Essay The treatment of women in prison in the 19th century by Dr. Rachel Bennet, Dr. Catherine Cox, and Dr. Hilary Marland, 2018

  • Women in Prison, a charity supporting women affected by the Criminal justice system and campaigning to end the harm of prison to women, their families & communities.

  • The Black Sun, The Alchemy and Art of Darkness by Jungian analyst Stanton Marlon. Marlon re-examines the paradoxical image of the black sun and the meaning of darkness in Western culture.

  • Arcadia Britannica, A modern British folklore portrait by Henry Bourne.

  • Website - All that's interesting.

  • Documentary - HM Prison Hollaway.

  • Interview with Paula Kirby artist in Therapeutic & Educational Application of the Arts, about her time working in Bristol women's prison.

  • Life after Death and High Magick by Damien Echols

  • In Durance VileExploring Life Behind Prison Bars Over A Century Ago by Rose Staveley-Wadum.






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