Strangeways prison, now known as HMP Manchester, is one of the places featured in my forthcoming novel, Danger by Association. It is a high-security category A prison.
In my latest novel, a rather unsavoury character called Maurice leaves the prison after serving a five year sentence. Maurice is then released back into a society, which isn’t very accepting of people like him.
For this article I thought I would give some background to the prison, which dates back to the nineteenth century and is a rather imposing building.
The building itself is Grade II listed, and its construction was completed in 1869. The original design was for the prison to house 1,000 inmates. It has walls which are 16 feet thick and were designed to be impenetrable. The ventilation tower, shown in the background of the picture, is a well-known landmark, which is often mistaken for a watchtower.
The design of the prison is based on a panopticon. This is a type of building designed by Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher, in the 18th Century. A panopticon building is in the shape of a star. It has an inspection house or watchtower at its centre with wings branching off from the central area. The idea of this concept was for inmates to be observed without them always being aware of the fact that they are being watched.
Strangeways has ten wings, which branch out from two blocks. The diagram below shows the largest of the two blocks, which houses six wings.
Strangeways housed both male and female prisoners until 1963, but it is now a male only prison. It currently holds over 1200 hundred prisoners, and began taking remand prisoners in 1980. The name ‘Strangeways’ originates from the Anglo-Saxon word Strang gewoesc, which means, ‘a place by a stream with a strong current’.
Until 1964, executions were carried out at Strangeways. It had an execution room and a cell for the condemned prisoner as well as a permanent gallows. Between 1869 and 1964, 100 people were executed at Strangeways including the hanging of James Inglis. This was recorded as the world’s quickest hanging, and took just seven seconds.
The Strangeways Prison Riot – 1990
Prisoner protests about the conditions within the prison led to the riots of 1990. At that time, over 1600 prisoners were being held in a prison designed to house 1000 prisoners. The riot began in the prison chapel, but soon spread to other areas of the prison.
The riot lasted 25 days and prisoners were famously captured staging a rooftop protest. During the riot one prisoner was killed, and one prison officer died of a heart attack. Injuries were sustained by 147 prison officers and 47 prisoners. The total cost of repairing the damage to the prison was £90 million. Prisoners across the country responded by carrying out further disturbances in a number of other prisons.
Following the riots, the Government held a public enquiry. The outcome was for a major reform of the prison system. Strangeways was closed while substantial repairs and modernization took place. It re-opened in 1994 when it was renamed, HMP, Manchester. It now houses over 1200 male prisoners.