BRIEF HISTORY DURING THE SNOW ERA (1813-58)
The origin of Millbank Penitentiary was the work of Jeremy Bentham, who in 1791 produced a set of novel ideas for prison management. He conceived of a round prison with cells on the circumference facing a core at the enter. The guards were to sit in the central core and view all cells, thereby giving the illusion of constant surveillance. The prisoners were to be kept silent and made to produce various commercial items. Bentham theorized that this would serve as punishment while at the same time develop an appreciation of labor. A contract to build such a prison was acquired by Bentham, but he was unable to secure financing. In 1813 the government took over the contract and built a modified version of the prison, completed in 1821.
The prison was shaped like a six-pointed star and resided on seven acres by the River Thames. It was the largest prison in London and was used for both men and women. The prisoners were confined to separate cells, made shoes and mail bags, and were forbidden to communicate with each other for the first half of their sentence. Following many health problems attributed to poor diet and sanitation, an Act of Parliament in 1823 limited the prison to men, and improved the environmental and nutritional conditions. In 1843 the facility was converted to an ordinary prison. It was closed in 1890 and demolished in 1903.
The prison is identified as Penitentiary House in Cruchley's map of 1846, Millbank Penitentiary in the 1859 and 1862 maps, and Millbank Prison in the more detailed map of 1869.
Source: Weinreb B, Hibbert C (eds). The London Encyclopaedia, 1993.