Art, photographs and personal testimonials trace the 150-year history of Lincoln Prison

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Image credit: Andy Aitchison

Highlights of the exhibition will include original artwork and poetry created by people who have been held in the prison this summer, as well as never-before-seen archival views of the prison, photographs, testimonials from former prisoners and staff.

The event is part of a three-and-a-half-year research project, ‘The Persistence of the Victorian Prison’, which examines how the fabric and function of Victorian prisons changed over time, what it felt of living and working in Victorian prisons past and present, and what the persistence of the Victorian domain means for the contemporary prison system.

The project is led by Professor Dominique Moran with Professor Matt Houlbrook, both from the University of Birmingham, and Professor Yvonne Jewkes from the University of Bath, in partnership with the Howard League for Penal Reform. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Professor Moran, Professor of Prison Geography at the University of Birmingham, said: “We were delighted to be able to support HMP/YOI Lincoln by marking the 150e anniversary of its founding. The history of this prison mirrors the wider history of Victorian-era prisons in the UK, but during our time at Lincoln we were struck by the unique perspectives and experiences shared by prisoners and staff, past and present. We are especially privileged to be able to present the artwork and writings of current inmates to audiences beyond prison. This work speaks both of the contemporary experience of incarceration and of the “presence” of prison history in everyday life.

The history of this prison mirrors the wider history of Victorian-era prisons in the UK, but during our time at Lincoln we were struck by the unique perspectives and experiences shared by prisoners and staff, past and present.

Professor Dominique Moran, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

The Victorian era was the most important period of prison building in UK history. During the period 1842 to 1877, a total of 90 prisons were built or significantly enlarged, as part of a concerted building program. Lindsey County Jail was one of the last to be completed and one of many Victorian jails built in a star-shaped layout, with wings of cells arranged around a central core.

Several of the prisons built, modified or extended during the Victorian period were later closed, but Lincoln is one of 32 still in operation in England and Wales today. Together they hold 22,000 prisoners, or about one in four inmates currently serving. Since most are “local” prisons, serving the courts and holding prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing, almost all male prisoners will have spent time in a prison at some point.

Resources to be displayed at the November exhibition come from archival research at Lincolnshire County Archives, the Modern Records Center at the University of Warwick, documents held at the prison itself and history interviews oral with former staff and prisoners.

The exhibition will also feature interviews and creative activities from art and writing workshops that took place in Lincoln Jail in the summer of 2022, as well as a collection of original prison photographs taken by the famous photographer Andy Aitchison.

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