Ancestry UK

Camp Hill Preventive Detention Prison, Newport, Isle of Wight

The Male Preventive Detention Prison, used to accommodate habitual offenders. Its construction began in 1909 and it was opened by the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill in March 1912, although building work was only finally completed in 1915. The following report (abridged) was published just prior to the opening:


This establishment is provided under the Prevention of Crime Act, 1908. and it marks the inauguration of a new era in the reformative treatment of prisoners by means of preventive detention. The length of this detention, within a limit of ten years, will be determined by the manner in which the prisoners respond to the new treatment.

The first prison block is now complete, awaiting tho arrival of the first batch of prisoners at the expiration of their sentences of penal servitude.

Over 100 acres of the forest have been acquired for the purpose of this new “prison,” which is hidden from public view by trees.

In outward appearance, even, the new prison is quite unlike the forbidding convict prison. One is not repelled by large, square-built, barrack-like buildings, with rows of small ventilator-windows.

On the contrary, there is a group of comparatively small and homely-looking buildings with ordinary cottage sash windows looking out from the cells.

In several important respects, the rigours of ordinary prison life will relaxed. Prisoners, whose conduct merits it (after a period of probation) will be permitted to associate with each other at meals and during recreation time.

An association hall, well lighted and furnished, has been provided at one end of every prison block, and on each floor. Here the prisoners who have gained the privilege will mix freely during the “association” intervals, although a warder will, course, keep a look-out. The officer, however, will be kept apart from the prisoners in small observation ward the end of each hall.

The cells, which are ranged on each side of a central corridor, are, with the exception those in the punishment block, attractively coloured; spring mattresses are provided for sleeping, and the prisoners will be able at will to open and close their "cottage" windows, which have stout steel grids outside to prevent possibility of escape.

In the offices and stores block is the prisoners’ canteen, where they will be privileged to purchase extras in the way of food and other small luxuries to supplement the prison dietary. No money will change hands when the prisoners "buy" from the canteen, but the cost of purchases will charged against the gratuities which they have been enabled to earn by good conduct and industry. Any gratuities not spent in this way may sent the prisoners to their relatives, or be retained for their own use on discharge.

Forest land is being cleared outside for the provision of allotment gardens for prisoners of good conduct, who will be credited with proceeds of the sale to the prison authorities of the produce of such allotments.

The prisoners be taught agricultural and horticultural work and useful trades.

The ordinary prison rules in regard to visits by relatives and friends to the prisoners are to be relaxed. Prisoner and visitor will meet in one room with an iron barrier between them.

All the buildings are constructed cement blocks, with bright red glazed tile roofs, the cells and corridors have red-tiled floors, and the association halls have wood block flooring.

Convict labour has been largely employed in the erection of the new prison, but most of the skilled labour has been obtained by the Home Office from the outside.

A second report included more details on the prison's regime:


Mr. H. G. Supple, Deputy-Governor of Parkhurst Prison, has been appointed Governor of the experimental prison for the treatment of habitual offenders by the preventive detention system at Parkhurst, Isle of Wight. The site of the new prison is at the back of the present convict establishment and on the highest point of Camp-hill. A total area of 105 acres has been taken from the Office of Woods and Forests—37 on a building lease and 68 on an agricultural lease. About 5½ have been enclosed within the prison wall, and here there have been erected buildings with cells to accommodate 200 prisoners, together with auxiliary buildings, such as kitchens and offices. The latter are designed to cater for 400—the maximum at present contemplated—and provision has also been made by which the boundary wall may be extended, if required, to form a second enclosure. In the construction of the new establishment one aim has been to get a little away from the monotonous and sombre aspect of ordinary prison surroundings.

The following draft rules ace quoted from a Parliamentary paper issued last February: Persons undergoing preventive detention shall be divided into three grades—ordinary, special, and disciplinary. On entering upon preventive detention they shall he placed in the ordinary grade. After every six months passed in the ordinary grade with exemplary conduct a prisoner who has shown zeal and industry in the work assigned to him I be awarded a certificate of industry and conduct. Four of three certificates will entitle him to promotion to the special grade. With each certificate a prisoner will receive a good conduct stripe carrying privileges or a small money payment.

A prisoner may be placed in the disciplinary grade by order of the Governor as part of a punishment for misconduct, or because he is known to be exercising a bad influence on others and may he kept there as long as may he necessary in the interests of himself of others.

Prisoners will be employed either at useful trades, in which they will be instructed, or at agricultural work, or in the service of the prison, and those in the ordinary and special grades will he allowed to earn gratuity by their work. They will be allowed to spend a portion of their gratuity in the purchase of additions to their dietary, or to send it to their families, or to accumulate it for use on their discharge.

Prisoners who have obtained three certificates of industry will be eligible to have a garden allotment assigned to them which they may cultivate a such times as may be prescribed. The produce of these allotments will, if possible, be purchased for use in prisons at market rates, and the proceeds credited to the prisoner.

Prisoners in the ordinary grade may he allowed to associate at meal times and also, after gaining the second certificate, in the evenings. Prisoners in the special grade may also be allowed to associate at meal times and in the evenings, and shall be allowed such additional relaxations of a literary and social character as may be prescribed from time to time. The first convicts to be received at the new prison. 15 in number, will arrive at the beginning of next month. By the end of March it is expected that about 40 will be under detention.

Despite the relatively congenial regime, there was soon trouble at the prison. In December 192, a batch of inmates mutinied after one of their number was sent to a punishment cell. The men, who refused to work or return to their cells, were only subdued when the warders from the neighbouring convict prison drew their swords. Some of the miscreants were themselves placed in punishment cells, while others were deprived of privileges such as smoking, reading newspapers, and purchasing extra dainties from the canteen.

In 1932, with the implicit acknowledgment that the Camp Hill regime did not have the reforming effect on its inmates that had been hoped for, the prison was closed and the existing prisoners transferred to Lewes Prison. The Camp Hill site was then adapted to become the Camp Hill Borstal.


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