Ancestry UK

Portsmouth Prison / HMP Kingston, Portsmouth, Hampshire

To replace Portsmouth's old town gaol on Penny Street, construction began in 1874 of a new prison in the city's suburb of Kingston. It was completed in 1877, the year before the nationalisation of the prison system, so only remained under local administration for a short time. It subsequently became known as Her Majesty's Prison Kingston.

The site of the new prison was lay to the north of the Portsea Island Union Workhouse, with a railway line and Kingston Cemetery to the west. The building was designed by local architect George Rake and was the last of nineteen radial-plan prisons erected in England between 1842 and 1877 and based on the model established at Pentonville.

Kingston Prison, Portsmouth, Hampshire, c.1900. © Peter Higginbotham

The main building at Portsmouth had a central octagonal rotunda, from which radiated five wings (A-E). Three of these were two-storey cell blocks which formed the arms of a 'Y': A-wing to the south-east, D-wing to the north-east, and C-wing to the west. E-wing, originally housing offices, with a chapel above, was at the east between A- and D-wing. B-wing, originally a single-storey infirmary, was at the south-west between A- and C-wing. When it first opened, the prison could house 104 men and 52 women, all in separate cells, with A-wing housing the females.

Kingston Prison, Portsmouth, Hampshire, c.1900. © Peter Higginbotham

At the main entrance to the site, on Milton Road, there was a central square gate tower with gate-houses at each side built along the outside of the boundary wall.

A report by the Commissioners of prisons in 1880 noted:

Hard labour of the 1st class is enforced by means of crank machines, 10,000 revolutions, with a resistance of 10 pounds, being the daily task.

Hard labour of the 2nd class consists of picking oakum, coir, and wool, basket, brush, and mop making, various trades, viz., carpentering, bricklaying, painting, white-washing, &c. As regards the introduction of mop making, there are sufficient plant and labour to make from 12 to 15 dozens weekly.

The land within the prison walls is being trenched and brought into cultivation. About 6 tons of potatoes and 2 tons of other vegetables have been grown.

An oven has been built by prison labour, and bread making for the prison will commence in April.

The conduct of the officers has been exemplary, and that of the prisoners very good.

The mark system continues to work in a most satisfactory manner, and is a great inducement to good conduct on the part of the prisoners.

Divine service is performed twice on Sundays, Good Friday, and Christmas Day, and a short service daily; and in the opinion of the chaplain many of the prisoners appear to have paid much attention, and their conduct in chapel has been very good.

The surgeon states that the amount of casual sickness has not been more than might be expected. Only two cases have been removed into the infirmary, two females received pardon on medical grounds, and one male and one female were removed to lunatic asylums. The sanitary condition of the prison is stated to be very satisfactory. The food has been fresh, wholesome, and well cooked. The general health of the prisoners has been good, and the improvement in physique and general appearance have been very marked in many instances on the discharge of prisoners.

Kingston Prison, Portsmouth, Hampshire, c.1900. © Peter Higginbotham

Kingston Prison, Portsmouth, Hampshire, c.1900. © Peter Higginbotham

The prison was closed between October 1931 and early 1933 and subsequently held preventative detainees. These were habitual criminals, who had spent three terms in prison since the age of sixteen and who persisted in leading a dishonest life, and who could then receive an additional term of five to ten years' preventive detention. During the Second World War, the prison was used as naval detention quarters. In 1948, a recall centre was opened at the site to house Borstal detainees who had broken their licence conditions. From 1969, Kingston operated as a training prison for male prisoners serving life sentences. In 2003 the prison became a more general category B and C prison, finally closing in 2013. The buildings have now been converted to residential use.


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  • Prison Oracle - resources those involved in present-day UK prisons.
  • GOV.UK - UK Government's information on sentencing, probation and support for families.