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A Victorian Prison

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In contrast to the old gaol, the Berkshire justices ran the new prison on the “separate system”. This defined a regime

So as to permit of no communication whatever; the observance of perfect silence except between the prisoner and the officers of the gaol; religious and other instruction judiciously administered.

Prisoners stayed in their single cell, measuring 13ft x 7ft, virtually all day. They were permitted out only to exercise, clean the wings or attend chapel. At such times the male prisoners wore peaked caps to prevent them looking upwards, while the women wore veils.

Within each cell, prisoners had a basin, toilet and running water. In the day they sat on a stool at a fixed table, reading or learning to read; at night, they slept in a hammock.

However, the separate system soon became unfashionable. By the 1860s, prisoners had begun to work together in hard labour: milling wheat by hand for prison bread, or breaking stones to sell for road building. The cell plumbing was stripped out, and the hammocks replaced with wooden planks.

Throughout the Victorian period prisoners wore a brown cloth outfit in either child or adult size. The prisoners were given three meals a day of bread and water, gruel (oatmeal boiled in water), or potatoes.

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