Exhibition showcases history of Walton Jail

Opened as Walton Gaol in 1855 the now HM Prison Liverpool is the subject of a new exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool. Tony McDonough reports

Walton Jail
Artwork for the Walton Jail exhibition has been done by inmates


HM Prison Liverpool in Walton has had an eventful history since it first opened in 1855 and a new exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool will put a spotlight on how it has changed over the years.

Sometimes known colloquially as ‘the Hornby Hotel’, the prison in Hornby Road in north Liverpool was originally known as Walton Gaol. It was built to replace an 18th century prison in the city centre.

In February 1939, terrorists of the Irish Republican Army attempted, and failed, to break a wall of the jail during the S-Plan campaign at the start of the Second World War.

During the Liverpool Blitz in September 1940 one of the prison wings was destroyed by bombs dropped by a German plane. It killed 22 inmates and one of the bodies was not discovered until 11 years later.

Between 1887 and 1964, the jail was the site of 62 executions. Murderer Anthony Allen was hanged at the prison in 1964, one of the final executions before capital punishment was abolished.

Taking place during July and August, the exhibition  will include original artwork and poetry created by people who were held in the prison earlier this year. There will also be specially-commissioned photography from Andy Aitchison.

This event forms part of a three-and-a-half-year research project called The Persistence of the Victorian Prison, which considers how the fabric and function of Victorian prisons have changed over time.

It focuses on what it has felt like to live and work in Victorian prisons in the past and in the present, and what the persistence of the Victorian estate means for the contemporary prison system.

The project is led by the University of Birmingham’s Professor Dominique Moran, Professor Matt Houlbrook, and Dr Jennifer Turner, and Professor Yvonne Jewkes of the University of Bath, in partnership with The Howard League for Penal Reform.

It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Some of the written work on display was enabled through creative writing sessions in the prison supported by Matt Exley, participation producer (adults) at National Museums Liverpool.


Walton Jail
The Walton Jail exhibition will take place in July and August at the Museum of Liverpool


Professor Moran, professor in Carceral geography at the University of Birmingham, said: “We were delighted to be able to work with HMP Liverpool to create this display.

“The history of this prison mirrors the wider history of Victorian-era prisons in the UK. During our time at Liverpool we were struck by the perspectives and experiences shared by prisoners and staff.

“In particular we were struck by the strong connection that has existed between this prison and its wider community throughout its history.

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The Victorian era was the most significant period of prison construction in UK history. During the period 1842 to 1877, a total of 90 prisons were built or significantly expanded, as part of a concerted building programme.

Kay Jones, lead curator of urban and community history at the Museum of Liverpool, added: “Visitors to the museum will be able to explore the significance of Walton Jail’s Victorian history alongside life there today.”

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