Revealing the crimes of Woking’s Victorian jail

ASTOUNDING and gruesome crimes committed by inmates of Woking’s Victorian jail are being revealed by a website created by two young history buffs.

Daniel Shepherd and Gem Minter have formed The Institutional History Society, which is dedicated to exploring England’s institutional systems in the 19th century.

Daniel Shepherd (left) and Gem Minter, who have founded The Institutional History Society

One of the first to be depicted on its website is Woking Invalid Convict Prison, which was opened on the border of Knaphill and St John’s in 1859 to house disabled male prisoners.

“Our key driving force was a desire to put Woking on the map,” said Daniel, who lives in the town. “When people think of Woking, they often think of history spanning a few hundred years and even then, not particularly exciting but it’s, frankly, not true.

“The invalid convict prison was the first of its kind nationally. It was a purpose-built, permanent structure for invalided prisoners not fit for the normal prison system. Not only was it the first of its kind, but many of the inmates which came through its gates were unique.

“Irish terrorists were housed there. There was a banker whose crimes inspired the Little Dorrit novel by Charles Dickens, along with bloodthirsty murderers and zoophiles. You name it, they were there.”

A young inmate, photographed for his prison record

The Institutional History Society was set-up in June to showcase the “lurid, the scandalous, and often unfair lives, treatments and crimes of people from times gone by”.

Its website will house archival documents, useful resources, be a forum for genealogists and feature investigative research to be revealed in podcasts, biographies and blogs.

“In a much broader sense, we aim to bring to the fore things which affect modern and historic societies alike, particularly as regards to its institutions,” added Daniel, who studied archaeology and history at university.

“How should we treat the mentally ill? How should we view prisoners? What are the paths that lead to crimes and have things change? We feel you can judge a society on how its institutions treated its most vulnerable members.”

“If you’re interested in historic true crime, want to find out if one of your ancestors was a felon or if you’re interested in volunteering, visit our website at www.institutionalhistory.com,” said Daniel.

For the full story get the 29 August edition of the News & Mail

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