Did you know there was a Women’s Prison in Fulham? It flourished from 1856 to 1888, on a six-acre corner site bounded by Burlington Road (originally Back Lane then Burlington Lane) and the New Kings Road.
From 1716 to 1853 site was occupied by a school ‘for young gentlemen’, variously called the Fulham Academy or Burlington House School. The main school buildings were in Burlington House, a jumble of buildings regularised by a plain brick façade fronting Burlington Road. Gates on one side of a large playground to the rear led into a two-acre field used as a cricket pitch. The school also leased from the Manor of Fulham what became known as Jasmine House and Vine Cottage, two late 18th century houses on the New Kings Road.
The school closed in 1853, the same year as two new Acts of Parliament were passed, the Penal Servitude Act known as ‘An Act to Substitute, in Certain Cases, Other Punishment In lieu of Transportation’ and the Convict Prison’s Act, known as ‘An Act for Providing Places of Confinement in England or Wales for Female Offenders under Sentence or Order of Transportation’. Fewer convicts were to be transported and new prison buildings were required to house those female prisoners no longer shipped abroad. A new system was also required to both punish and rehabilitate them.
Colonel Joshua Jebb (1793 – 1863) had been appointed Surveyor-General of Prisons in 1837 and in 1850 he was made chairman of the Board of the Directors of Convict Prisons, charged with establishing a new progressive system of punishment and rehabilitation.
Accordingly, on 29 February 1856 the school buildings and the surrounding acres in Fulham were sold ‘on advantageous terms’ to this new body and architect J Dawson, under the direction of Colonel Jebb, an experienced builder of prisons himself, set to work designing suitable buildings to accommodate the new inmates, who were to come from Brixton Prison. On 5 May 1856 Colonel Jebb reported:
‘…The original [school] buildings are undergoing alterations, and will shortly be ready for the reception of 40 to 50 of the most exemplary of the prisoners from Brixton. A chapel and accommodation for about 150 additional females will be completed in the course of the summer, and during the present year the establishment will, I trust, be in working order…the first prisoners will be removed to the Refuge at Fulham tomorrow…’
The new buildings were put up with commendable speed and in 1858 the Illustrated London News printed a view of the new buildings showing the chapel and the south range.
A gatehouse with imposing wooden gates was built fronting onto Burlington Road and, opposite the gatehouse, an attractive gothic chapel was built astride the old fence which had demarcated the headmaster’s pleasure garden from the school cricket pitch. The chapel was built with arcaded wings which joined to a classical, also arcaded, southern range with a central pediment surmounted by a clock tower, and to a more utilitarian northern range, all built over the old school cricket pitch. The main building on the southern side was used for workrooms, school rooms, offices and a dining room with dormitories above. The building opposite housed the laundry and more sleeping quarters. The buildings formed three sides of a square with space in the middle for a drying area for the laundry and a grassy area for exercise and recreation.
The resulting arrangement of buildings had, from the outside, none of the institutional grimness of other prison buildings, like Brixton Prison, but instead had a distinctly collegiate feel. A further building for the prison chaplain was built beyond the southern range on the southern boundary next to Jasmine House and another entrance to the prison grounds was fashioned between the two houses. This house, much enlarged, still exists and is now known as Burlington House. The former driveway to the prison was built over when Burlington House doubled in size in the 1970s.
As part of the reordering of the existing estate the two houses on the southern edge of the grounds, Jasmine House and Vine Cottage, were turned over to various employees of the prison – the Steward and Foreman of the Works respectively.
The map (1865) below helps explain the layout:
- The reused Burlington House (offices and staff accommodation);
- The Gatehouse;
- The building now known as Burlington House;
- Jasmine House (used by the steward of the prison and his family);
- Vine Cottage (used by the Foreman of the Works);
- A row of mid-18thc houses and shops which formed part of the Bishop of London’s demesne.
The Illustrated London News described the women’s routine in 1858:
An engraving of what the women could have looked like on the way to chapel:
Sir Joshua Jebb, as he became, took a keen interest in the institution and its reforming ideas. Indeed the inmates became known locally as “Jebb’s pets”. With his death in 1863 his ‘softening and civilising’ ethos was abandoned. The character of the refuge became more rigid and severe and a serious disturbance in 1864 caused a shift of official policy. The regime became that of a prison, for example inmates were to eat separately in their cells, numbers expanded and its title was changed formally to Fulham Prison
A brief obituary in the Fulham Chronicle provides interesting reading:
With falling numbers, the prison closed in 1888. This picture of the back of the south building taken in 1894 shows the neglect:
Various options were considered for the site including in 1889 ‘a barrack for a Battery of horse artillery to replace the one at St John’s Wood which is only held on lease’. By May 1892 there was a change of heart and it was proposed the grounds should be ‘sold or let in building plots suitable to the locality’. Devon-born builder James ‘Jimmy’ Nichols, who had from 1888 developed part of the twenty-acre Peterborough Estate opposite Parson’s Green, bought ‘the block as it stands’ and the site is now covered with the roads and terraced houses which survive – apart from those few demolished by wartime bombs – today.
One or two sections of the prison buildings still exist. Where the wooden gates were, fronting onto Burlington Road, is now converted into multiple dwellings, the old gateway itself filled in and made into a house:
The old laundry can be seen on the corner of Rigault Road and Buer Road and is now apartments.
Jasmine House, the former Steward’s house, is still there on the New Kings Road although its neighbour, Vine Cottage, no longer exists.
I would like to thank fellow volunteer, Michael Dover, for writing most of this history, and him, Keith Whitehouse and Maya Donelan for the use of those photographs not in the Archives.
Fiona Fowler, volunteer, Archives and Local History room