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 and the New Kings Road.
Fulham Refuge was initially used as part of a three-stage rehabilitation process championed by Sir Joshua Jebb, the Director General of Prisons, as women worked their way up from Millbank Prison, to Brixton Prison, before finally arriving at Fulham to be reintegrated into the wider community.
The prison included a large building, which comprised workshops, schoolrooms, dormitories, a bakery and wash house; officers’ accommodation, and an infirmary. There were exercise grounds, a chaplain’s house, along with an orchard and grounds.
Fulham was the most distinctively feminine of the early convict prisons, and tried to train women with skills suitable for subsequent employment, cooking, cleaning and laundry, with emphasis on softening and civilising.
Part of the reasoning behind calling it a refuge rather than prison was that potential employers might be less reluctant to employ such women and help them transition back to respectability, especially as women were often judged more harshly than men; and that there was always rough work available for male former prisoners, but they expected women to be of moral character for domestic service.
They expanded the prison between 1870 and 1871 to hold about 400 women inmates and renamed Fulham Female Convict Prison. Numbers later fell, and the prison closed in 1888, when the remaining inmates were transferred to HM Prison Woking. They demolished Burlington House in 1895, and the other buildings left empty until 1899 when they were sold for housing.
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.
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