Prison paid for by the people

Portsmouth, or Kingston Prison as it is now known, in the 1930s.
Portsmouth, or Kingston Prison as it is now known, in the 1930s.
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I wonder how many know that Kingston Prison in Milton Road, which has closed for the second time in the last few years, was paid for by the people of Portsmouth?

The new gaol was being built in the late 19th century when the Prison Act came into being in 1877.

Until that time local prisons came under the control of local authorities, but in Portsmouth the government claimed both the old and new gaols and saddled the inhabitants with a bill of £40,000.

It opened in 1879, made of Plymouth stone, and it looked like a castle from the front. It was a grim and forbidding place in keeping with its purpose.

Until 1930 it was used for local villains until the government stepped in to use it for those who had committed more serious offences.

The local magistrates were alarmed when the Home Office proposed to alter the category of the prison and transfer long-term prisoners from Camp Hill on the Isle of Wight. On release these prisoners would be freed among the large community of Portsmouth.

A deputation of high-ranking local officials pointed out the inconvenience of having to send prisoners on remand to Winchester and the undesirable presence of long term prisoners in Portsmouth.

A few days later the Home Office, as an economy measure, decided to use Lewes Prison for long-term prisoners and to close Portsmouth gaol. It was hoped that it would be returned to the city and maybe used as a public abattoir, factory or workmen’s dwellings.

However, the cost of rebuilding was too high and there were plans to demolish it and use the site for a more profitable purpose.

On October 31, 1931, three youths stepped lightheartedly out of the massive doors. They were supposed to be the last prisoners to take their leave of the sombre pile. Soon after, the prison officers left and were transferred to prisons around the country and Portsmouth Prison was empty.

After remaining deserted for several months the Prison Commissioners decided to bring it back into use but not for prisoners on remand as they were sent to Winchester.