A look behind the walls of Kingston Prison

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Opening its doors to hundreds of people, the secrets of HMP Kingston prison were unveiled during a two-day open weekend.

The prison, on Kingston Road, Milton, shut in March this year but flung open its gates to the public for guided tours of the grounds, wings, cells and other main parts of the building.

OPEN DAY Former HMP Kingston Prison. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (123520-273)

OPEN DAY Former HMP Kingston Prison. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (123520-273)

Two former prison guards took the groups around the site and loaded them with information and facts and gave an in-depth look at what life there was like.

Sara Kahner, from the Ministry of Justice, said: ‘We wanted to give the people in Portsmouth the chance to look behind the towering walls.

‘We had some great feedback with everyone enjoying the tours.

‘More than 500 people showed interest and, when some didn’t turn up, we welcomed people off the streets so they, too, could get the opportunity.

‘The response was really great.’

Groups of 20 were shown the prison and given plenty of chances to take photos.

And now the doors of the prison have shut again, the next question is what will be done with Kingston Prison.

The Grade II listed building has to remain and some have suggested it become an art gallery, youth centre, or even a club.

But last weekend, the public were just happy, for once, to see the inside of a prison.

THE GROUNDS

A full-sized Sunday League football pitch occupies half of the prison’s grounds.

Kingston had its own team and used the pitch for home and away matches.

The players were part of the Dockyard and North End League and were known as Kingston Arrows.

Unlike any other pitch in the country, the prison had blue goal posts and special permission was needed by the FA so they could paint them.

Former guard for the prison, Adrian White, explained: ‘We had to get the goal posts painted because the wall around the pitch is white.

‘They had to remain white for security reasons.

‘But we found that when people were coming up on goal, they would lose sight of the posts and the net.

‘For that reason, we asked to paint them and they are the only blue posts in the England.’

The grounds also contain a Tarmac pitch in which the prisoners would play hockey and other sports.

They also had shrubbery and grass so they could relax outside in the summer.

THE CLOCK TOWER

Still being looked after and cared for, the Clock Tower at HMP Kingston Prison is the first thing you see when entering through the front gates.

The clock is the oldest part of the prison and came from a nearby church.

It is believe to be 280 years old - more than 100 years older than the prison itself.

As part of the Grade 2 listing, people still go into the prison and care for the clock to ensure it continues to tell the time.

It chimes as it did when the prison was open.

It also houses the only spiral staircase in the establishment.

Next to the tower are two plaques that commemorate the building.

One was put in place when the building was first built and was laid on October 29, 1874.

It was unveiled in honour of George Edward Kent, the Mayor of Portsmouth.

The second plaque was put in place for the millennium.

It was unveiled by then Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, David Horne.

D WING

One of three main wings in Kingston, D Wing housed around 16 of the inmates.

Cells line both walls with only a toilet, sink, bed and cupboard as standard furniture.

The layout of the cell made it possible for the prison guards to see the prisoners at all times if they had to be under special 24-hour observation.

The cells had sockets for electrical goods but the guards had the power to turn off the electricals.

A box outside the rooms contained the power supply and it could be switched off with the turn of a key.

Each cell was also fitted with a panel that opened and a small yellow disc that enabled a fire hose to go through it if the prisoner started a fire.

The disc was a security measure and meant the guard did not have to enter the cell if a fire occurred.

The single cells were the prisoners’ homes and many decorated them with posters and used their wages to get televisions, PlayStations and music systems.

Below the cells there are two bathrooms, showers, washing machines and drying facilities.

THE PRINTING SHOP

The newest part of the prison, and at times the busiest, the Printing Shop was where the prisoners worked.

Built in the 1970s, the shop housed many different jobs that the prisoners were allowed to do.

One of the many jobs included printing all the paperwork for the prison service including letters, visitors’ forms and also some orders from outside contractors.

There was a motorbike shop where the inmates dismantled and put together new motorbikes that helped them get a qualification in mechanics.

There was also a bicycle shop where inmates would get old bikes to make over and give to charities.

Prisoners who worked in the prison could earn up to £25 a week with the average wage at £10 to £12. Out of this money, they would have to pay for a television licence, for £1 a week, and buy any of the extras they wanted in their cell.

This included bed sheets, duvet covers, DVDs, televisions and PlayStations. If they didn’t work, they didn’t get this.

A WING

When Kingston Prison first opened, it used to be mixed-sex and the women were kept in A Wing.

The cells are of a similar size and had the same basic furniture but they have bigger windows.

Also in A Wing, called A2 Wing, were the cells for the younger prisoners.

Over the years, the ratio of older to younger inmates changed, with more and more younger prisoners being sent to the prison.

When the prison closed, around three-quarters were considered young.

But the older inmates would often keep them in line and stop them acting up or causing havoc. Kingston was for prisoners who had life sentences.

This ranged from inmates who would spend the whole of their life there, those who would have to serve a number of years and the ones who had a life sentence.

This meant they were allowed out but could get recalled, straight to prison for any offence – even one not considered to be illegal but against their probation rules.

B WING

Just three cells make up B Wing which is also known as the Care and Separation Unit.

The area was used for prisoners who were caught breaking the rules or were violent towards other inmates and guards.

The double cells are kitted out with the same as the single rooms and were of the same layout so guards could keep watch if they needed.

But the unit was rarely used in the prison as the inmates were mostly well-behaved.

Adrian added: ‘On a few occasions we had to use the Care and Separation Unit but the prisoners here were in for life and they didn’t want to cause trouble.

‘They could spend up to seven days in here, on their own with none of the equipment they had bought.

‘So not many of them would play up.’

Before they became the Care and Separation Unit, the rooms were used as a hospital.

They had to be big enough to hold a hospital bed and all the equipment.

This was also where the only disabled cell was placed within the whole establishment.

THE CENTRE

Offering a panoptical vision of all the wings, the centre is the main part of the prison.

The layout of the prison is typical of the Victorian time period and the centre gives the guards access to all the wings and is the prime spot when on watch.

Adrian prefers having the prison this way.

He said: ‘For me, having the wings join in the centre is the best layout. In modern prisons, many of the wings are in different block so it harder to keep an eye on everyone.

‘Here you can have one guard keeping watch who can see everything.

‘It makes the prison safer, not only for the guards but the prisoners as well.’

Situated under a dome, the centre had a full-sized snooker table that was available for the prisoners to use during leisure hours.

The inmates became very good at the sport and enjoyed playing.

It also became the home of a few pigeons when the doors were opened and remnants of the birds still remain on the ledge around the bottom of the dome.