Holloway prison was opened in 1852 as a mixed-sex prison, but due to growing demand for space for female prisoners, particularly due to the closure of Newgate, it became female-only in 1903.
Holloway was used to imprison suffragettes including Constance Markeivicz (imprisoned for her part in the Irish Rebellion) Charlotte Despard, Mary Richardson, Dora Montefiore, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, and Ethel Smyth.
In 2016, after the suspicious death of inmate Sarah Reed, her family claimed that the prison had forbidden them to examine the body.
Holloway Prison was completely rebuilt between 1971 and 1985 on the same site. The redevelopment resulted in the loss of the "grand turreted" gateway to the prison, which had been built in 1851; architectural critic Gavin Stamp later regretted the loss and noted that the climate of opinion at the time was such that the Victorian Society felt unable to object.
Holloway Prison held female adults and young offenders remanded or sentenced by the local courts. Accommodation at the prison was mostly single cells; however, there was also some dormitory accommodation.
Holloway Prison offered both full-time and part-time education to inmates, with courses including skills training workshops, British Industrial Cleaning Science (BICS), gardening, and painting.
There was a family-friendly visitors' centre, run by the Prison Advice and Care Trust (pact), an independent charity.
It was announced in the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's Autumn Statement on 25 November 2015 that the prison would close and would be sold for housing. It closed in July 2016, with prisoners being moved to HMP Downview and HMP Bronzefield.
For decades, British campaigners had argued for votes for women. It was only when a number of suffragists, despairing of change through peaceful means, decided to turn to militant protest that the "suffragette" was born. These women broke the law in pursuit of their aims, and many were imprisoned at Holloway, where they were treated as common criminals, not political prisoners. In protest, some went on hunger strike and were force fed, so Holloway has a large symbolic role in the history of women's rights in the UK. Suffragettes imprisoned there include Anne Miller Fraser, Constance Markievicz, Charlotte Despard, Mary Richardson, Dora Montefiore, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, and Ethel Smyth. In 1912 the anthem of the suffragettes - "The March of the Women", composed by Ethel Smyth with lyrics by Cicely Hamilton - was performed there.
Holloway held Diana Mitford under Defence Regulation 18B during World War II, and after a personal intervention from Prime Minister Winston Churchill, her husband Sir Oswald Mosley was moved there. The couple lived together in a cottage in the prison grounds. They were released in 1943.
Norah Elam had the distinction of being detained during both World Wars, three times during 1914 as a suffragette prisoner under the name Dacre Fox, then as a detainee under Regulation 18B in 1940, when she was part of the social circle that gathered around the Mosleys during their early internment period. Later, after her release, Elam had the further distinction of being the only former member of the British Union of Fascists to be granted a visit with Oswald Mosley during his period of detention there.
A total of five judicial executions by hanging took place at Holloway Prison between 1903 and 1955:Amelia Sach and Annie Walters - 3 February 1903
Edith Thompson - 9 January 1923
Styllou Christofi - 13 December 1954
Ruth Ellis - 13 July 1955
The bodies of all executed prisoners were buried in unmarked graves within the walls of the prison, as was customary. In 1971 the prison underwent an extensive programme of rebuilding, during which the remains of all the executed women were exhumed. With the exception of Ruth Ellis, the remains of the four other women were subsequently reburied in a single grave at Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, Surrey.
Noteworthy inmates that were held at the original 1852-era prison include William Thomas Stead, Isabella Glyn, F. Digby Hardy, Christabel Pankhurst, Kitty Byron and Lady Ida Sitwell, wife of Sir George Sitwell.
More recently it housed, in 1966, Moors murderess Myra Hindley; in 1967, Kim Newell, a Welsh woman who was involved in the Red Mini Murder; also in the late 1960s, National Socialist supporter Françoise Dior, charged with arson against synagogues; in 1993, Sheila Bowler, the music teacher wrongly imprisoned for the murder of her elderly aunt, was detained there before being transferred to Bullwood Hall; and in 2002, Maxine Carr, who gave a false alibi for Soham murderer Ian Huntley.
Other inmates included Amie Bartholomew, Emma Last, Matthew Etherington, Alison Walder, Jayne Richards, the Tinsel Fight Murderer, Bella Coll and Chantal McCorkle.
In October 1999, it was announced that healthcare campaigner and agony aunt Claire Rayner had been called in to advise on an improved healthcare provision at Holloway Prison. Rayner's appointment was announced after the introduction of emergency measures at the prison's healthcare unit after various failures.
In September 2001, an inspection report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons claimed that Holloway Prison was failing many of its inmates, mainly due to financial pressures. However, the report stated that the prison had improved in a number of areas, and praised staff working at the jail.
In March 2002, Managers at Holloway were transferred to other prisons following an inquiry by the Prison Service. The inquiry followed a number of allegations from prison staff concerning sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation from managers. The inquiry supported some of these claims.
An inspection report from in June 2003, stated that conditions had improved at Holloway Prison. However the report criticised levels of hygiene at the jail, as well as the lack of trained staff, and poor safety for inmates. A further inspection report in September 2008 again criticised safety levels for inmates of Holloway, claiming that bullying and theft were rife at the prison. The report also noted high levels of self-harm and poor mental health among the inmates.
A further inspection in 2010 again noted improvements but found that most prisoners said they felt unsafe and that there remained 35 incidents a week of self-harm. The prison's operational capacity is 501.
At 8am on 11 January 2016, Sara Reed, an inmate at Holloway, was found dead in her cell. Prison staff claimed she had strangled herself in her sleep, while the Reed family call for justice.The band Bush wrote a song about the prison called "Personal Holloway," on their album Razorblade Suitcase.
Marillion's song "Holloway Girl" is on their album Seasons End.
The Kinks' "Holloway Jail" appears on Muswell Hillbillies.
Million Dead have "Holloway Prison Blues" on their album Harmony No Harmony.
One of the characters in the 1997 Canadian sci-fi/horror movie Cube is named after Holloway Prison.
In the Thames Television series Rumpole Of The Bailey episode "Rumpole and the Alternative Society," the girl whom Rumpole was defending (until she admitted her guilt to him) was sentenced to three years at HM Holloway Prison.
In Dorothy L. Sayers's novel Strong Poison, Harriet Vane is held in HM Holloway Prison during the trial.
In the TV series Upstairs, Downstairs, the second-season episode "A Special Mischief" has Elizabeth Bellamy joining a band of suffragettes who go out one night vandalising wealthy homes. Rose, the parlourmaid, follows them; they are apprehended by the police. Rose is mistakenly thought to be a suffragette and is put in a ladies' prison, and Holloway is very much implied. Elizabeth is spared going to jail as her bail is paid for by Julius Karekin, one the rich men being targeted. Elizabeth and Karekin bail Rose out of prison.
In the BBC One series Call the Midwife, the third-season episode three set in 1959, Sister Julienne and Midwife Trixie go to the prison to provide pre-natal care to three pregnant inmates who have gone without treatment for a while. As part of their medical care, the two advocate for less manual labour and more rest for the pregnant women. In addition to healthcare, Sister provides support and the means for one woman to keep custody of her child after her release.
In the German TV 1966 crime drama Das ganz grosse Ding, from a script by Victor Canning, the main character, Dickie Gray, is shown being released from Holloway Prison. Clearly the German director did not know that it was a women's prison at that time.
In Anthony Horowitz's 2011 Sherlock Holmes novel The House of Silk, Holmes is arrested for murder and briefly imprisoned in Holloway before escaping with the help of the prison doctor.
Molly Cutpurse's novel A Year in Holloway was written with the help of authentic documents of the period. It details what it would have been like to suffer imprisonment in a woman's prison just before the beginning of the Second World War.
Featured in the opening scenes of the film Turn the Key Softly