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Brand: Edward Marston

Prison: Five Hundred Years of Life Behind Bars

by Edward Marston

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Prison: Five Hundred Years of Life Behind Bars

This compelling history of our most feared institution charts the growth of prisons across the country: castle dungeons and decaying hulks, the dreadful Fleet and Marshalsea of Dickens' novels and the soulless structures of Dartmoor and Reading Gaol. Drawing on rarely seen material from The National Archives, it vividly portrays aspects of prison life that stayed constant for centuries: loss of liberty, privacy and comfort; hard labour; restricted rations; and, solitary confinement; corporal punishment and execution - as well as tracing key developments such as Jeremy Bentham's panopticon, the Victorian spate of prison-building, and successive reform Acts. The book also relates the curiosities, abuses and scandals that occurred within prison walls, from the racking of Henry VIII's enemies to the force-feeding of Suffragettes centuries later.

At the heart of the book are dramatic stories of the men, women and children who lived - and died - behind bars. Their extraordinary tales range from those of political prisoners incarcerated in the Tower of London to celebrities such as Oscar Wilde who wrote so movingly of his imprisonment at Reading Gaol. "Prison" tells the stories of wartime convicts, suffragettes and highwaymen, cult criminals such as The Krays and 'ordinary' prisoners like armed robber James Edward Spiers - who in 1930 committed suicide at Wandsworth Gaol in front of a group of JPs gathered to see him receive 15 lashes.

There are also fascinating accounts of officers, governors and executioners as well as reformers like John Howard and Elizabeth Fry, who spent their lives seeking to improve the lot of prisoners within.

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