This Christmas I spent researching the plight of women prisoners on the site of Millbank -I now feel I have them trailing behind me each wanting me to hear their version of their story for their unfair verdicts. Time is incredible if that’s the barrier from being in the same place. We’re walking in the footsteps of real misery and misfortune here at Millbank, amongst the murderers and prostitues, vagrants and robbers – but there were young girls and women who should not have been incarcerated. Their crime was being born into poverty and the female sex. Many inmates died on site at Millbank; the graves of the unmarked are just below the tarmac.
End of Unit 1 and my explorations are taking me places. I am recreating 10 year old Mary Franklin, and her new family; Mary, a robber and prostitute who has a ten year sentence; Janet from Edinburgh and, 25 married with 2 children, is given a seven year sentence for housebreaking and theft, and will be transported after two years incarceration. Elizabeth, 18 from Coventry caught shoplifting 3 times and receives 7 years.
Little Mary has been convicted to Millbank Prison for 7 years for stealing bread – forced into pilfering by her parents. Millbank in the big dirty city of London is a far cry from home in Banbury. 7 years would have automatically been a transportation ticket to the Colonies. Mary received a Queen’s Pardon and served 2 years at disease-ridden Millbank.
I learnt of this youngest detainee, Mary, on an original 1843 ledger, on the narrow stairway in the Morpeth Arms. This information had me transfixed, by the very horror and severity such penal pervasive and my mind transported back to how I imagined it was…I read with horror of the harsh sentences for these women’s crimes, on the day the London cabbie rapist was to be released from prison. More than 100 women were manipulated by the evil perpetrator whose sentence was a minimum 8 year term. In 200 years, a pendulum has displayed extremes of social injustice.
Annabel Ludovici Gray