Millbank Prison

Millbank Prison and Steamboat Pier 1859. Note the Houses of Parliament at the right. Source: Book of the Thames, 413.

Commentary by the Halls

The MILLBANK Prison, once termed the Penitentiary, which is seen in the background of our view of the pier, is the only great prison on the Thames bank. Its ground-plan is very peculiar, and in all maps of London looks like an ornamental star: a series of wings radiate from a centre, where the governor's house is placed, which thus commands the whole establishment. It originated with Jeremy Bentham, and is chiefly used for hardened offenders, or criminals condemned to transportation or the hulks. The site was purchased of the Marquis of Salisbury for £12,00, in 1799. The soil is a deep peat, and the foundations had to be laid on a solid concrete. It lies low, and is unhealthy. The only entrance is at the Thames front, where a commodious esplanade is formed, and there is a stone landing-place with stairs. It is calculated that from 4000 to 5000 prisoners pass through it yearly. It contains more than 1500 cells, and was constructed at a cost of nearly half a million of money. It is now in much disfavour, owing to its situation, and is greatly dreaded by offenders: it may be said to be the most terrible of London prisons.

The steamboat pier is one of a series erected on the Thames banks, between Wandsworth and Greenwich, for the use of the boats plying "above bridge" or "below," — "the" bridge being London Bridge, once the only one which spanned the river. These piers float between solid frameworks of timber, which break the force of the tide, and support lamps. The landing-stage is commodious, with open seats for voyagers, protected by an awning, A flight of steps leads from the centre to the shore; and the whole is constructed to adapt itself to the rise and fall of the river at the ebb and flow of the tide.

Lambeth is on the opposite bank, and consists, as we see it from the river, of boat-builders' houses, lightermen's sheds, gas-works, manufac- turers of cement and glue, potteries for stoneware,* drain-pipes, ttc, and whitening-makers, whose wooden-framed open warehouses, with their thousands of "pennorths" drying in the air for the use of the London housemaids, are conspicuous objects in the uninviting scene. [413]

*The Vauxhall Pottery, established two centuries since by two Dutchmen, for the manufacture of old Delft ware, is probably the origin of all our modern potteries." — Curiosities of London. By J. Timbs, F.S.A.

Text and formatting by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the University of Toronto and the Internet Archive and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Hall, S.C. The Book of the Thames. London, Vertue, 1859.

Last modified 14 March 2012