In November 1821 people living on Borough High Street wrote to the Surrey magistrates complaining about the manner in which prisoners were being conveyed along their road.
Local residents, it seemed, had become fed up with the open cartloads of – probably very noisy – miscreants being hauled between the nearby court of Union Hall and the prisons at Horsemonger Lane and Brixton. A committee of magistrates investigated the complaint:
[We] do report that in our opinion the best mode of conveying prisoners . . . would be in a covered cart . . . and to contract with some person to furnish a horse or horses and a proper attendant or attendants to drive the same.
The older designs of transport mirrored the unreformed prison. Men, women and children were carried together with no separation or officer to oversee them. Later versions had individual compartments. Edward Wright was a young teenager when he was committed to Brixton for 21 days in the 1850s for stealing rope:
Accordingly, in the evening of that day, I was conducted, with half a dozen others . . . into one of Her Majesty’s royal carriages, which contained about eight little compartments, just large enough for one person to sit down in; and when we had started upon our journey, some of the company, evidently intent upon making the most of their present opportunity, began to sing a song, the chorus of which I joined in with vigour.
I discovered the drawing of a prison wagon above in the archives of the Surrey History Centre in Woking. It is dated 1836 and designed ‘To carry 20 Prisoners inside’. Many thanks to the SHC for permission to publish it.