The Exercise Yard

yardThe journalist Henry Mayhew visited Brixton in the 1850s, when the prison was reserved for convict women.  He wrote this about the exercise (then known as ‘airing’) yards:

The airing yards at this prison have little of the bare gravel school play-ground character, so common with those at the other jails, for here there are grass-plots and flower-beds, so that, were it not for the series of mad-house-like windows piercing the prison walls, a walk in the exercising grounds of Brixton would be pleasant and unprison-like enough.

The prisoners exercise principally for one hour – from eight till nine; the laundry-women, however, whose work is laborious, walk for only half the usual time.

It is a somewhat curious and interesting sight to see near upon two hundred female convicts pacing in couples round and round the Brixton exercising yards, and chattering as they go like a large school, so that the yard positively rings as if it were a market-place with the gabbling of so many tongues; indeed, the sight of the convicts, filing along in couples, reminds one of the charity children parading through the streets, for the prisoners are dressed in the same plain straw bonnets, and not only have a cleanly and neat look, but are equally remarkable for the tidiness of their shoes and stockings.

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