Canterbury Prison Heritage Event  

 

Overview: This event was occasioned by the decommissioning of the early nineteenth-century HMP Canterbury Prison in 2013, along with its imminent conversion into student residence.[1] This redevelopment of George Byfield’s original design, by Canterbury University, is of interest partly because it is not an isolated incident.[2] Moreover, these developments are embedded in a wider discourse of the ethics of ‘Dark Tourism’ – an emerging strand of academic study focused on ethics which ranges from websites to museums. Those gathered at the conference were problematizing how best to respectfully preserve and represent prison heritage, while educating and engaging the public. Threaded through this event was the theme of respecting the real-lives of those tied up in the archives, artefacts and buildings being presented, notwithstanding the increasing issues of funding. How can heritage be preserved while still remaining ethically represented with limited funds?

canterbury prison

Figure 1.1 – Prison Ward

Panel 1: Introduction to HMP Canterbury

 

  • Dr Maryse Tennant (Canterbury Christ Church University) ‘An ordinary prison: The history of HMP Canterbury’
  • Iain Clover (HMP/YOI East Sutton Park) ‘Working at Canterbury’

 

Beginning with the organiser of the event, Dr Maryse Tennant, the first panel focused aptly on Canterbury Prison. The history and current plans for the buildings were discussed, but as well as outlining the physical changes of the prison, Tennant also placed these transformations within the wider changes taking place in the ideas and practices of penal servitude. Much emphasis was placed on the ordinary and representativeness of this prison as the basis for why its changes and its stories are so important to research. Tennet also spoke of some of the intentions that the University had for the site – notably that they did not purchase the land for the prison itself but rather for its location. Nevertheless, due to areas such as the Round House being listed, certain elements will indeed be preserved. The 200 year history of Canterbury prison was followed by the recent experiences from within its walls from former wing manager, Iain Clover. Such a combination of speakers was a useful and novel way of getting the audience to constructively reflect. Through giving his first-hand experience, Clover was really able to bring home the fact that “not many people have actually seen inside a prison”, which was very apposite to today’s conference. During the course of his talk he outlined his tasks, while emphasising their increasing difficulty due to cuts in funding and moves towards increasing dehumanised control of inmates, which he is especially concerned about due to his experience in suicide prevention.

 

canterbury prison 2

Figure 1.2 – Prison Cell

 

Panel 2: Prison History and Heritage

 

  • Stewart McLaughlin (HMP Wandsworth) ‘Wandsworth Prison Museum: A Volunteer Museum’
  • Angela Sutton-Vane (Devon and Cornwall Police and The Open University) ‘Thinking Through Prison Museums

 

The second panel was very much concentrated on the struggles of preserving heritage, but taken from two different perspectives. Stewart McLaughlin, a prison officer, although on this occasion present in his capacity as a Volunteer Curator of the Wandsworth Prison Museum – underlined the struggles with preserving heritage without working policies in place.[3] Wandsworth Prison Museum was a one man project which only survived due to the sacrifice of his own time, and currently relies solely on voluntary donations. McLaughlin was followed by Angela Sutton-Vane, an artefacts conservator, with twenty years’ experience in the museum profession. Working as a part-time curator for the historic collections of Devon and Cornwall Police, Sutton has a limited yearly budget from the Policing Past Community Present Lottery Fund.[4] As a result of such limited funding, there is no public access, the project is only able to conserve and catalogue findings. Despite the difference in the nature and funding of these two projects, McLaughlin and Vane echo similar concerns – namely how to conserve heritage on limited budgets, with no working policies.

 

Panel 3: Representing Prison History

 

  • Jane Hoodless ‘Toxic Tiffin’ and Pandora Vaughan ‘A Little Bit of Space’ (Visual Artists)[5]
  • Professor Alyson Brown (Edgehill University) ‘The Development of Prison Tourism in Britain’[6]

 

This multidisciplinary panel begun with a joint presentation from visual artists Jane Hoodless and Pandora Vaughan, followed by Professor Alyson Brown. Hoodless explained that her aim is to juxtapose and show new perspectives through her art using interpretation, consequently challenging the public by making them uncomfortable and thus reflective. Vaughan, on the other hand, is exploring through the use of stitch work, how we react and respond to architecture designed around us. Presenting her work with Dr Alana Barton alone, Brown’s focus was the overview of representations of the prison. Pointing to the importance of Prison museums and stressing that prisons cannot be seen as apolitical places because of the potential of what they could achieve. Namely the all-important public understanding of prisons. Notwithstanding the issues associated with nature of tourism, which have the potential to turn important parts of the civic landscape and the real-life suffering of individuals into a dehumanised public spectacle. While the tensions between education and entertainment were emphasized, so too was the idea that it is through reconstructing the past that perceptions of now are influenced. Brown concluding on the need to invest in the structural, political and social context of the individual to ensure that the pain of confinement is not hidden in history, which would result in less concentration and reflection on present issues.

[1] See information of History of HM Canterbury Prison; http://canterbury-buildings.org.uk/#/prison/4577800013; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HM_Prison_Canterbury; See information on Christchurch University purchase; http://www.kentonline.co.uk/canterbury/news/university-buys-prison-site-12589/

[2] See Information on George Byfield; http://www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people/person/251

[3] See information on Wandsworth Prison Museum; http://makingthemarrow.com/2014/06/01/open-day-at-wandsworth-prison-museum-just-the-museum/

[4] See information on The Friends of The Devon & Cornwall Constabulary Heritage;  http://www.fdcchl.org.uk/; See information on Policing Past Community Present Lottery Fund; http://www.hlf.org.uk/our-projects/policing-past-community-present#.VS-DQ_nF-VM

[5] See Jane Hoodless website; http://www.janehoodless.com/; See Pandora Vaughan website http://www.mrxstitch.com/the-cutting-stitching-edge-pandora-vaughan/

[6] Link to work of Prof Alyson Brown and Dr Alana Barton; http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/law/prison-public/

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