There have been many prisons in London, the most famous one being the Tower of London

Victorian London was notorious for its prisons and places of correction – the harsh conditions and cruel treatment of prisoners being vividly described by Dickens. Read more about the history of London’s prisons. Though the Victorian places no longer exist it is possible to visit the sites where they once stood, which will also take you into interesting areas of London. All for free, of course.

It is possible to visit the Tower of London (admission charge).

click to view map of historic prison locations

Tower of London

The Tower of London is the most popular tourist attraction in London and one of the greatest examples of Norman architecture anywhere in the world.

It was begun by William I around 1066 and built deliberately just outside the City boundary to warn potential troublemakers. It was then extended by a number of monarchs until Edward I, and has been a palace, prison, menagerie, place of execution and stronghold for the crown jewels.

Famous occupants have included Sir Francis Drake, Anne Boleyn (executed by sword), Sir Walter Raleigh and Rudolph Hess during the second world war.

Map and Street Views
Nearest underground station: Tower Hill

Newgate Prison

Newgate prison existed on the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey for seven hundred years.

The prison was destroyed and re-built several times throughout its history, including during the Great Fire of London and during prison riots.

By 1783, it was London’s main prison and the city’s gallows were moved from Tyburn to Newgate Street.

In 1868, public executions were discontinued and held instead inside the prison.

The prison was demolished in 1904.

Nearest underground stations: St Pauls

Marshalsea Prison

Mostly known as a debtors prison, Marshalsea prison existed in Borough High Street for over five hundred years – closing in 1842.

It was a national prison, second only to the Tower in importance, and became renowned worldwide thanks to Dickens, who wrote about life in a debtors prison in his novels such as Little Dorritt.

Dickens’ father was sent to Marshalsea in 1824 owing a debt of forty pounds.

It is one of the few historic prisons where part of the original buildings remain. You can still see one of its walls and two original gate arches in the yard next to St George the Martyr church.

Nearest underground station: Borough

Bridewell House of Correction

Established as a house of correction in 1556 in a former royal palace (Bridewell), this prison was for housing vagrants and homeless children and punishing petty criminals and unruly women. The prison also contained workrooms and a hospital.

It was largely destroyed in the Great Fire of London and re-built soon after, before being finally demolished in 1863.

All that remains of the prison buildings is the gateway on New Bridge Street at number 14. The rest of the old site is now occupied by the Unilever Building on the corner.

Nearest railway station: Blackfriars

Cold Bath Fields Prison

This large prison in Clerkenwell was also known as Clerkenwell Jail.

It was built in 1794 on the site of what is now the Royal Mail sorting office at Mount Pleasant. Some of the prison wall pillars still remain.

It was renowned for the harshness of its punishments, including enforced silences and solitary confinement.

By the mid nineteenth century, its name had changed to Middlesex House of Correction.

It was closed in 1877 and demolished in 1889.

Nearest railway station: Farringdon

Fleet Prison

Situated on the eastern side of Farringdon Road, Fleet Prison was mainly a debtors’ prison. William Penn was held there in 1707-1709 for debt.

However,the prison also held political and religious prisoners. In 1601, the poet John Donne was imprisoned in it for marrying a woman without her father’s consent.

The prison was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and soon after, re-built. However, it no longer exists today.

There was large scale prison corruption, with prisoners being allowed out of the prison on payment of fees to the keeper, and those who were unable to afford the fees, being forced to share crowded, lice-ridden cells.

Dickens described the prison in Pickwick Papers. It was finally closed down in 1842.

Nearest railway station: Blackfriars

Clerkenwell House of Detention

There has been a prison on this site since 1616, although the only remaining part of it – its tunnels – were built in 1844.

It was largely used as a detentional prison and an estimated 10,000 people a year passed through its gates.

The prison was demolished in 1890, but an entire underground section survived and lay undisturbed until the bombs of the Blitz saw it reopened as an air-raid shelter.

The site of the prison is now occupied by the Hugh Myddleton School building (and partially converted into residential flats).

However, it is possible to access the tunnels from Clerkenwell Close, behind St James Church.

Nearest underground stations: Farringdon, Angel

Gatehouse Prison

Built in 1370, it was originally part of a prison which existed in Westminster Abbey’s gatehouse. Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned in it on the eve of his execution at the Tower of London in 1618.

It is believed that the saying, “stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage” was written here by the poet, Lovelace, in 1642. In 1689, Samuel Pepys was imprisoned in it.

It was demolished in 1776 and the site is now occupied by Westminster School’s Crimean War Memorial (the tall column) which stands in front of Westminster Abbey, in Broad Sanctuary.

Nearest underground station: Westminster

King’s Bench Prison

This prison originally stood on the east side of Borough High Street, and in 1755 it moved to a larger area at St George’s Fields.

The majority of prisoners were debtors, and they were often joined by their families. Dickens wrote about it in David Copperfield, with Mr Micawber being imprisoned in it for debt.

In 1828, the prison was described as “the most desirable place of incarceration in London” – the courtyard was full of traders and there were a large number of gin shops on site. Rich prisoners even had a regular cook to prepare their meals. By the 1870’s the prison had closed.

Nearest underground station: Borough

Clink Prison

This was a small prison connected to Winchester Palace on Bankside. First mention of it is in 1509 and it was destroyed in 1780.

It was for those who committed offences on Bankside and in the nearby brothels, which were controlled by the Bishop of Winchester.

Prisoners included both Protestant and Catholic prisoners of conscience, and towards the end of its existence it was also a debtor’s prison.

The Clink Prison Museum, in Clink Street, sits on the site of the original prison.

Nearest underground station: London Bridge

Horsemonger Lane Jail

Built as a model prison in 1791, and renamed Southwark County Gaol in 1859.

The gatehouse had gallows on the roof and it was here that Charles Dickens witnessed a double hanging in 1849. This led him to write to The Times condemning public execution and helped lead to its abolition in this country.

131 men and 4 women were executed at the jail between 1800 and 1877.

The jail itself closed in 1878 and was demolished in 1880. Newington Gardens now occupies the site of the jail.

Nearest underground station: Borough