HM Prison Manchester

HM Prison Manchester is a high-security male prison situated in Manchester, England and is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service. It functions as both a local Prison, holding prisoners remanded into custody form the courts in the Greater Manchester area and, as part of the High Security Estate (since 2003) holds a number of Category A prisoners.

It was known as Strangeways until it was rebuilt following a major riot in 1990 and got its nickname Strangeways from the area of Manchester the prison is located.


Construction of the Grade II listed prison was completed in 1869 to replace the New Bailey Prison in Salford, which closed in 1868. The prison designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1862, with input from Joshua Jebb, cost £170,000, and had a capacity of 1,000 inmates. Its 234 feet (71 m) ventilation tower (often mistaken for a watchtower) has become a local landmark.

The prison has an element of the Panopticon with its plan a star or a snowflake shaped building, with two block housing a total ten wings emanating from a central core where the watchtower is situated. The prison building consists of two radial blocks branching from the central core with a total of ten wings (A, B, C, D, E, F in one block, and G, H, I, K in the second).

It was built on the grounds of Strangeways Park and Gardens, which gave the prison its original name, and was officially opened on 25 June 1868. The prison's walls, which are rumoured to be as thick as 16 feet, are said to be impenetrable either from the inside or out.

The prison was open to both male and female prisoners until 1963 when the facility became male-only, and in 1980 it began to accept remand prisoners.

As of 2005 the prison held just over 1,200 inmates.

As a place of execution

Originally, the prison contained an execution shed in B wing; however, after World War I a special execution room and cell for the condemned criminal was built. Strangeways was also one of the few prisons to have permanent gallows. The first execution was of twenty-year-old murderer Michael Johnson, hanged by William Calcraft on 29 March 1869.

Twenty-nine hangings took place in the next twenty years, with a further 71 taking place in the 20th century, bringing the total number of hangings at the prison to 100. However, during the second half of the century, the number of executions decreased, with no hangings taking place between 1954 and 1962. John Robson Walby (alias Gwynne Owen Evans), one of the last two people to be hanged in England, was executed at Strangeways on 13 August 1964. Out of the 100 total hangings, there were four double hangings, while the rest were done individually. The famous "quickest hanging" of James Inglis in seven seconds, carried out by Albert Pierrepoint, took place at Strangeways.

Mary Ann Britland (38) was executed on 9 August 1886 for the murder of two family members and her neighbour. She was the first woman to be executed at Strangeways. John Jackson was executed on 7 August 1879. Thom Davies was hanged on 9 January 1889 for sexual deviancy charges. Lieutenant Frederick Rothwell Holt was hanged on 13 April 1920 for the murder of twenty-six-year-old Kathleen Breaks. Louie Calvert was hanged on 24 June 1926.

Doctor Buck Ruxton was executed on 12 May 1936 for the murder of his wife. A petition for Ruxton's clemency was signed by 10,000 people, both sympathetic locals with high regard for this "people's doctor" and abolitionists who mounted a large demonstration on the day of execution. Margaret Allen was hanged on 12 January 1949 by Albert Pierrepoint for the murder of an elderly widower. Her execution was the first of a woman in Britain for twelve years. and the third execution of a woman at Strangeways.

After the famous seven second hanging, Albert Pierrepoint executed Louisa May Merrifield (48), the fourth and last woman to be executed at the prison.

During prison rebuilding work in 1991, the remains of 63 executed prisoners (only 45 of which were identifiable) were exhumed from unmarked graves in the prison cemetery and cremated at Blackley Crematorium in Manchester. The cremated remains were then re-interred in a single grave at the adjacent cemetery.

Strangeways riots

Between 1 April and 25 April 1990, 147 staff and 47 prisoners were injured in a series of riots by prison inmates. There was one fatality among the prisoners, and one prison officer also died (from heart failure). Much of the original prison was damaged or destroyed during the riots. Several inmates were charged with various offences, and as a result, among others, Paul Taylor and Alan Lord faced a five-month trial as the ringleaders.

The riots resulted in the Woolf Inquiry, and the prison was rebuilt and renamed Her Majesty's Prison, Manchester. Over £80 million was used to repair and modernise Strangeways prison after the riot, with rebuilding completed in 1994.

The prison today

The prison is a high-security category A prison for adult males and has a maximum capacity of 1269 as of 4th August 2008. The running of the prison has been put out to tender on two occasions, in 1994 and 2001. Accommodation at the prison is divided into 9 wings in two radial blocks. Cells are a mixture of single and double occupancy, all having in-cell power points and integral sanitation.

The prison has been noted for a high suicide rate following the reopening of the prison in 1994. From 1993 to 2003, Strangeways prison had the highest number of suicides among inmates than any other prison in the United Kingdom and 2004, Strangeways had the highest number of suicides in the country.

Education and vocational training at the prison is provided by the Manchester College. Courses offered include information technology, ESOL, numeracy, industrial cleaning, bricklaying, painting and decorating, plastering, textiles and laundry. The prison's gym also runs courses in physical education, as well as offering recreational sport and fitness programmes.

Noted former inmates
  • Ian Brady, held for theft prior to the Moors murders.
  • Harold Shipman, held there on remand whilst awaiting trial.
  • James Inglis, the world's fastest hanging.
  • Christabel Pankhurst, suffragette, was held for a week.
  • Joey Barton, footballer jailed for assault.
  • Ian Brown, rock singer gaoled for "air rage", released in December 1999.
  • David Dickinson, TV presenter specialising in antiques, imprisoned for fraud in pre-celeb days.
  • Gordon Park was convicted in 2005 of murdering his first wife, Carol Park, in 1976.
Cultural references
  • "Strangeways", a track on the 1987 rock album The House of Blue Light by Deep Purple
  • Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987 rock album by The Smiths.
  • 'Mad' Frankie Fraser (1982) was held on 'A' Wing and excused boots for supposed fallen arches.
  • Eric Allison (1970) went on to be The Guardian Prison Reporter and author of A Serious Disturbance, an account of the Strangeways Riot. A chapter of Eric's book was written by former Strangeways Hospital Officer John G. Sutton.
  • In the song "There Goes a Tenner" from the album The Dreaming, Kate Bush sings of being "a star in Strangeways". The song is about a botched bank robbery.
  • The song "Fallowfield Hillbilly", from the album St. Jude by Manchester band The Courteeners, refers to Strangeways and the type of people that "indie snobs" perceive to be its inmates.
  • In the comic Hellblazer, issue 34 (October 1990), the main character John Constantine refers to Strangeways prison "exploding with and blood," and describes its holding cells as "Victorian pressure cookers" into which government officials who turn a blind eye should be squeezed to "see what pops out of pimple."
  • In the TV series Shameless, Frank Gallagher often refers to his time in Strangeways.
  • In the TV series Beautiful People, Debbie Doonan, who dislikes the police, shouts to an officer "them blokes from Strangeways had the right idea," a reference to the Strangeways Prison riot.
  • Graham Fellows, in his comedic persona of John Shuttleworth, wrote a song that began, "You're like Manchester, you've got strange ways".
  • "Strangeways Hotel", a song by Mike Harding.

In the book Pollen by Mancunian author Jeff Noon two of the central characters visit Strangeways in order to speak to a prisoner. The prison has become a "Virtual" (sic) prison, where the inmates are kept locked in drawers on large amounts of a psychoactive drug that puts them into a permanent, pleasant dreamlike state.