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Separation and Silence

— August 2011

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A noose once in use for capital punishment at Wandsworth Prison, London

‘Separation and Silence’, a new temporary exhibition at the Wandsworth Museum, opens 16 September 2011. Wandsworth Prison is the focus of the display, in particular harsh corrective measures used in the 19th century, namely the ‘separate system’ adopted in the 1840s and the ‘silent system’ adopted in the 1830s. The former drove inmates mad through solitary confinement, while the latter broke the will of prisoners through needless hard labour.

The display also offers insight into the lives of famous inmates such as Oscar Wilde and Ronnie Biggs and showcases the recently acquired Inside Eye project, which gives a rare glimpse of life inside, via the medium of photography. The launch of the exhibition coincides with the 160 year anniversary of Wandsworth Prison.

From an execution box to a letter from Oscar Wilde’s wife Constance, desperate to see her husband, the display explores the past of Wandsworth Prison, its inmates and the changes that have taken place in the prison system, from punitive measures the changing condition of an inmate’s cell. 

Objects on display include:

•     an execution box from Wandsworth Prison, dating to the 1920s,
•     a handmade quilt, produced by Fine Cell Work and prisoners at the Wandsworth Prison, especially for this exhibition

•     Inside Eye, a photography project that took place in Wandsworth prison in the early 1990s; photos taken by the prisoners show their perspective of life on the inside

•     paintings created by inmates of Wandsworth Prison; some take formal classes to develop their artistic skills while others just paint for leisure, an impressive collection of artistic works
•     a letter from Constance Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s wife, dated 13th September 1895.

•     a noose from Wandsworth Prison, used during the 1920s for capital punishment.

Tatiana Chierici Wandsworth Museum Exhibition Curator said ‘The Wandsworth Museum reveals the history of the borough, so it is very fitting that our first temporary exhibition since our major redevelopment focuses on the UK’s largest prison, HMP Wandsworth, which is situated but a stone’s throw away from our museum. The exhibition explores the prison’s extensive history and asks visitors to discover how things have changed over the last 160 years – from harsh punishments and the cell conditions to rehabilitation and well know inmates, the display gives a perspective of life inside, from the view of the inmates themselves.’

'Separation and Silence' opens Friday 16 September 2011 and runs until Saturday 31 December 2011.
Wandsworth Museum, 38 West Hill, Wandsworth, London UK, SW18 1RZ

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