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EVERY traveller by the Great Western Railway is familiar with the exterior splendours of Reading Gaol, the Palace-prison, as it is styled. After the regal residence at Windsor, it is the most imposing structure seen from the line of view between Paddington and Bath ; and it is, beyond all question, the handsomest building—the “Castle” alone excepted-in the county of Berks. It stands, too, on a site worthy of itself; a gentle elevation, commanding a charming prospect, one of the best selected and most salubrious in the neighbourhood for many miles round. Of these facts there will be no doubt, when it is known that the old abbey of Reading stood upon the same ground, and that some of the noble ruins of that pile still gracefully overhang the prison walls. No one has ever disputed the good taste of the reverend fathers in the selection of a spot to dwell on. A modern purchaser would need no better guarantee for the eligibility of a plot of land for a new mansion, than the knowledge that a monk had once thought it fit to be the home of his “ learned ease.” To what base uses may we not return? The garden of the monastery is now the garden of the prison ! The building stands on a fine gravelly soil, and is well watered. The soil is of the best. We can answer for its fruitfulness, for never have we seen or tasted finer English fruit than grows upon it. Relics of the old inhabitants still turn up at times, in the shape of pieces of encaustic tiles, broken pillars, and fragments of marble saints; and occasionally the felon's spade strikes into the skull of mitred priest or shaven monk, as he turns up the soil in his hours of recreation.
Reading Gaol, as seen from the railway, has the appearance of a princely seat in the best style of the days of Queen Elizabeth. The architects were Messrs. Scott and Moffatt, of Spring Gardens; and it does them credit for their art. It is described by the chaplain, as in “ the Tudor or castellated Gothic style ;” and farther on it is said, that “with the castellated it combines a collegiate appearance." The phrase is not inapt : the internal arrangements suggest the collegiate character; while the light and airy outside, which, as Mr. Field says, does certainly not present anything like a gloomy aspect, is not unlikely to inspire thoughts of knightly revels, and the pastimes of chivalry. Every moment you expect to hear the sound of the horn, to see the postern open, and a gallant train issue forth to enjoy the pleasures of the chase or the graceful sport of falconry. It is only by an effort that the mind can realize the actual fact : that that stately and jocund pile can be the penal home of the worst offenders against the law, provided for them at the joint expense of rich and poor ! We are not the first to deplore the extraordinary delusion under which the public money was so recklessly expended upon this gaol. No impartial observer can do otherwise than regret to see such waste. Mr. Field, who makes himself the champion of everything done by the magistracy of Berkshire, defends the policy of such an outlay, and he seems to think it a sufficient answer to all objections, to say that the surplus decoration has provided the county with a handsome public edifice." If the rate-payers of England wish to have “ handsome public edifices,” no doubt they have a right to build them ; but we very much doubt whether any large body of rate-payers would prefer to obtain this desiderated beauty in architecture in the shape of palace-prisons. Our towns and cities are not yet so filled with splendid monuments of art - churches, temples, theatres, schools, colleges, baths, bridges, columns—that our taste for architectural display needs to expend itself on prisons ; these are the last places on which the blandishments of beauty require to be lavished. It is the more necessary to insist upon
argument, for that it is sought by the advocates of the separate system to place Reading Gaol in the position of a model for all the country, and because nearly all the new prisons which are now built, or building, are erected with a similar recklessness of cost.
Reading Gaol contains 247 separate cells, thus
divided : 193 for male prisoners ; 34 for female prisoners; and 20 for debtors. To find accommodation for these 247 persons, the county was put to an expense of fifty-one thousand pounds. That is, each cell cost the public 2061. 108.—a sum which would build cottages worth from 161. to 201. a year! The prisoners in Reading Gaol have dwellings of a more costly kind than nine-tenths of her Majesty's lieges can afford to live in. Is this either just or politic? At the great discussion in the City on “Prison Discipline,” the reverend defender of Reading Gaol was compelled to admit that the cost of its erection was enormous and unnecessary." But it is claimed in extenuation, that the case was exceptional. It was so ; but is there not something exceptional, something unforeseen, in every case ? A prudent man never makes a calculation without a margin for contingencies. The "contingencies” which swelled the cost of Reading Gaol would have their counterparts in any other place. The cost per cell at Pentonville was quite as much as at Reading.
Let us now come to the discipline. We shall best give an idea of this matter through the medium of a day's diary in the prison. At six o'clock the prisoner gets up, sweeps his room, wraps up his hammock, and washes his face. This is supposed to occupy him till eight ; having nothing to do all day, of course there is no need to usher it in with any unseemly haste. At eight o'clock he is served with his breakfast, which, if he be a transport, consists of a pint of gruel and half a pound of fine bread ; if he be only a vagabond, and not a criminal, he gets the gruel but no bread. Having despatched this matter -if so rapid a word as despatch can properly be used in connexion with a routine so snail-like-the prisoner puts on his cap and draws the peak down, which is supposed to engage his attention until ten minutes past nine o'clock, when the bell rings for chapel. By ten o'clock the service is got through, and the worshippers are drawn off in detachments; part to the pumps, where they are permitted to raise sufficient water for the day's consumption ; part to the airing yard, if the weather be fine, to air themselves and the bed-clothes; others, again, to the schools, where they receive instruction from competent masters ; and the rest into the gardens, where they amuse themselves by finding relics or turning up the skulls of the ancient cultivators. On alternate days, our transport will be so engaged from chapel time till near twelve. From twelve to one of course he dines, sufficiently, if not sumptuously. If the day be Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, he will have three ounces of cooked meat without bone, eight ounces of potatoes, and eight ounces of bread, for his dinner; if it be Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, he will get a pint of soup and half a pound of bread ; but if the wretch be only a vulgar tramp, and not a regular burglar, he will get for his dinner a pound of bread and nothing else. In the midst of so much indulgence, his case is rather a