Chapel at HMP Wormwood Scrubs


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Chapel at HMP Wormwood Scrubs, Du Cane Road


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Statutory Address:
Chapel at HMP Wormwood Scrubs, Du Cane Road

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Hammersmith and Fulham (London Borough)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 22195 81220

Reasons for Designation

The chapel at Wormwood Scrubs Prison is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * It has major importance as an integral part of the prison complex whose innovative design by Edmund du Cane was to prove highly influential internationally; * It is probably the largest prison chapel in England, and the most ornate, built using convict labour and displaying high architectural quality and craftsmanship. This too is a testament to the ethos of the prison; * It has important group value with the gatehouse and cell blocks, designated at Grade II* and II respectively.



DU CANE ROAD Chapel at HMP Wormwood Scrubs


GV II* Prison chapel, dedicated to St Francis of Assisi. Recorded as completed by 1894, but essentially complete by 1889. Dedicated 1957. Anglican chapel to Wormwood Scrubs convict prison built 1874-1891 by Edmund Du Cane, Chairman of the Prison Commission, Director of Convict Prisons.

MATERIALS: Portland stone, slate roofs with cast-iron cresting. Interior: timber roof, Portland stone fixtures and fittings, mosaic tile floors.

PLAN: in French Romanesque manner. Seven bay aisled nave, continuous chancel with seven bay apsidal east end containing ambulatory; narthex at the west end. North and south entrances to the nave. West entrance to narthex and east entrance to rear of apse.

EXTERIOR: the aisles have paired round-headed windows with margin glazed lights under shallow hood moulds. Slender moulded impost bands are supported on engaged shafts. Each pair is set back under a corbel table. Similar but taller clerestorey windows are under a shallow arcade of round headed arches on slender round shafts. The apse is similarly treated with paired windows at ambulatory level, but single clerestorey lights. The moulded cornices at aisle and gable height are continuous. North and south gabled porches each have single-light windows to the returns and a pair of vertically boarded doors under a moulded arch supported on a pair of shafts. Above is a moulded hood. Doors have elaborate strap hinges and door furniture. To the north is a small vestry with a tall offset stack with a rectangular shaft, the cap with blind-arched panels. The east entrance has an undecorated shallow gable over a doorway with a reduced moulded architrave, the arch supported on a single shaft. Doors are similar to those on the nave. The west front is symmetrical. A two-storey narthex under a pitched slate roof has a central round-arched doorway on shafts with cushion capitals, similar to the east end, and a pair of vertically-boarded doors with elaborate strap hinges and door handles similar to the nave. To each side at ground-floor and gallery level are triple round arched windows with margin lights. There is a similar single light over the doorway, with a dropped cill. Each group is set back in a rectangular recess under a heavy corbel table and with a moulded cill below. Above is a rose window under a shallow round-arched recess supported on slender shafts and under a slender hood mould. The gable is surmounted by a bell tower with an arcaded cap and corbelled base. The nave and apse roof is of bands of plain and fishscale pattern slate, with foiled iron cresting with a small finial over the apse. The aisle roofs are of plain slate, the vestry half hipped.

INTERIOR: arch-braced tie-beam roof with kingposts rising from the tie beam and scissor braced from the principal rafters. Diagonally-boarded roof. The nave is very broad, with narrow aisles. Each seven bay arcade of moulded round arches is supported on drum piers with moulded bases and cushion capitals. The tie beams are supported on engaged shafts with moulded feet, which frame the clerestorey windows. The sanctuary is marked by paired shafts. At each end of each aisle is a single round arched doorway, in a flush stone surround with a vertically-boarded door similar to the exterior doors. Inner north and south doors are similar, with robust hinges, handles and plates. Windows are similarly in flush stone surrounds with very slender moulded shafts.

The west gallery is supported on an eight bay arcade below a corbel table, with a shallow arcade to the balustrade similar to the exterior arcade. All is framed by a large moulded arch. The sanctuary raised above the nave has a nine bay reredos. Under each arch is a pair of round-arched panels, each painted with the figure of a saint, the lunette above depicts a scene from the life of Christ. The central lunette on the rear of the apse depicts the Resurrection. All said to be painted by prisoners. The octagonal pulpit on drum piers has a fine iron balustrade with twisted shafts. A small octagonal font is now in the south aisle. Floors are of black and white mosaic tile, the narthex floors in elaborate geometrical patterns. Inside the west entrance, the floor mosaic depicts the head of Christ. The sanctuary floor is of red and black tiles. Tiles between the nave piers were replaced when the nave floor was lowered. Windows have coloured glass.

The plan of the chapel and shape of the nave, with narrow aisles gave optimum visibility and control. Prisoners entered through the east and west doors, which were linked to B and C wings by covered walkways in Romanesque manner (these no longer exist). Visitors used the south door.

The chapel is probably the largest and finest prison chapel in England. It compares with a similar but less elaborate chapel at Portland Prison also by Du Cane.

HISTORY: Wormwood Scrubs prison was designed by Edmund du Cane, Director of Convict Prisons, for the newly established national Prison Commission of which he was chairman. He was an experienced military engineer, appointed to rationalise the prison system.

The prison was built between 1874 and 1891, originally to house convicts, but by 1891 it had become a local prison. It was laid out in parallel blocks, adopting the 'telegraph pole' plan, which was a new plan form in Victorian prisons unlike its predecessors such as Pentonville that were generally laid out radially. Some convict prisons already had simple parallel blocks but local prisons built under Joshua Jebb favoured the radial plan. The 'telegraph pole' plan provided a model for subsequent English prisons, such as Bristol and Norwich, following the 1877 Prison Act and was further developed in Fresnes, France and in the USA. Its origins may be found in the 'pavilion' plan hospitals advanced by Florence Nightingale after the Crimean War, based on European principles. These were designed to minimise the spread of infection allowing maximum circulation of fresh air. Wormwood Scrubs is very similar in general layout to the Herbert Military Hospital at Woolwich in that the blocks are aligned north-south to allow sunlight into each cell.

Designed and executed by the Prison Commission, it was built using convict labour living on site, using materials brought from other convict prisons or manufactured on site. Convicts lived in temporary accommodation on site until the cell blocks were habitable. As a result the cost was much lower than the norm, costing, £97,155; that is, £70 7/- per cell compared with £161 17/3 per cell at Pentonville, which opened in 1842. The chapel, dedicated to St Francis of Assisi, is probably the largest and perhaps finest prison chapel in England, completed in 1894. The gatehouse was built by 1885 and, although typical of the period, has become an iconic symbol of the English prison system and carries the emblems of prison reformers John Howard and Elizabeth Fry.

During the 1880s the demand for convict prisons fell and most reverted to local prison status or were demolished. Women were housed there until female prisons such as Holloway were established. From the early C20 young offenders were housed in part of the prison, which provided a modified borstal system of education and training. The prison closed briefly from 1940-42 when it became a military site. On reopening it again housed young offenders until specialist units such as Feltham took over. In the 1990s the prison was refurbished. Many of the C19 service blocks were demolished and the cell blocks were linked by new buildings at the north end of the site.

REASON FOR DESIGNATION: The chapel at Wormwood Scrubs Prison is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* It has major importance as an integral part of the prison complex whose innovative design by Edmund du Cane was to prove highly influential internationally * It is probably the largest prison chapel in England, and the most ornate, built using convict labour and displaying high-quality craftsmanship. The high architectural quality is rare for this building type and is a testament to the ethos of the prison * It has important group value with the prison gatehouse and cell blocks (qv)

SOURCES: Brodie, Croom & Davies, English Prisons, English Heritage (2002) P J Leonard, History of Wormwood Scrubs (1975) R Byrne, Prisons & Punishments of London (1992) Sir E F Du Cane, A Description of the Prison at Wormwood Scrubs (1895) R G Alford, Notes on the Buildings of English Prisons (1909-10) Vol I, ch II, p10-18 HMP Wormwood Scrubs, RCHME (1995) R Bowdler, Wormwood Scrubs Prison, English Heritage Historian's report (1994)


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Brodie, Croom, Davies, , English Prisons, (2002)
Byrne, R, Prisons and Punishments of London, (1992)
Cane, EF Du, A Description of the Prison at Wormwood Scrubs, (1895)
Leonard, PJ , History of Wormwood Scrubs, (1975)
Alford, R G , Notes on the buildings of English prisons, 1909-1910,


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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