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Doing Porridge At The County Museum

A gruesome collection of goodies from the national Prison Service Museum at Newbold Revel in Warwickshire will be on show at the Market Hall Museum in Warwick from this Saturday (8 April) until 6 May.

Surrounded by photos of characters from Warwick Gaol, the display cases harbour a nasty but fascinating selection of items related to 'doing time'. 

A real scene-stealer is the case containing an unbelievable assortment of things prisoners swallowed to get themselves transferred to the prison hospital - including large items of cutlery, chess pieces and even false teeth. Hand-written labels, dating from the 1920s to the 1940s, mark some of the items as "passed'.

In another corner, there's what looks like a travelling case, made entirely from matchsticks and confiscated because it had secret compartments.

There are mess-tins, mail sacks and medical instruments, including a neatly-packaged post mortem kit complete with saw. Restraints of all kinds - ankle chains, handcuffs and a straightjacket - paint a vivid picture of what 'doing porridge' was like and, to some extent, probably still is. 

More recent exhibits include a slate hurled from the roof of Strangeways by protesting prisoners, riot shields, and a pair of prison-issue jeans with bright yellow stripes down the legs, making high-security inmates - and the direction they were running in - easier to spot on the cameras. 

There are improvised weapons, including a very nasty-looking knuckleduster. Behind an early tripod camera there's a remarkable wooden chair, with a raised rib on the seat which ensured prisoners sat absolutely straight to have their 'mug'shot' taken. 

Exhibition designer Catherine Roberts, of Warwickshire Museum, said:

"This is a great opportunity to see part of a national collection which is not normally open to the public, except by appointment." 

She added: 

"If you've ever wondered why prison officers are called 'screws', now is your chance to find out - by visiting the exhibition."

The Market Hall Museum is open from 10am to 5.30pm, Monday to Saturday. Admission is free.

MORE INFORMATION: Catherine Roberts  01926 412033

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