Criminal Quilts is my exhibition, research project and book. The textiles I have created are inspired by the stories of women who were photographed on release from Stafford Prison between 1877 and 1916.
I was fascinated when I first saw the photographs from the 1870s where the women have their hands on their chests. This was in case of missing fingers which would be used for identification. This is the first time prisons took photographs of prisoners to identify them if they offended again. They are usually photographed in their own clothes so we get to see what they really looked like. Photographs of working women are rare so these are very special images of women who wouldn’t normally have photographs taken. Original images and documents courtesy of Staffordshire Record Office.
Find out more in the online exhibition of Criminal Quilts including a film and all the exhibition text. My Criminal Quilts book covers the photo albums in detail, includes many more case studies, a background to women in prison in the 19th century and is illustrated with my textile works. It is available in my online shop along with cards, books and artworks.
This is part of a series of case studies of some of the women recorded in the prison photographs.
Caroline Pulley appears four times in the photograph albums. The first was in 1879 when she was 29 years old and unmarried. Caroline was from Brockmoor, Brierley Hill (Dudley) and was 5ft 3in, with brown hair and grey eyes. This record is shown above.
She had been sentenced to six months hard labour for stealing iron, presumably to sell on for food and essentials. She was also given one year police supervision. She was a repeat offender, often in and out of prison and was photographed for the prison records in 1884, 1885 and 1886. In 1885, she refused to show her hands as required for which she would have been punished. The poor state of her clothes in 1884 shows the state of her poverty. She was sometimes recorded as a charwoman (a cleaner) or labourer, but often had no employment. Most of her crimes were thefts of iron or coal, including 60 pounds of coal from a canal boat. Caroline also appears in a prison record for HMP Wakefield in 1883 and in various other prison records for Staffordshire. Staffordshire Archives have complied a case study of her convictions here.
Caroline’s 1884 photo was one of the first ones I used as inspiration when I made the first series of miniature quilts. I haven’t used her photos very much but this quilt (below) now in Staffordshire Museums collection, was named after her. I think it’s time I created Caroline another quilt of her own, with her determined and powerful face.