Criminal Quilts Case Study – Harriet George

Criminal Quilts is my an 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.

Harriet was born in Stoke-on-Trent to a working family. Her father was a miner. The photograph was taken when she was released in 1880 after serving 16 months for stealing a shawl. The document suggests she has previous convictions but I can’t find them. She was released to the ‘Stafford Female Refuge’. I researched this institution and found out that it was officially called The Staffordshire County Industrial Home for Discharged Female Ex-Prisoners and Friendless Women, and was built in 1878 on Sandon Road, Stafford and funded through public donation. It was the first of its kind. The Home was locally known as ‘The County Refuge’, ‘Female Refuge’ or ‘County Industrial Home’, and took in younger women with no families to return to after their release. Women who accepted this support would stay for two years, with a placement as a domestic servant afterwards. Harriet was there when the census was taken in 1881 with 29 other young women between 13 and 22 years of age. I can’t find any further record of her but there is Harriet George who died aged 68 in 1928 and this might be her. It is possible that after her time in the refuge she did not offend again.

History of The County Refuge

Academic journal article by Dr Jo Turner about prisoner aftercare. Dr Turner supported the Criminal Quilts research in 2018.