A Scarce Early 20thC Solid Graffitied Oak Solitary Confinement Pillow

Origin: English
Period: Early 20thC
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1900-25
Height: 6”
Width: 30”
Depth: 11.5”

Dating from the early twentieth century, the solid English oak solitary confinement cell ‘pillow’, profusely carved with inmates names, once bolted and integral to the sleeping surface, lacquered to the facing side and of sloped rectangular form and surviving in original condition from the first quarter of twentieth century England.

The artifact has not been meddled with so it remains very original in its entirety with a good patina to the oak and no losses to speak of. There are holes to the reverse showing where it was mounted with the edges being square also. Being solid oak it proves a real dead weight.
Salvaged from a solitary confinement cell, this unforgiving pillow would have acted as a further method of punishment for the ill-behaviour of its inmates. The usable section of the pillow, where the inmate would have lay shows various named such as 'Caddy', 'Steve Hill', 'Hilly 4/9/19' ‘Biggs’ etc.

Solitary confinement was pretty gruesome at this time. When thrown into solitary confinement, you could expect your daily diet to suffer. The common meal for those in confinement was bread and water. It was part of the method used to break a person’s spirit and for many it worked. Prisons were not the only places that used solitary confinement. The Pontiac State Reformatory, a school for boys who were committed for a crime, also practiced solitary confinement on their students. Looking at the inscriptions it is entirely possible that this was part of such a school.

During a hearing about the tortures used at the school in 1913, many of the boys mentioned the solitary confinement rooms where they were placed. One of the tortures was to not give the boys enough water to quench their thirst. Needing more to drink, the boys had to resort to drinking toilet water just to stay alive. It was a humiliating experience, meant to break their spirits, but all it did was turn them into angry, hardened criminals. More often than not, they were forced to sleep on the cold, hard floor. Other prisons had the men in solitary confinement shackled up to the wall and, in which case, they had to sleep while dangling in pain. The more fortunate prisoners in confinement were given wood boards to sleep on so that they would wake up sore the next morning. Blankets in solitary were extremely rare. Back in 1912, the suffragettes were often arrested and placed in solitary confinement as punishment for their struggles to gain equality. One woman, Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, was one of these women. She was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in the Holloway prison, London, and shortly afterwards she developed a bad case of bronchitis.

These ownership marks are not memorial inscriptions for public consumption; they are not really about rebellion either, moreover, the temporary and the permanent; sheer boredom, anonymity and making your mark. A unique object that is nigh on ever seen on the open market.