50 objects 34: Bill Griffith’s work on prisons

prison1Have you been following the BBC Radio 4 series “Rethinking Clink”, about the history of prison reform? Did you know Brunel holds primary sources on this subject, in the papers of polymath Bill Griffiths?

Until his death in 2007 Dr Griffiths was active in a wide range of spheres including classical music, publishing, creative writing, medieval studies, dialect, and local history.

He was also a correspondent with, and advocate for, several prisoners. As previously described on this blog, “One of the key relationships in Bill Griffiths’s life was with the several prisoners he wrote to. He began communicating with a number of prisoners after encountering a stall with prison literature which motivated him to write and support them. Chief amongst them was the prisoner Ray Gilbert, who served time in a series of English prisons from the sixties, while protesting his innocence for a murder sentence. There are hundreds of letters in the collection that document these exchanges, focusing on the period 1996-2004, which reveal many of the daily details of prison life.

Bill Griffiths additionally campaigned to improve conditions in prisons and the appeals prison3process. Various folders in the archive contain letters that deal with his attempts to address Gilbert’s and others situation, as well as the short tracts and essays he published on the subject.”

Shown here is the cover from Griffiths’ work Star fish jail, the title inspired by the physical shape of prisons such as Wandsworth, with wings radiating from a central point and so resembling a starfish.

You can see more details of this material by consulting the finding aids on our Bill Griffiths collection page.


His understanding of prison life reflects in other aspects of Bill Griffiths’ work; his poetry uses language forms drawn from prisoners, and he writes for the marginalised and against the establishment, using poetry as social commentary to combat injustice.



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