In 1869, a women’s prison opened near Knaphill. For useful employment, many of the inmates took part in craft workshops, making mosaics and panels for churches and public buildings, including mosaics around the Duke of Wellington’s tomb in St. Paul’s Cathedral, and several at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
This tile was displayed at St. John’s Church in Woking (where some of the higher quality mosaic tiles remain), and represents their more routine efforts. The work was prepared in the prisons from making chippings from marble and assembling them as mosaics, to be delivered as slabs to their commissioning bodies, and gained the name of ‘opus criminale’ as an art form. The women were paid 1s 2d (6p) a day for their work.
The Victoria and Albert Museum was enthusiastic in using the prisoners’ mosaics, and most of them remain in situ in the picture gallery on the 3rd floor, and the gallery between the two cast rooms. They commissioned further mosaics for their Bethnal Green annexe, the Museum of Childhood – this cost £268 and was seen as a bargain.
To find out more, visit Woking’s Story.