Banner: Inmates of Woking's Invalid Convict Prison, Courtesy of The Institutional History Society

The Lightbox Heritage Collection is comprised of thousands of fascinating historical objects, all significant to Woking and the surrounding areas. Woking's Story is our permanent museum which explores the town’s history, covering themes such as the 'mad, the bad and the dead'. Our Heritage Committee is run by a team of wonderful volunteers that help us to research and present various displays to highlight the Collection throughout the year.

Daniel, new to the Heritage Committee, tells us a bit more about his experience volunteering with us at The Lightbox:

'It was an accident, and a happy one at that, when on my first visit to The Lightbox, I chanced upon Neil Burnett in Woking’s Story. Neil was not meant to be volunteering that day but I am glad that he did. We instantly struck up a conversation covering the entire span of human history: from flints to H.G. Wells, Ishiguro to Anglo-Saxon – it was like a form of historical Tourette’s! Neil mentioned also that The Lightbox has a Heritage Committee, whose purpose is to research and present the hidden history of the town, and that they were looking for volunteers. 

I jumped at the chance; having worked at several other museums and writing for a historical journal, it was the perfect opportunity!

Entrance to Woking's Story © The Lightbox

I have been interested in the past ever since I found my first fossil at age 4 (and swapped it for a shiny piece of glass). Many years later, I completed a Degree in Archaeology and History, with a rather unusual dissertation on ancient Greek dwarves, and since then I have researched and written about various aspects of history.

As a volunteer of The Lightbox, Woking’s Invalid Convict Prison was first mentioned to me and how very little in the way of research had been done on it. I was shocked, the prison was the first of its kind in terms of structure and type of inmates: indeed, it was a 19th century jail whose roster once included the likes of a Jack the Ripper suspect, gang members, Fenians, a baronet and a French 'agent'.

Young Inmate of Woking's Invalid Convict Prison, Courtesy of The Institutional History Society

Off the back of the initial conversation with the Heritage Committee, I have set up a company with Gem Minter (a fellow History buff) to explore, elucidate and educate about the conditions and lives of those who were unfortunate enough to have passed through the doors of such an institution. From the desultory to the deranged, the unusual and strange, if they entered a workhouse, a prison or asylum, we will be researching and sharing their stories.'

If you have any information about individual prisoners or wardens from the Woking Invalid Convict Prison, or want to get involved in the project, please contact [email protected] or [email protected] and address your message to volunteer Daniel Shepherd, with the heading Woking Invalid Convict Prison. Alternatively, to find out more, head to The Institutional History Society or visit Woking’s Story.  

Want to get involved? If you’re interested in local heritage and would like to contribute to the Heritage Committee’s ongoing research, you can sign up to volunteer with us here.