ORIGINALLY THE RICHMOND PENITENTIARY
Originally opened in 1816 as the Richmond Penitentiary, this iconic tower is one of the most well-known of the 11 protected structures on the Grangegorman site. Built to the designs of Francis Johnston, also known for the Lower House on site and for the GPO on O’Connell St, the Richmond Penitentiary was the first of the penitentiary style in Britain and Ireland. The front facade, which overlooks Grangegorman Lower and the western side of the site, is all that remains of the original structure. The Grangegorman Masterplan shows the building’s final use as academic space for the College of Engineering & Built Environment.
The Richmond General Penitentiary was a prison established in 1820 in Grangegorman, Dublin, Ireland as an alternative to transportation. It was part of an experiment into a penitentiary system which also involved Millbank Penitentiary, London. Richmond and Millbank penitentiaries were the first prisons in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland to specialise in reform rather than punishment. The building was designed by the architect Francis Johnston and decorated by George Stapleton. The building ceased to be a penitentiary in 1831, and later became part of the Richmond Asylum.
In 1810, the Governors of the House Industry situated on North Brunswick Street were instructed by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to purchase land for the construction of a penitentiary. The purpose of the penitentiary was to provide a custodial and rehabilitative alternative to the transportation of prisoners to Botany Bay, Australia. It was hoped that through solitary confinement, hard labour and religious instruction that prisoners might be reformed. They obtained a three half acre site from Lord Monck in Grangegorman which was at that time planted with apple and pear trees. Given that the Governors already had responsibility for the management of several prisons, including the Female penitentiary in Kilmainham, the House of Correction, Smithfield, the penitentiary in James’s Street and a prison ward in the House of Industry, they were assigned the task of overseeing the building of the institution that would be known as the Richmond General Penitentiary. The architect appointed was Francis Johnston. The building was completed in 1816, but it served as a fever hospital in that year and was subsequently completely refurbished. It received its first prisoners in 1820.
Upon committal prisoners were placed in solitary confinement in cells towards the rear of the building and, if their behaviour was seen to warrant it, after a period of at least one week they were removed to cells closer to the front of the building where they were allowed a greater degree of interaction with the other inmates.
The penitentiary was used as a transportation depot to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) between 1840 and the 1880s. Over 3,200 women and children passed through the Grangegorman Transportation Depot as it was then known, before being sent on ships to Hobart, Tasmania. This was the largest number of transportees of any place in Ireland at the time. The Cascades Female Factory in Hobart where these women ended up is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1897 ownership of the building was transferred to the Richmond District Lunatic Asylum and it was thereafter referred to as the “annexe” and used to house patients and for administrative functions. The building now referred to as ‘The Clock Tower’ is used as offices for Technological University of Dublin and the Grangegorman Development Agency. It forms part of the new TU Dublin campus being developed on the former hospital grounds.