BEDFORD ARCHITECTURAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL & LOCAL HISTORY SOCIETY

BEDFORD LOCAL BOOK REVIEW

RETURN TO MAIN BOOK REVIEW PAGE

BOOK REVIEW by Bob Ricketts CBE

THE CURIOUS MR HOWARD LEGENDARY
PRISON REFORMER

By Tessa West

Publisher : Waterside Press, 2011. Price £29.95

Tessa West has worked in prisons and penal matters for many years. Her well-researched book provides an authoritative account of John Howard’s life and legacy. Howard (1726-1790) was leading early prison reformer, described by John Wesley as: “One of the greatest men in Europe.” A self-appointed prison inspector, he would knock on the doors of penal establishments, demand entry, and observe, listen and make copious of the events and conditions hidden behind prison walls, informing his iconic work The State of the Prisons, published in 1777.

Tessa charts his life and achievements, from his family background and childhood at Cardington, his experiences on the Grand Tour and later capture by French privateers, his management of the Cardington estate and improvements to the village, his life as a ‘lone father’ (he lost his beloved wife Henrietta in 1765, leaving him with the care of a small baby), overseas travel, his growing interest in and influence over penal reform, culminating in The State of the Prisons, his appointment as a Penitentiary Superintendent (and subsequent resignation), and foreign visits and tours, including to Ukraine, where he died in 1790. Tessa, whilst giving a comprehensive account of Howard the reformer and politician, doesn’t neglect Howard the man, giving vivid insights into the driven, perfectionist and workaholic.

For those of you interested in one of Bedford’s most famous citizen’s, this is an excellent account, well worth reading.

Recommendation: Recommended.

Illustration of book cover