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Discover the Fascinating History of The Morpeth Arms in Pimlico

Located just a short 15-minute walk from Westminster and opposite the conspicuous MI6 building, the Morpeth Arms on Millbank is a lovely pub and an obvious hangout for spies. The tunnels underneath served as the final walk for prisoners leaving Millbank prison and being deported to Australia.

As you enter the pub, you can see the cells in question on a live “ghost cam” feed displayed prominently on a wall. The tunnels are situated next to where all the beer barrels are kept, when we can we love to take our customers now to the tunnels.

The cells beneath the Morpeth Arms are the most “prisony” thing left of the old Millbank Prison, which opened in 1816 after much involving a will-they-or-won’t-they-build-a-prison-on-the-site saga. The prison was designed by Jeremy Bentham, the father of Utilitarianism, and had a “Panopticon” design, which consisted of a central watchtower from which the watcher could observe any of the six pentagonal buildings containing the inmates. The architect who won the contract, Mr. Hardwick, had to build on challenging river banky ground, which made the foundations very expensive.

Prisoners in the Millbank Prison resided in hammocks in their cells and worked predominantly as tailors, getting three meals daily, brought by kitchen staff and prisoners who worked in the kitchen. After some time, New South Wales authorities complained that large bodies of men were being sent over annually without women, so Millbank Prison endeavoured to send as many women as possible over. The female prisoners did all the laundry, and those who “only” had seven-year sentences would have had every right to be repatriated from Australia back home when they were free. However, many women could not return home, leading to their banishment for life.

The prison, which had so many problems from its conception, finally closed in 1890 and was then demolished to make way for Tate Britain, which still stands there today. Across the road from the Morpeth Arms pub, one bollard survives where convicts began their transportation to Australia. A plaque on the bollard reads: “Near this site stood Millbank Prison, which opened in 1816 and closed in 1890. This buttress stood at the head of the river steps from which, until 1867, prisoners sentenced to transportation embarked on their journey to Australia.”

The Morpeth Arms itself was built in 1845 by Paul Dangerfield for the wardens from Millbank Prison. A prisoner is said to have tried escaping from the prison through a tunnel beneath the pub but died there. He now haunts the pub, according to local legend.

If you are interested in visiting what’s left of the Millbank prison, you can head to the last remaining two bollards, located near Tate Britain on the opposite side of the road, or take a walk nearby to discover parts of the old moat that surrounded the site. It now serves as a perfect place for herb gardens for local residents.