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Hunger Strike in British Prisons 1913-1940


There were 38 recorded strikes in 1930, spread over 17 prisons. As the tables below show, a large majority of the strikes lasted less than two weeks. In more than half of the strikes, prisoners cited complaints about their punishment or some condition in prisoner as their reason. In addition, nearly two-thirds of strikes have no record of force feeding.  

There is no evidence of a coordinated group strike in 1930. One of the most active strikers in the year was William Henry Johnson, who was sentenced to 12 months hard labor for officebreaking. Johnson started in Durham, where after only a week in prison he began an 8 day hunger strike from October 9-17, citing "dissatisfaction at his sentence." A month later, he started a 21 day hunger strike on November 12, claiming that officials were shorting him on his food allowance. It was not long after this strike that Johnson was transferred to Lincoln. This appeared to upset Johnson, for on December 15 he went on a 3 day hunger strike, during which officials noted that he had a bad temper and threatened to go on a hunger strike since arriving. His anger did not fade quickly, for two weeks later he started a 4 day hunger strike on December 26. While he gave no reason, officials believed he simply wanted to cause trouble.

Also in 1930 were two strikes over ideological differences. From June 1-4, 1930, Arthur Gyles carried out a hunger strike in Swansea. Gyles had been sent to prison to await trial for breach of the Incitement to Mutiny Act, most likely a reference to a law passed in 1797 which punished anyone who sought to incite British soldiers or sailors to commit mutiny. Following World War One, officials began using the act to target communists. This appeared to be the case for Gyles, for according to the record, he told the prison Governor that as a communist, he was protesting as a matter of principle.   

The second case was that of Wilfred Peny Whitehouse. Whitehouse was sentenced to 14 days at Birmingham for "working a wireless set without a license," most likely a reference to the annual license British households had to purchase in order to use their radio (which was used to fund the British Broadcasting Company as opposed to advertisements used in the United States). It appears that Whitehouse was opposed to the law. On November 15 we went on a 2 day hunger strike claiming that his conviction was improper "as the law which requires a wireless licence is 'unjust.'" 

Duration of Strikes

This table includes the 34 strikes for which there was a definite start and end date. 

There were 4 strikes for which the length could not be determined, due to a missing start date, end date, or both.

Notable Cases, 1930

William Henry Johnson

William Henry Johnson First Strike
William Henry Johnson Second Strike
William Henry Johnson Third Image
William Henry Johnson Fourth Strike

Arthur Gyles

Arthur Gyles

Wilfred Peny Whitehouse

Wilfred Peny Whitehouse