For such a small piece of real estate, the island of Sark has proven to be a treasure trove of interest for us at Commonplace Fun Facts. As previously detailed, it was once attacked by an invasion force of one person, and the entire island is rented from the British crown for £1.79 — an amount unchanged since 1565. As if that weren’t interesting enough, Sark has another noteworthy distinction: it is home to possibly the world’s smallest prison.
Sark’s prison was built in 1856. Whether out of scarcity of building material or optimism about the future crime rate, the prison’s architect clearly did not have extravagance in mind. The barrel-roofed structure consists of two adjoining cells. The smaller of the two is 6 feet by 6 feet (1.83 meters by 1.83 meters). The king-sized counterpart is 6 feet by 8 feet (1.83 meters by 2.44 meters). A three-foot (0.9 meter) corridor runs in front of the cells for the length of the building. There are no windows.
As one might surmise for an island of 500 inhabitants, the need for a large incarceration facility is limited. After construction was completed, it remained unused for some time. One of the first miscreants to be imprisoned therein was a girl who stole a pocket-handkerchief. According to the January 1886 issue of The Guernsey Magazine, when the policeman took the girl to the jail, the door had grown so rusty from long disuse that it took considerable effort to get it open. Once opened, the door wouldn’t shut. The girl was so frightened about her predicament that she cried long and hard until neighborhood ladies gathered and spent the time knitting and keeping the girl company. The young ne’er-do-well was released upon her solemn promise to the policeman that she would never steal another handkerchief. The 1886 article adds that the jail has not had a single occupant since.
In the 134 years since, the crime rates seem to have proven the faith of the original designer of the jail. The two unpaid police officers occasionally make use of one of the cells to allow a drunken tourist or seasonal worker to sober up. It is rare to encounter any violations of the law more significant than that.
One notable exception took place in 1990 when the world’s smallest prison was used to incarcerate the entirety of the world’s smallest invading army. Even in that situation, the two-celled jail was only filled to 50% capacity.
If you visit Sark, hopefully, your only occasion to visit the prison will be for tourism purposes. If you have more nefarious plans, be forewarned that claustrophobic convicts do not do well in Sark’s version of Alcatraz.
Categories: Accomplishments and Records, Architecture, Crime, Extremes, Geography, History
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