Town mouse at Lancaster House

Few people see inside Lancaster House, a mansion of such opulence that you can hardly believe it exists in London, a city that’s short on palatial town houses. Within the precincts of St James’s Palace, it was commissioned for one of Queen Victoria’s disreputable uncles, the Duke of York, but he died before it could be finished, and the interior was completed for the future Duke of Sutherland, with a splendour that was beyond princely.

At the other end of the domestic spectrum, few people, unless incarcerated, see inside a prison. Last week, these worlds were brought together by an evening in aid of the excellent charity Fine Cell Work, which trains prisoners in creative needlework.

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The mental journey from the immense spaces of Lancaster House to the narrow confines of a lifer’s accommodation was made by Kenneth Clarke, former Justice Secretary, when he observed that needlework is an activity that can be pursued by people who spend nearly all day in their cells. It boosts their self-esteem, provides them with a small amount of spending money and gives them a trade by which they can support themselves on their release. We left with some cushions. I resisted one embroidered with the word LIFE, between two keys.

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