Meet our founder, Lady Anne Tree

The history of Fine Cell Work

Fine Cell Work was founded by Lady Anne Tree (1927-2010), a British aristocratic social reformer, philanthropist, prison visitor and prison rights activist.

Lady Anne Tree (pictured above) had long-standing family links within the UK textile and interior industry. Her mother-in-law, Nancy Lancaster, owned Colefax and Fowler, one of Britain’s most famous traditional interior decorating firms.


In 1975, Lady Anne succeeded in brokering commissions for two unique needlepoint carpets. These carpets were stitched by prisoners in the infamous UK women’s prison, HMP Holloway, and then sold through Colefax and Fowler to wealthy New Yorkers for £10,000 each.


Through this process Lady Anne discovered the potential for high-quality craftwork to be done inside prisons. But she had also come smack up against the challenges of prison bureaucracy, which did not allow for any of the money from the sale of these products to be paid to the stitchers themselves.


With a newfound belief in purposeful activity within prison, and an understanding that an essential part of that sense of purpose was grounded in prisoners being paid for their labour and craftsmanship, Lady Anne was on a mission.


For twenty years, she campaigned and advocated for prisoners to receive payment for their work in prison cells. Lady Anne passionately battled away at judges, ministers and civil servants with letter after ignored letter, until finally in 1992, the law was changed. Five years later, and with the help of British journalist, economist, and social reformer Robert Oakeshott (1933-2011), Lady Anne received the Prisons Minister’s go-ahead for Fine Cell Work.


Our organisation was established in 1997, and has since grown into an extraordinary creative community of stitchers, volunteers, designers, staff, trustees, patrons, and funders.


Click here to purchase a copy of our book Threads of Time, pictured below, and discover out more about our incredible history!