- The first building on Långholmen was a customs house built in 1622
- Queen Christina donated the Långholmen to the City of Stockholm in 1647
- There had been a prison for over 250 years, which was closed in 1975
- Today, Långholmen is a popular area for outdoor activities in central Stockholm
Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is a unique city when compared to other European metropolises. Its geographic location is to a large extent responsible for its character, but it is not only the water that is so typical of the city. Another important characteristic of Stockholm is the abundance of greenery in and around the city centre.
Långholmen, known as the ’green island,’ is a great example of nice places with preserved nature in central Stockholm. Truth be told, though, the island has not always been a pleasant place to be and it has not even been green for so long.
Origins of the Island as a Part of Stockholm
The island was first mentioned in documents from the 1430s. However, it is assumed that its name, the ‘Long Islet,’ is much older as it is very natural for the island because of its dimensions. During the first few centuries of the existence of the city of Stockholm, the island belonged to the Crown. Even though we know that this was the case, we cannot be certain if there were any buildings on Långholmen before the early 1620s.
Still, likely the first building there was a customs house (Sjötullen) built in 1622 where vessels transporting goods over the Lake Mälaren were required to pay customs. A part of this house was a fleet of fast yachts used to chase boats that tried to avoid their duties.
In the following decades, after the island changed owner, more life and construction projects were brought there because ‘there was not enough space’ on islands like the present-day Kungsholmen and Östermalm during this period when many new inhabitants arrived in Stockholm. Considering that Stockholm itself has more residents today than the entire Sweden, which included present-day Finland, parts of Norway, and a few other territories, had at the time, the space problem could not have been so bad in the mid-17th century.
The Prison Era on Långholmen
As I suggested, the island was donated to the City of Stockholm in 1647 by Queen Christina and Långholmen has been owned by the city ever since. However, new residents coming to the city did not only bring their wealth obtained in the Thirty Years’ War but also some serious concerns that both the city and the Crown needed to address.
Especially begging in the streets of Stockholm had become a major problem in the 1600s. Already in 1619, Axel Oxenstierna presented a proposal to abolish begging and set up orphanages in all larger cities across Sweden. Eventually, a spinning house was founded on Långholmen in 1724 to tackle this issue. This was essentially a prison for female thieves, prostitutes, and beggars.
The prison, where women were required to perform manual labours, operated without major changes for around 100 years. Afterwards, women prisoners were moved to another location and the prison underwent a reconstruction before it was turned into a male prison. It was then that first cells were built there as before, the prisoners had been living in lodgings with 12 to 16 beds each.
As the number of prisoners in the early 1800s rose quickly, the buildings had to be reconstructed a few more times and new facilities were added. According to the records, there were roughly 290 inmates residing on Långholmen in 1807 but only some ten years later, the number was as high as 500.
Following one of the American models, the inmates dedicated their time to crafts directly in their cells, isolated from the rest. They were meant to undo their crimes through work, reading the Bible and discussions with the prison priest.
Interestingly, prisoners occupying the Långholmen island also stand behind one of the most important historical discoveries related to the island. In 1829, a couple of prisoners discovered 66 silver coins of Anglo-Saxon and German origins. These coins were as old as from the 900s, which is the oldest record of people residing on Långholmen.
The story gets even more intriguing, though. According to the Swedish law, a person who discovers valuable historical artefacts is entitled to a compensation equal to, in this case, the value of the silver the coins were made of increased by one-eighth. The authorities questioned whether inmates serving their sentences should be given the 2 riksdaler and 17 skilling just like anyone else would have been entitled to. After a few months, the government decided that the treasure founders had equal right for their compensation as everyone else and paid the aforementioned sum.
Inmates are not only to be thanked for discovering the history of Långholmen but also for turning it into its current, beloved state. For a long time, the island was rocky and greenery was much scarcer than it is today. Then, in the latter half of the 19th century, the prisoners were tasked with laying new soil on top of the rocks and planting around 3,000 trees. That is how the ‘green island’ was born.
The prison on Långholmen was eventually closed in 1975 when the island was opened to the public in its entirety for the first time in over 250 years. It has quickly become a popular place for all kinds of outdoor activities among the locals. Many say that the environment on the island is its biggest attraction.
However, if you are looking for something more specific, the former prison has been turned into a unique hotel and conference centre. The local boat clubs are important parts of life on Långholmen where you can also go for a jog, swim or have a picnic surrounded by greenery and nature close to the water while still being in the centre of Stockholm.
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Kleberg, Carl-Johan, 1998. Långholmen den gröna ön.