HM Prison Finnamore Wood
Nestled in the rural countryside of Buckinghamshire lies the now demolished site of what was once HM Prison Finnamore Wood. Though its life as a prison was relatively short, spanning just over 30 years, Finnamore Wood has an even longer history that gives a fascinating look into its varied uses.
First utilized as a war evacuation camp in the 1940s, the site then became a holiday camp before being acquired by the Home Office in 1960. After conversion to an open prison for young offenders, Finnamore Wood operated until 1996 when it finally closed its doors for good.
History and Background
Originally opened in 1961, Finnamore Wood functioned as an open establishment for young male offenders towards the end of their sentences. Typically housing inmates from age 18 to 21, it served as a pre-release and rehabilitation center to reintegrate prisoners back into society.
Site Used as War Evacuation Camp
Long before its life as a prison, Finnamore Wood held the distinction of being the first government elementary camp school constructed under the Camps Act of 1939.
With the onset of World War II, the site became an evacuation camp for pupils from Beal Modern Girls’ School. It housed hundreds of children displaced from London throughout the duration of the war from 1940 to 1944.
Transition to Borstal and YOI
After briefly serving as a holiday camp in the 1950s, Finnamore Wood was acquired by the Home Office in 1960 for use as a detention center. Opening in 1961, it initially operated as an off-site annex for Feltham Borstal.
Later it transitioned to a satellite camp for HM Prison Huntercombe as a dedicated Youth Offenders Institution (YOI). With an official capacity of 116 prisoners, daily operations were overseen by an Assistant Governor living on premises.
Life at Finnamore Wood Prison
As an open prison, Finnamore Wood afforded inmates more freedoms than typical detention facilities. With a focus on rehabilitation, it gave opportunities for education and skill development.
Prison Layout and Facilities
The modest prison consisted of 4 cell blocks containing shared dormitories without door locks. Additional buildings included a dining hall, kitchen, workshops, sports areas, and an education center.
Unlike traditional jails, the windows lacked bars and were only covered with mesh. The open grounds and relaxed security reflected the nature of preparing prisoners for release.
Jobs and Education for Inmates
Prisoners were able to obtain jobs working in the gardens, kitchens, or in the carpentry, plumbing and art studios. The education building offered classes in cooking and social skills to equip inmates for life after release.
Relaxed Security and Atmosphere
With inmates nearing the end of their sentences, Finnamore Wood did not have the imposing security of a high-level prison. Inmates had keys to their own rooms and there were no locks on the doors.
The generally relaxed environment was intended to steadily reintegrate prisoners back into the local community.
While most of its history was relatively uneventful, there were a few notable incidents at Finnamore Wood demonstrating some disorder from its youth population.
Minor Riots and Disturbances
In October 1992, a small riot broke out as prisoners were being transferred through Henley-on-Thames. Guards were forced to call local police to control the situation.
A minor fire also damaged one of the main buildings in May 2020, although the site had already closed decades earlier.
Closure and Attempted Expansion
Finnamore Wood was threatened with closure in 1990 but narrowly avoided it. However, just 6 years later in 1996 the prison finally shut down due to its small capacity.
Some discussions were underway about expanding the site to hold adult offenders but plans never materialized. All remaining youth inmates were transferred to HMYOI Huntercombe.
After Closure as a Prison
Following its closure in the mid-1990s, Finnamore Wood sat derelict for many years before demolition crews moved in to dismantle the former prison.
Demolition and New Development
With the buildings becoming increasingly dilapidated, Finnamore Wood was slowly demolished beginning in January 2023. The hazardous material asbestos was removed.
Planning Applications for Housing
Now cleared, the vacant land will next see new residential development. Planning permission is pending for 5 detached houses to be built on the former prison site.
Years of Neglect Before Demolition
In the nearly 30 years between the prison’s closure and demolition, the abandoned cell blocks fell into extreme disrepair. The dining hall’s roof eventually collapsed along with the shower block.
After being neglected for so long, the crumbling ruins were finally taken down for good. The era of HM Prison Finnamore Wood had come to an end.
The transformation of Finnamore Wood from school camp to holiday park to borstal reflects the changing societal needs surrounding such a site. Its origins as a safe haven during wartime contrast with its later use to house juvenile convicts.
Though the prison faced its share of ups and downs, Finnamore Wood played an important role as one of the first open facilities to prepare young offenders for release. After decades of neglect, its demolition serves as a final end note in its long and varied history.
When did Finnamore Wood open and close as a prison?
Finnamore Wood opened in 1961 as a borstal and youth offenders institution. It closed in 1996 when operations ceased after 35 years of being operational.
What was the main purpose of Finnamore Wood as a prison?
As an open prison, Finnamore Wood’s main purpose was to rehabilitate and reintegrate young offenders back into society in the final months of their sentence.
How many inmates was Finnamore Wood designed to hold?
The prison had an official maximum capacity of 116 inmates when open. Most were aged 18-21 years old.
What kind of facilities were available to prisoners?
Prisoners had access to facilities like kitchens, workshops, sports areas, dormitories, and an education center for skills training and personal development.
What is the current status of the Finnamore Wood site today?
After being abandoned for nearly 30 years, demolition of the prison was finally completed in 2023. The site is now being redeveloped for new residential housing.