hm prison gloucester

HM Prison Gloucester

HM Prison Gloucester has a long and infamous history in the city. First opened in 1791 on the site of the medieval Gloucester Castle, the prison was plagued by poor conditions, overcrowding, and controversy for much of its 200+ year operation.

From Castle Dungeons to Victorian Penitentiary

The prison was originally designed by architect William Blackburn. He built the new county gaol on the grounds of the ruined Gloucester Castle, whose medieval keep had previously been used to house prisoners. Gloucester Castle was a site of imprisonment and execution going back to Norman times.

In the early Victorian era, Gloucester Prison underwent substantial rebuilding. Noted architect Thomas Fuljames redesigned the site in 1840, adding the iconic brick cell blocks with imposing classical facades. In many ways, Gloucester came to resemble other penitentiaries of the 1800s. However, problems of crowding and inmate unrest remained issues throughout this period.

A History of Violence, Riots, and Criticism

As the 20th century progressed, Gloucester Prison increasingly came under fire for its antiquated facilities. A new young offenders wing was added in 1971. Further upgrades to the gate, administrative offices, and visitor center were made in 1987. However, the core of the prison retained its Victorian bones.

Gloucester garnered headlines in the 2000s for a series of disturbances and protests. A 2003 survey named it among Britain’s most overcrowded prisons. The next year, inmates barricaded themselves in a cell for a 3.5 hour siege over visiting rights.

See also  HM Prison Blundeston

Watchdog groups condemned the inadequate cell sizes, poor dining options, and lack of activities at Gloucester. Even acts of God intervened – flooding in 2007 forced hundreds of prisoners to be relocated when cells were left underwater.

Housing Infamous Inmates Behind Its Crumbling Walls

Despite its failings, HM Prison Gloucester held many notorious criminals within its aging walls. Herbert Rowse Armstrong, the only British solicitor ever executed, met his end at Gloucester in 1922 by hanging. Irish revolutionary Arthur Griffith was imprisoned there during the Anglo-Irish War in the 1910s.

Later, Stefan Kiszko and Fred West would spend time at Gloucester Prison. Though it had a long history, the prison’s future would soon come to an end.

Closed and Sold Off Amidst Controversy

In January 2013, Gloucester Prison was officially slated for closure by the British government as part of cost-cutting measures. Prison reform advocates opposed the closure, stating many prisons were overcrowded while Gloucester still had space. Nevertheless, HM Prison Gloucester closed in March 2013 after 222 years of operation.

The fate of the imposing vacant site was much debated. Hotel chain Malmaison expressed interest in converting the former prison into a luxury hotel. Others called for a museum, memorializing Gloucester’s history. Parts of the prison were opened for tours before redevelopment. In 2014, the bulk of the site was sold to City and Country developers. Archaeological digs uncovered pieces of Norman castle walls still located on the grounds.

For now, the future of this slice of Gloucester’s history remains uncertain. But HM Prison Gloucester’s impact on the city, and on the countless prisoners that passed through its gates, will not be forgotten. The storied prison remains an integral part of Gloucestershire’s cultural heritage.

See also  Old Tolbooth, Edinburgh

Legacy of Controversy and Calls for Preservation

The closure of Gloucester Prison eliminated over 300 local jobs and left a major vacancy in the city landscape. While many saw redevelopment as an opportunity, preservationists argued for sensitive adaptive reuse that honors the site’s multi-layered past. Proposed museums, mixed used developments, and even a hotel at the former prison all raised concerns.

Ongoing archaeological work continues to uncover Gloucester Castle remnants pointing to the prison’s medieval origins. Respecting this history while utilitizing the space poses challenges. HM Prison Gloucester may be closed, but its imposing facade and notorious reputation still cast a long shadow over Gloucester. Finding a fitting new chapter for this infamous local institution will likely stir debate for years to come.


What year was Gloucester Prison built?

Gloucester Prison was originally constructed in 1791 on the grounds of the medieval Gloucester Castle.

How many inmates were held at Gloucester at its peak?

In 2003, a survey found Gloucester Prison held over 320 inmates – one of the most overcrowded prisons in Britain at the time.

What types of prisoners were held at Gloucester?

As an adult male prison, Gloucester Prison housed male inmates aged 21 and older convicted of crimes ranging from petty theft to murder.

Were any famous criminals imprisoned at Gloucester?

Yes, Gloucester held several notorious inmates over its history including solicitor Herbert Rowse Armstrong and serial killer Fred West.

Why did Gloucester Prison close in 2013?

Gloucester Prison was closed due to budget cuts and a reorganization of the British prison system. Its aging facilities also contributed to its closure.

See also  HM Prison Featherstone

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