HM Prison Hollesley Bay
HM Prison Hollesley Bay has a long and storied history, spanning over a century of transformations from a colonial college to a prison farm to a borstal and finally to its current incarnation as a minimum security facility for adult and young offenders. Located in the Suffolk countryside, Hollesley Bay has housed many notorious inmates over the decades, including writer Brendan Behan. While it has faced criticism for its high escape rate, earning the nickname “Holiday Bay,” Hollesley Bay continues to provide educational and vocational opportunities to its prisoners.
The land that HMP Hollesley Bay sits on was originally purchased in 1887 for use as a colonial college, training those intending to emigrate from Britain. In the early 20th century, it was turned into a labor colony for unemployed Londoners, aimed at providing work training for the jobless to escape lives of pauperism. The London Unemployed Fund took over the site in 1905, and it was eventually transferred to London County Council.
In 1938, the Prison Commission bought Hollesley Bay and converted it into a borstal and detention center. This was where the famous Irish writer Brendan Behan was imprisoned in 1939 after being arrested for IRA activities. He later wrote about his experiences in the acclaimed memoir Borstal Boy.
The Borstal Era
When Hollesley Bay first opened as a borstal, it underwent major expansions, like the addition of the 285-capacity Warren Hill Prison unit in 1982. In 1983, it transitioned from a borstal to a youth custody center, reflecting the changes in the British penal system. Five years later, it became a Young Offender Institution.
During this era, the borstal facilities primarily housed juvenile delinquents given indeterminate sentences. The memoir Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan provides a detailed first-hand account of the institutionalization and regimentation, as well as the simmering violence between inmates and guards.
After 2002, the old borstal facilities at Hollesley Bay were converted for use by minimum security adult offenders. However, the prison has repeatedly come under criticism for its high rate of escapes over the years. Hollesley Bay’s open grounds and relaxed security measures have led to its nickname of “Holiday Bay.”
Today, the prison population is comprised of Category D adult male inmates, young offenders, and some male life sentence prisoners approved by the parole board. The majority are housed in single occupancy rooms, with shared double occupancy in two units.
There are currently eight residential units at Hollesley Bay: Hoxon, Stow, Plomsgate, Cosford, Wilford, Blything, Samford and Mutford. Most have single rooms, with some doubles.
Prisoners have access to educational classes in literacy, numeracy, IT skills, music, and more. There are also several accredited vocational courses in trades like construction, mechanics, and painting. The prison gym is open nights and weekends.
Inmates can work full-time in the kitchens, gardens, cleaning crew, textiles shop, distribution center, and other facilities, earning weekly wages starting at £14. About 100 prisoners work in community service jobs or external paid employment.
Prison Farm and Horse Stud
Hollesley Bay once had the largest prison farm in the British prison system. The farm housed dairy and beef cattle, pigs, and chickens. The prison also managed the oldest Suffolk Punch horse stud in the world, breeding the rare draft horses.
However, in 2006 the sprawling prison farm was sold off by HM Prison Service. The Punch stud was transferred to the Suffolk Punch Trust charity to preserve the breed. A small farm remains at Hollesley Bay for agricultural jobs and training.
Some high profile former inmates of Hollesley Bay include:
- Brendan Behan – Irish revolutionary and writer, depicted his time at the borstal in Borstal Boy
- Jeffrey Archer – bestselling novelist who served time for perjury
- Andy Coulson – former News of the World editor, convicted of phone hacking
- Michael Carroll – lottery winner who lost his fortune and was jailed for drug offenses
In Popular Culture
The most famous cultural depiction of Hollesley Bay is Brendan Behan’s 1958 novel Borstal Boy. It was later adapted into a play and a 2000 film starring Danny Dyer. The book weaves a semi-autobiographical tale of Behan’s experiences as an IRA youth sentenced to the borstal, providing an unflinching view of the grim reformatory environment and ruthless prison staff during that era.
While its security has been criticized, HM Prison Hollesley Bay has demonstrated an ability to transform itself over the last century to serve the changing needs of the British penal system. From holding Depression-era labor colonists to reforming young IRA rebels like Brendan Behan to today’s focus on rehabilitation through education and skills training, Hollesley Bay has been an adaptable and unconventional prison. With its bucolic rural setting, it aims to prepare inmates for re-entry into society.
What kind of facility is HMP Hollesley Bay today?
It is a minimum security prison that houses adult male inmates and young offenders in an open, rehabilitation-focused environment.
What was Hollesley Bay before it was a prison?
The land was originally used for a colonial college, then a labor colony for unemployed Londoners prior to becoming a borstal in 1938.
Why is Hollesley Bay nicknamed “Holiday Bay”?
Because of its relaxed security, open grounds, and high rate of escapes over the years compared to tougher prisons.
What happened to the large prison farm and horse stud?
The prison farm was sold off in 2006. The Suffolk Punch horse breeding stud was transferred to a charitable trust to continue the lineage.
Who is the most famous past inmate of Hollesley Bay?
Irish writer Brendan Behan, who wrote about his experience there in the acclaimed memoir Borstal Boy published in 1958.