HM Prison Low Moss
HM Prison Low Moss, located on the outskirts of Bishopbriggs near Glasgow, Scotland, has a fascinating history dating back to its origins as a World War II military base. Though its tenure as a temporary Scottish prison facility spans just over 40 years, the site itself has served multiple functions over the past eight decades.
History and Origins
The grounds now occupied by HMP Low Moss initially housed RAF Bishopbriggs – a Royal Air Force barrage balloon depot constructed in 1939. During World War II, the base served as the headquarters for No. 18 (Balloon) Squadron and No. 15 Maintenance Unit. It also provided an overnight transit camp for RAF units traveling between England and Scotland.
Site Used as RAF Base in WWII
In its earliest incarnation, RAF Bishopbriggs played a crucial role as part of Britain’s national air defenses. Barrage balloons – large tethered balloons raised to deter enemy aircraft – were a key part of protective measures during the war. The Bishopbriggs depot, nestled just north of Scotland’s largest city, contributed to Allied efforts by housing the squadron responsible for maintaining these balloons.
Post-War Use by Military
After ceasing operations as an RAF station following WWII, the Bishopbriggs site continued to serve British armed forces needs for some time. In the late 1940s and 50s, it functioned as a training school for the Royal Military Police. Parts of the old base would also later provide facilities for a Royal Air Force radar bombing signals unit in the 1960s.
Conversion to Scottish Prison Service Use
Though it had long served military purposes, the former RAF camp’s next chapter would be as a Scottish prison facility. After over 20 years of intermittent military use, the base was refurbished and opened under a new guise – HMP Bishopbriggs.
Initial Use as Training Facility
The Scottish Prison Service first utilized the site between 1964 and 1970 as a training school for prison officers. For two years during this period, from 1966 to 1968, training was relocated to Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow. But the Bishopbriggs facility resumed officer training thereafter until 1970.
Opening as Temporary Low-Security Prison
In September 1968, RAF Bishopbriggs was converted into HMP Low Moss – initially intended as a temporary, low-security prison for short-term male inmates. Early capacity was set at around 300 prisoners. As a condition of initial permission to operate as a prison, Scottish authorities had stipulated a closure date of December 1974.
Facility Description and Capacity
The original HMP Low Moss consisted primarily of wooden Nissen huts linked by internal corridors. Accommodations were dormitory-style and communal, offering prisoners little personal space or privacy. By the mid-1980s, some refurbishment and upgrades were made, though conditions remained basic.
Attempts to Extend Original Closure Date
Although HMP Low Moss had originally been earmarked for closure in 1974, Scottish authorities made continuous efforts over the ensuing decades to keep the facility open. Citing dependence on the prison’s capacity, they filed successive extension requests with local councils – ultimately retaining use of the site until 2007.
Closure and Reconstruction
Despite frequent attempts to prolong its viability, the temporary facilities at HMP Low Moss were finally shut down in 2007. But this marked a new chapter – the clearance of the old prison site and construction of a modern facility in its place.
Plans Announced for Complete Rebuild
In early 2007, approval was secured to completely rebuild HMP Low Moss to modern standards, greatly expanding capacity. Initial proposals involved a privately financed construction scheme. But the plans were later reassessed, ultimately resulting in the new prison being publicly funded.
Shift to Publicly Funded New Build
After evaluating financing options, the Scottish Government determined the replacement prison would be publicly financed and operated, ending the previous private investment plan. The move marked Scotland’s first new publicly funded prison in nearly 30 years.
Contractor Selected and Construction
With public funding secured in 2009, construction firm Carillion was awarded the contract to erect the new HMP Low Moss. Work began in 2010, with the larger state-of-the-art prison slated for completion in 2012. The new design tripled inmate capacity to 700 and increased staff levels accordingly.
Increased Capacity and Security Level
While the old HMP Low Moss had been low-security and held only short-sentenced prisoners, the new facility was constructed to accommodate medium-security and even high-category inmates. Its greatly expanded capacity was also designed to relieve pressure on Scotland’s crowded prison system.
Phased Opening in 2012
Construction completed on schedule in early 2012. The opening and population of the prison by incoming inmates occurred gradually over a 10-week period. Most staffing needs were met by transferring experienced officers in from other facilities.
Other Former Site Uses
Alongside its history as an RAF base and later a prison facility, parts of the former Bishopbriggs military station hosted other functions over the years.
Commercial Facilities on Part of Old Base
Sections of the onetime RAF camp have served commercial uses since the late 1960s. This includes an LGV and MOT testing station opened during that period, along with a golf driving range built on the base’s northeast grounds.
Homeless Shelter Operation
Additionally, a Department of Health and Social Security-run homeless shelter known locally as “the Spike” operated on site until its closure in March 1996. This transitional housing facility provided those struggling with housing insecurity a temporary place to stay.
In summary, HMP Low Moss has now come full circle – from 1940s military depot, to temporary prison in the late 60s, and finally to a new maximum-security facility that opened its doors in 2012. Over its 80-year operational history, the grounds have adapted to serve varied needs – from wartime air defense, to inmate detention and housing Glasgow’s homeless. While its future is unclear, this site seems destined to continue evolving to fill changing requirements over time.
Summary of Key Facts
- Originally RAF Bishopbriggs – WWII balloon depot and transit base
- Temporary Scottish prison from 1968-2007
- Site cleared and rebuilt as modern prison, 3x capacity
- Now 700-inmate medium security facility
- First new public prison in Scotland in 30 years
- Parts of old base also used commercially
Why was HMP Low Moss originally scheduled to close in 1974?
The Scottish authorities had stipulated a December 1974 closure date for HMP Low Moss as a condition when granting initial permission for the RAF base site to be used as a temporary prison facility in 1968. This short-term arrangement accounted for the planned 6-year tenure.
How many extensions were granted to keep HMP Low Moss open?
Over the course of operations between 1968 and 2007, Scottish authorities sought and secured several extensions to keep the aging HMP Low Moss facilities open past the original 1974 closure date. The exact number of extensions is unclear, but likely numbered around half a dozen over the nearly 40-year period.
What were the main reasons cited for rebuilding HMP Low Moss?
Justifications given for demolishing and reconstructing HMP Low Moss centered on its aging, inadequate facilities and need for expansion. The old prison buildings – predominantly wood huts – were outdated and offered little privacy or proper security. Rebuilding would allow larger capacity and modernized infrastructure.
How did the function of the new HMP Low Moss differ?
Whereas the old HMP Low Moss had been a temporary, low-security prison for short-term inmates, the new facility was purpose-built as a modern, medium-security prison with greatly expanded capacity and the ability to house higher-category convicted prisoners.
What commercial facilities operate on parts of the former RAF Bishopbriggs base today?
Sections of the former military camp now house an LGV/MOT testing station and golf driving range. Part of the base was previously used for a homeless shelter as well until its closure in 1996. Other former facilities likely persist on parts of the site today in commercial or community use.