HM Prison Shepton Mallet
Tucked away in the picturesque countryside of Somerset lies a site with a dark and tragic past – HM Prison Shepton Mallet. At almost 400 years old when it closed in 2013, Shepton Mallet Prison bore witness to some of England’s most famous killers, notorious military punishments, and even paranormal activity.
The Earliest Days of Shepton Mallet Prison (1625-1800)
The origins of Shepton Mallet Prison date back to 1625, when it opened as a House of Correction under King James I’s Bridewell Act. In these early days, men, women, and children were crammed together in reportedly dreadful conditions. The prison soon fell into poor repair after the English Civil Wars ended in 1646.
Over the next century, minor expansions were made, but conditions remained bleak. A 1773 prison inspection described the unhygienic cells turning healthy inmates into “emaciated, dejected objects” within months. Clearly, prison reform was overdue.
New Buildings and Increasing Crowds (Early 19th Century Onwards)
The early 1800s saw the first wave of reforms at Shepton Mallet. A treadwheel was installed in 1823 to punish hard labor sentences, while new cell blocks eased overcrowding later that decade. By 1845, the prison swelled to 270 inmates.
Further expansions followed until 1897, when the population dropped to just 61 prisoners and a handful of staff. But with only 169 beds for most of the 20th century, overcrowding issues persisted.
7 Hangings in 34 Grim Years
Between 1889 and 1926, Shepton Mallet Prison saw seven judicial executions by hanging. The condemned ranged from wife murderers to soldier William Grover Bignell, hanged in 1925 for slitting his girlfriend’s throat.
As the noose tightened for the last time in 1926, little did the guards know that Shepton Mallet’s darkest days still lay ahead.
Wartime Upheavals (1939 Onwards)
With Britain back at war in 1939, Shepton Mallet Prison reopened as a military jail. 300 soldiers were crammed inside, some housed in makeshift huts. That year also saw the arrival of prized historical documents like the Domesday Book, stored for safekeeping until 1945.
18 US Soldiers Meet the Hangman’s Noose
Between 1942 and 1945, Shepton Mallet Prison passed to American control. Inside the walls, 18 young GIs were executed by US forces—16 hanged and two shot by firing squad.
Albert Pierrepoint, Britain’s most prolific executioner, oversaw many of the hangings. But he voiced unease over the Americans’ practice of reading out sentences before the trapdoor opened.
For Private Alex F. Miranda, shot dead on 30 May 1944 aged just 20, no reading was necessary. As for the other 17 executed prisoners, their tragic story deserves to be told.
Life After WWII: Military Misery to Final Closure
When the prison was returned to British control in September 1945, it resumed its role as a grim military institution. Tales of severe punishments terrified new inmates, including notorious gangsters the Kray twins during their national service.
A full-scale riot even broke out in 1959, triggered by the prison’s notoriously harsh discipline. Five soldiers were later jailed for mutiny.
The prison eventually reopened as a civilian jail in 1966, before its final years as a category C training facility for lifting offenders. After almost four centuries of operation, Shepton Mallet Prison finally closed on 28 March 2013. Its old walls had witnessed misery like few other places.
Tourist Attraction With Restless Souls
Today, visitors can take guided tours around the former prison. But legend tells of distressed spirits still stalking these cold corridors—victims of executioners, inmates broken by torture, and soldiers condemned for crimes of passion.
Their tales deserve to be told, no matter how chilling. The next time you visit somewhere with a dark past, remember those who suffered there. For even thick prison walls cannot contain their restless souls.
From desperate escapes to military executions, HM Prison Shepton Mallet’s long history is studded with chilling and tragic tales. We can only hope that the suffering within those walls has now found peace and redemption beyond them. Though its inhabitants have moved on, their stories live on to captivate new generations.
When did Shepton Mallet Prison first open?
Shepton Mallet Prison opened over 400 years ago in 1625 as a House of Correction, making it England’s oldest operating prison when it closed in 2013.
What famous criminals were once held there?
The notorious London gangsters the Kray Twins were imprisoned at Shepton Mallet in the 1950s while serving out their national service in the British Army.
How many American soldiers were executed there in WWII?
18 American GIs were executed at Shepton Mallet Prison between 1942-1945 – 16 were hanged and two killed by firing squad.
What happens at the prison site today?
Shepton Mallet now serves as a historical tourist attraction, with guided tours taking visitors around the former prison. Ghost tours are also popular there.
When did the prison finally close?
After almost 400 years of operation, Shepton Mallet Prison closed on 28 March 2013 due to UK government budget cuts.