The first settlers on the banks of the River Severn at Gloucester are thought to have been the Romans who settled in the municipality of Glevum. It is likely that Gloucester attracted settlers as the river was shallow and narrow enough for a ford or rudimentary bridge.
The name Gloucester derives from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘ceaster’ for fort, with the addition of the Roman prefix, Glev (pronounced ‘glau’), which would indicate that the Anglo-Saxons built a fort to protect their town. Gloucester Castle was built on the site of the current prison in the very early decades of the 12th century and was partly in use as a gaol.
Since the mid-15th century Gloucester Castle had been in decline since the mid-C15.
By the mid-C17 only the keep (used as the gaol) and the main gatehouse survived. The gaol walls were rebuilt and a brick bridewell (a prison for petty offences) was built to the north of the keep. In 1783, the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, Sir George Onesiphorus Paul, observed the poor conditions at the castle keep gaol, noting that inmates had to be chained to the wall to prevent escapes from the increasingly dilapidated structure.
A new prison was built in 1786-1791 by William Blackburn as a central block with four wings extending off each corner to create a roughly H- shaped plan, and then was substantially rebuilt in 1840 by county surveyor, John Collingwood.
In the early decades of the 20th century most of Blackburn’s original buildings were demolished as part of a programme to update facilities at the prison. The west range wasdemolished around 1920 and a terrace of eight officer houses was instead built in the northwest corner.
The internal structure of the former Debtor’s Prison was gutted and replaced with a concrete frame in the 1970s. The eight terraced officers’ houses built in the 1920s were demolished and a new administrative block took their place in 1985. Most of the buildings on the western half of the site were also constructed during this time.
Her Majesty’s Prison Gloucester was decommissioned and made available for redevelopment in 2013.