1610 The Old Shepton Mallet Gaol

History of 1610 The Old Shepton Mallet Gaol


In 1625 a House of Correction was established on the site of the current prison. This was following an act of 1609 passed by King James I which stated that all counties should maintain such an establishment. The House of Correction was used to house people awaiting trial, debtors and those sentenced to short terms with hard labour for minor offences.


In 1777, the philanthropist and noted prison reformer, John Howard published his book The State of Prisons in 1777. The book argued vehemently that major reforms in the penal systems where needed including; the separation of men and women based on the severity of their crimes, the need for increased levels of hygiene, wholesome food and humane treatment of inmates which included regular medical checks. Howard visited the prison at Shepton Mallet and was appalled at the conditions he saw.


As a result of the 1779 Penitentiary Act which required prisons across England to be reformed, additional land was purchased in 1817 and existing buildings were rebuilt and extended on the current Shepton Mallet site.1830 and 1900Between the 1830s and early 1900s Significant alterations were made to the site with various additions, rebuilds and conversions taking place.


In 1930 it was recommended that the prison was shut due to falling inmate numbers. After nine years lying empty the British Military took hold of the prison in the 1939 and the buildings were used as accommodation for soldiers, secure storage for military papers and public records including the Magna Carter and Domesday Book. From 1945 the prison was used as a military prison for those discharged after completing their sentence. Famous inmates during this time included the Kray twins.


In 1966 the prison returned to civilian use until its closure in January 2013. At the time of its closure Shepton Mallet was considered the oldest operating prison in the UK.