Former Her Majesty's Prison Shepton Mallet
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Statutory Address:
- Her Majesty's Prison Shepton Mallet, Frithfield Lane, Gaol Lane and Corn Hill, Shepton Mallet, Mendip, Somerset
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- Statutory Address:
- Her Majesty's Prison Shepton Mallet, Frithfield Lane, Gaol Lane and Corn Hill, Shepton Mallet, Mendip, Somerset
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Mendip (District Authority)
- Shepton Mallet
- National Grid Reference:
A House of Correction has been established on this site in Shepton Mallet since the early C17; it was rebuilt with a courtyard plan between 1817-20 to designs by George Allen Underwood. The rebuilt prison was subject to alterations in 1830 to designs by Richard Carver, renovated in 1843, extended in 1848, refurbished in the early C20 and further added to in the late C20.
Reasons for Designation
HMP Shepton Mallet, a prison of 1817-20 by George Allen Underwood with 1830 and later alterations, is listed at Grade II* for the following reasons:
* Architectural interest: the buildings are imposing structures built in an austere classical-style which is reflective of their use as a house of correction;
* Historic interest: Shepton Mallet, while primarily used as civil gaol and house of correction, has also been used by other national and international bodies including the British and American forces, the use of which is still evident in the existing fabric;
* Date: the early-C19 house of correction stands on a site which has been the location of a prison since the C17;
* Intactness: although the cell ranges have subject to various phases of alteration, the overall early-C19 arrangement survives well, including Underwood's quadrangle form, and as such is a good example of this distinctive type of late-C18/early-C19 prison design;
* Association: it is associated with the work of two important architects working with institutional buildings in the south west; George Allen Underwood, whose work includes the Masonic Hall, Cheltenham (Grade II*), and Richard Carver, whose work include County Court Office, Bridgewater Somerset (Grade II*);
* Group value: they have a strong group value with the gatehouse and perimeter wall (List entry 1417737, Grade II) and the tread-wheel house (List entry 1417744, Grade II*).
Shepton Mallet House of Correction was built in the early C17 and in use by 1625. By the second half of the C18 the buildings were in a poor state of repair and the institution was described by John Howard, the well-known C18, prison reformer, as a 'shocking place’. In 1790 much of the prison was rebuilt including a gatehouse and Keeper’s House, which were newly erected, incorporating parts of the early boundary wall. However, the pre-C19 prison remained a haphazard arrangement of buildings.
Between 1818 and 1820 a major new scheme of works was carried out to improve the prison facilities. The architect was George Allen Underwood (c. 1793-1829) who was County Surveyor for Somerset and Dorset. The new prison incorporated the earlier blocks along Cornhill, with new blocks added to the south. The new wings were arranged in a quadrangle plan frequently employed in the late-C18 and early-C19, with a central courtyard divided into wall enclosed yards, an administration block to the north, and other prison facilities to the east, south and west, including day rooms on the ground floor and sleeping cells on the upper floors. In 1823 a tread-wheel, to be worked by prisoners, was installed in the north-west corner of the main prison, which powered a mill building erected by Stothert and Pitt of Bath outside the prison (now no longer extant). The tread-wheel house at Shepton Mallet is an adaption of a proto-type designed by Sir William Cubitt in 1819, with the wheels and gear wheels arranged vertically.
In 1830, the early blocks on Cornhill were replaced with a more regular front range, and an impressive Classical-style gatehouse. A ground plan dated 26 June 1830, drawn up by Richard Carver (c.1792-1862), Somerset County Surveyor, accompanied the building contract and shows that a female ward with an attached semi-circular chapel were also part of the scheme and added to the south end of the courtyard prison. By the early 1840's the issue of overcrowding forced another phase of major alterations to increase cell capacity. Plans and a specification for work were prepared on 27 February 1843 by Carver. This scheme saw existing prison ranges adapted to form what would largely become the present day A (east), B (west) and the D Wing (south). A corridor was added to the east side of the original east wing by roofing over the gap between the cell block and the perimeter wall, allowing the cells to open onto an internal corridor rather than the courtyard as they had previously. A corridor and an extra line of cells were added to the west wing. An upper storey was added to all of the wings. Another corridor was created along the north side of the southern range of the prison to serve as the reception on the ground floor and the hospital above. Apart from internal refurbishment and re-fenestration, the main quadrangle has changed little since the 1840s. In 1848 the need for better female accommodation was recognised and a U-shaped range (known as C wing), including a prison wing and a chapel (now used as a gym) were built on the site of the 1830s female ward and chapel.
In 1878 responsibility for the prison passed from the county to the Prison Commission, which was formed under the 1877 Prison Act. Shepton continued as a House of Correction until 1884 when it became the County Gaol. In 1903 the tread-wheel house was converted into an industrial shop. On the night of the 2 July 1904 a fire engulfed the main prison, resulting in the destruction of the roofs of the three cell wings, and leading to a major refurbishment, including the replacement of the original timber roof. This work continued into 1907 when the female wing (C wing) was also refurbished. The prison was closed in 1930.
In 1938, to protect the valuable collection of the Public Record Office in case war would break out, parts of its collection were moved to the prison in Shepton Mallet, including a copy of the Magna Carta. In 1940 the prison was taken over by the British Army and was occupied by the Royal Pioneer Corps. In 1942 it was used by the United States forces as a detention centre for their soldiers, at which point a two-storey, brick execution chamber to the south side of the main prison block was added. At the end of the war the buildings were once again in use by the British Army. The site reverted to a civilian prison in 1966 and a new kitchen, boiler room, chapel and education block was built to the west side of the main quadrangle. Later, a separate factory block was added across the road on the south side of the site, and linked to the main prison site by a footbridge. Further buildings were added including a furnace complex and a new gatehouse along with a vehicular gate in the south-east corner of the prison, relegating the C19 gatehouse to a ceremonial entrance. In the 1990s substantial refurbishment of the interior wings took place as part of a national programme of improvement of the Prison Service. HMP Shepton Mallet closed early in 2013.
The centre of the front Keepers House Range are rendered with rusticated stone detail on the ground floor. The rest of the main quadrangle and C wing have exposed rubble limestone walls with ashlar stone dressings.
PLAN The main prison is a quadrangle with administration block (KEEPER’S HOUSE RANGE) to the north, cell ranges to the east (A WING) and west (B WING), and the former hospital wing to the south (D WING). To the south of the quadrangle is a U-shaped range, C WING, comprising a further cell wing (built for women) and a former chapel wing.
THE KEEPER’S HOUSE RANGE Exterior: this range has an austere classical facade. At the centre of the range is a four-storey rendered stone main block with three bays. The central doorway (blocked, at the time of inspection in 2013), has a plain, stone surround with a moulded cornice above, and it is flanked on either side by a square-headed sash window. Above are a further three storeys, each with three sash windows. At second-storey level the central sash has six-over-six panes and is flanked by nine-over-nine sashes, on the third storey the central window is three-over-six, with four-over-eight sashes on either side and at four-storey level, above a plat band; the central window has three-over-three panes with four-over-four flanking sashes. All the windows have square-headed stone surrounds with emphasised keystones. At either side of this central block are towers that are connected to the main block by three-storey links. The left link has a blocked semi-circular archway and narrow, barred windows in ashlar surrounds with keystones. The right link is similar in design, but it has been obscured by the mid-C20 extension to the gatehouse in front. The end towers are four storeys with sash windows to the ground floor, and narrow windows above (some of the window openings to the left tower have been dropped). Some of the narrow windows have thick external bars, which may represent an early phase of the prison. The fourth floors were probably added in 1843 when the cell wings to the rear were extended. To the west side of the right tower, and set back from the main elevation, are a further three bays which form the north elevation of B wing, these were added as part of the 1843 extension, have four storeys, and include cell windows, an entrance way and a set of double height atrium windows. The south elevation of the Keeper's House Range forms the north side of the prison courtyard. The central block has three bays with a central doorway, flanked by sash windows, and further sashes above. On either side are two-storey links; that to the right has a door on the ground floor and window above; that to the left, a window on each floor. To either side of the links are three-storey towers, each with three bays and both of which are largely obscured by the connecting A and B wings. A section of late-C19 or early-C20 cast-iron railings (circa 3m high) set on stone footings, separates the Keeper's Yard from the prisoner's exercise yard to the south. Formerly, as suggested by Carver's plan of 1843, the prisoner's yard was bisected by a central passage lined to either side by six enclosed prisoner's yards each with a central 'open shed on pillars'. The level of the current open courtyard is higher than that of the surrounding site, suggesting it has been built up. Interior: this range has been used most recently as offices for the prison administration. In the centre is a timber, dog-leg, open-string staircase with moulded handrail. The former Keeper’s rooms have been reused as offices. The east wing of this range has had a number of late-C20 stud partitions inserted to create office space. In the western link is a stone staircase with a metal baluster and timber handrail. There is also a timber staircase in the towers at either end of the range. The roof is a Crown-post construction.
PRISON QUADRANGLE Exterior: the courtyard elevations of the four ranges are three storeys. The A WING (eastern block), B WING (western block) and D WING (southern block), complete the other sides of the quadrangle. Within the courtyard, these ranges are all three storeys. The A and B wings have eleven and fourteen bays respectively. Most of the openings in these elevations are narrow segmental-arched cell casement windows with ashlar surrounds and external bars. There is a small, rectangular flat-roof lean-to attached to the east wing, and an axial chimney stack rising from the roof in the middle of the range. D Wing has seven bays. Three at either end with cell windows and a central bay with a three-storey recessed segmental arch containing an arched entrance way and window above. These wings show signs in the stonework of alterations to the openings, the vestiges of the changing arrangement of cells and access points within the prison. The outside wall of the east wing forms part of the perimeter wall. The outside elevation of west wing is four storeys including a row of blocked arches on the first storey (formerly an arcaded undercroft, later used for storage), with three rows of cell windows above. The outside elevation of the south range faces onto C wing. At either end are the large atrium windows for the east and west ranges. At the east end is also an external stone staircase leading to a small pavilion entrance providing access to A wing. A small, brick flat-roof block, attached to this elevation, was constructed as an execution chamber at the time of the American occupation of the prison during the Second World War; it was later reused as an office. The roofs are hipped and have been recovered with slate tiles and roof lights in the C20. There are also five square ashlar air vents that rise from the ridges. Interior: the three wings have undergone various phases of alteration, most notably in 1843 when they were extended, and following the fire in1904 when the timber roofs were badly damaged and subsequently replaced by metal frames. A wing is a single-sided cell block opening eastwards onto a side atrium. It has three storeys with galleried walkways on the upper floors accessed by dog-leg stairs at either end. B wing has a central atrium with two rows of cells leading off from either side over three floors, with galleried walkways on the upper floors accessed by dog-leg stairs at either end. D wing is three storeys, with a corridor on the northern side and rooms to the south. The current wings were adapted in the mid-C19 from the original early–C19 cells and this evolution can still be seen through internal anomalies such as transverse arches which cut across some of the cells indicating the former wall line of the earlier wing. Within the cell wings there has been some loss of early metal work due to changing prison needs, in particular replacing earlier balustrading over the galleries with steel frames. However, many of the early cast-iron stairs within these wings do survive, with string balusters, geometric grated risers and some banisters with volute finishes. All of the galleries are supported by decorative cast-iron brackets. The cell doors have been replaced as part of various phases of refurbishment; nevertheless, some early cell doors do survive, for example on the top gallery of B Wing, in the south-east corner where a former cell has been used to provide access to the roof. The door is a plank door with detail studs, an oval peep hole and lined internally by a thick metal sheet. Despite the various phases of refurbishments, there is also evidence of the early form of the cells, including the remains of grated air vents and torchlight recesses, features that can be seen in various cells throughout the prison.
C WING Exterior: the U-shaped C wing of 1848, to the south of the quadrangle, comprises a four-storey cell wing (east) and a three-storey chapel wing (west), both of the same physical height. The former slate roof to the chapel wing was replaced in the late C20 (with metal), but that to the cell wing remains. The east and west elevations of the cell wing are nine bays wide, with round-arched window and door openings, and three rows of segmental arched cell windows above. The south elevation has four round arched openings to the ground floor. Above from left to right, is a small cell window, a central door flanked by narrow casements, and a rectangular, shaped blind opening to its right. Above, matching the chapel wing’s south end, it has a tall Venetian window with round arched windows of the same height to either side, offering daylight to the galleries with cells from the south. The five-bay side elevations to the chapel wing have round-arched openings to the ground floor, unevenly spread. The floor above has no openings, except for a later inserted fire exit at the west side. The chapel at the top floor was lit by the five tall round-arched windows to each side elevation, but these were closed off from the inside when the former chapel was converted to a gym in the late 1970s / early 1980s. The west elevation has an external stepped full height stack with chimney truncated just under the eaves. Both to the east and west are later inserted fire exits with external metal stairs. The three-storey link between the chapel wing and the cell wing is two bays wide and has large and chunky, multi-paned, cast-iron, twin-windows to each floor, with to the left hand bay, two bow windows to the upper floors, similarly, with cast-iron, multi-paned windows. Interior: The cell wing to the east has a three tiered gallery lined with individual prison cells, with cast-iron stairs at either end with tubular handrails and closed treads with open risers. The cast-iron railings to the galleries are tubular too, and the gallery floors are supported by decorative cast-iron brackets. The layout and position of the individual cells survives throughout, each cell with metal beds screwed to the floor. The bow windows to the south elevation in the link building contain good quality internal, cast-iron window furniture. The chapel wing has been fully refurbished, and no longer contains any fixtures or fittings of note, and the current gymnasium on the upper floor does not contain any features relating to its original use as a chapel.
Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the C20 interior within the former chapel wing (most recently a gymnasium on the top floor, and visitor facilities on the two lower floors) is not of special architectural or historic interest.
The 1970s chapel, kitchen and education block, boiler house and attached chimney, modern gatehouse buildings and fence in the south-east corner of the site, stair tower and attached walkway bridge, and the factory building to the south of the prison site, are not of special interest; they are architecturally modest structures and late in date. These structures are excluded from the List entry.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
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Books and journals
Brodie, Croom, Davies, , English Prisons, (2002), 16-9, 70, 71, 78, 82, 84, 108, 172, 257
Colvin, H, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, (1995), 235-6, 1064-5
Disney, F, Heritage of a Prison: HMP Shepton Mallet 1610-1895, (1989)
Disney, F, Shepton Mallet Prison: 380 years of prison regimes, (1986)
Brodie, A, HMP Shepton Mallet, Cornhill, Shepton Mallet, Somerset: Building File No. 29211, Revised August 2013,
Q/AGS/2/4 1830 Contract for alterations and improvement with specification plans and elevation, Herniman of Taunton, Somerset County Archives, Q/AGS/2/4 HMP Shepton Mallet archive,
Wallsgrove J, Conservation and Development Plan for HMP Shepton Mallet (Draft), 4 April 2013,
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.
End of official listing