The former Gatehouse and Perimeter Walls to Her Majesty's Prison Shepton Mallet


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Gatehouse and Perimeter Walls to Her Majesty's Prison Shepton Mallet, Cornhill, Shepton Mallet, Mendip, Somerset


Ordnance survey map of The former Gatehouse and Perimeter Walls to Her Majesty's Prison Shepton Mallet
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Gatehouse and Perimeter Walls to Her Majesty's Prison Shepton Mallet, Cornhill, Shepton Mallet, Mendip, Somerset
Mendip (District Authority)
Shepton Mallet
National Grid Reference:


A gatehouse of 1830 by Richard Carver and C19 perimeter walls with probable earlier fabric.

Reasons for Designation

The gatehouse of 1830 by Richard Carver and the C19 perimeter walls at HMP Shepton Mallet are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the gatehouse and walls are among the most prominent elements of HMP Shepton Mallet and contribute well to its overall austere classical-style; * Intactness: the gatehouse has undergone little alteration since the C19 and, despite some repairs and rebuilding, the high perimeter walls retains a significant proportion of pre-1840 building fabric; * Association: they are associated with the work of two important architects working in the south west; George Allen Underwood, whose work includes the Masonic Hall, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire (Grade II*), and Richard Carver, whose work includes the County Court Office, Bridgewater, Somerset (Grade II*); * Group value: they have a strong group value with the main prison buildings (List entry 1058425, 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 century, 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 gatehouse and perimeter walls were originally listed as part of HMP Shepton Mallet (List entry 1058425, Grade II*)


MATERIALS: the gatehouse is a rubble stone building with an ashlar-faced front. The perimeter wall is rubble stone construction with tile coping. PLAN: the gatehouse is a rectangular building which stands to the north of the prison site and is attached to main prison by a C20 extension to the rear, with an attached perimeter wall.

GATEHOUSE EXTERIOR: a substantial ashlar gatehouse is located to the north-west of the Keeper’s House Range. A set of later central double doors are at the top of a set of four stone steps. The doors are set within large moulded jambs and, above, oversized cut stone brackets support a cornice, all of which is surrounded by a stone architrave with a rounded-arched head incorporating a barred fanlight. The arch surround is decorated by rusticated stone detailing and a central giant keystone, above which is a set of stone scroll consoles that support a parapet. The side elevations are blind, save for an arrow-slit opening at second-floor level. The gatehouse is joined to the Keepers House range by a mid-C20 link building which obscures the rear elevation that still contains a large entrance way with square stone surround, a set of full height gates and a large fanlight above similar to the front. Internally, the ground floor of the gatehouse contains a guards room with a timber panelled partition and central stable doors. Opposite is an enclosed stone winder staircase which leads up to a heated room, probably a former sitting room area for the guard, with a blocked brick fireplace, timber cupboards and a flagstone floor. The top floor is unheated and was probably the guard’s bedroom.

PERIMETER WALL The perimeter wall is circa 8m high. There is evidence on both the internal and external faces of the wall of former entrances, particularly in the walls extending around the south-east corner of the prison site. Here evidence of former gateways, probably dating to the prison's use during the Second World War, is visible, adjacent to the more recently inserted vehicular gateway. The east side of the wall incorporates an awkward change of direction near the rear of the courtyard prison, suggesting this was the original line of the 1820s prison phase, before it was further extended in the 1830s. Part of the wall to the north of the keepers range has been removed. At the north-west corner of the site a section of wall extends around a triangular piece of land adjacent to the former tread-wheel house which forms (part of) the site of the former flour mill, and is now (2013) in use as a private garden. The perimeter wall was substantially re-pointed in the late C20.

The low section of wall attached to the east side of the gatehouse, and which runs for circa 11 m east has been lowered to a couple of courses and has largely been rebuilt. This section of wall is excluded from the listing.


Books and journals
Brodie, Croom, Davies, , English Prisons, (2002)
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

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