Shepton Mallet prison by Graham Miller

The Wincanton and District Museum and Heritage Society held its AGM on the 25th January followed by a very interesting talk by Graham Miller, and his wife Laura, entitled The History of Shepton Mallet prison. Around 35 people were in attendance.

Shepton Mallet prison closed in 2013, after approximately 400 years is service. At the time of its closure it was the oldest operating prison in the United Kingdom. It had held, at any one time, 189 prisoners. But this Grade 11 Listed Building has a vast history.

In the 1600s King James 1 required all counties to have a House of Correction. Somerset got three: Shepton Mallet, Ilchester, and Taunton. By 1646 (end of the First English Civil War), it was considered in a state of poor repair having held, amongst others, 12 local men who took part in the Monmouth Rebellion. Years went by, alterations happened, and in the 1800s a treadmill was installed, and used by hard labour prisoners. The use of this treadmill for hours on end, often ended in the once healthy prisoners being reduced to very poor health quite quickly.

The prison was eventually closed in the 1930s for under-use, but re-opened in 1939 for British Military use.   The Public Record Office stored historical documents in the prison during WW2, including the Domesday Book. Later on the American Military used it and housed 768 men in 1944.   18 American Servicemen were executed there. The Executioner being Thomas Pierrepoint. Later on the Kray Twins were held there, and this is were they met Charlie Richardson. Not until l966 was it returned to civilian use.

Up to date use involves the planning permission for 146 new homes on the site. However, you can, at the moment, attend Guided Prison Tours.   You can discover what happened behind high walls and locked doors.

This extremely interesting talk was well received and many thanks go to Graham and Laura for their time.