HMP Cornhill in Shepton Mallet a prison of national importance with stories to tell
As the oldest operational prison in the country, HMP Cornhill in Shepton Mallet has a few stories to tell.
The highest prison walls in the country – at about 75ft – have kept in many of the country’s most notorious prisoners since its gates first creaked open back in 1610.
Today, the prison in the heart of the Somerset town is a Category C jail housing 189 lifers.
When it first opened, the cells measured 6ft long, 4ft wide and 15ft high. The prison has always stood on the same site and was named Cornhill because it is sited on a hill that was covered with cornfields.
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In the 19th century a grain mill was built against the prison wall, and the millstones were turned by a treadmill powered by prisoners.
Its remarkable history – with executions, riots, trials and a great fire in 1904 – has been well chronicled.
Tom and Albert Pierrepoint were responsible for the majority of the 21 hangings there in the Second World War.
It was closed from 1930 to 1939 – when it housed national records such as the Domesday Book and Magna Carta – and became a military prison from 1939 until 1966.
It was during this period that “the glasshouse” received the Kray twins, Reggie and Ronnie, awaiting dishonourable discharge from National Service. While inside, they met Charlie Richardson there, a future rival gang boss.