Shepton prison open day
SHEPTON Mallet prison opened its doors to curious visitors over the weekend with officers giving guided tours.
HM Prison Shepton Mallet closed on March 28 this year. It was the UK’s oldest operating prison and home to criminals serving life sentences.
In conjunction with Heritage Open Days, officers who used to work at the prison gave tours to members of the public.
Two officers led small groups of about 15 people around the former ‘lifers’ prison.
Tours started with a shock as visitors were shown bullet dents in the prison wall where two people were executed by firing squad during the Second World War.
An officer said: “The first time they didn’t realise how hard the wall was and the bullets came ricocheting back and they had to duck.”
The tour continued to the building where the former treadwheel stood. Men sentenced to hard labour would turn the wheel for hours every day in the 19th Century.
Visitors were led to where criminals were checked in, with tiny holding cells for those brought in overnight, and then to the recreation yard where former inmates had built a small tranquil garden.
The tour continued to the room that formerly housed the gallows.
An officer said: “It’s always cold in this room. This is where prisoners were hanged.”
The gallows in the execution block was removed in 1967 and the room became the prison library.
Officers then led their guests to the cells, which were separated into four wings.
A painting of a mystical landscape was on a section of a wall. The officers said this was painted by a man who had committed a very heinous crime and may never be released from prison. They said many criminals were very creative and they did everything they could to not stifle it.
Visitors then had the chance to explore some of the cells which held only a bed, toilet, sink and shelves.
The officers told some ghost stories and grizzly tales and were thanked for their knowledge by their guests.
There were 26 tours over the weekend which each took about an hour and a half to complete.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said there are no plans for further open days.