Thursday, January 6, 2011

An Hour on Death Row

Don't panic, not even the maddest Tory would try to introduce capital punishment secretly! Probably.

This prison has a vaguely interesting history, part of which encompasses the execution of many prisoners. The stone and steel echoes of these times remain unaltered, pressed into new use.

The "topping shed" is now a storeroom and the office of the drug counsellor. The 'last night cell' next door is now a stairwell. And the 'death cells' are part of the drug testing suite.

As is the way, I was collared for a mandatory drug test only minutes after I'd just had a pee. So I had to hang around in the holding cells for two hours until I could produce a urine sample.

This room was one of the old Death Cells. I wish I could tease your emotions with flowing words about the ghosts and pain that were resonating from the stones. In truth, I cannot. It was a cell. Slightly cold, but just another cell. I suspect the previous, permanent, occupants found it less mundane.


  1. Aw man you're just not receptive to it! Mind you I'd advice against making any attempt on access, because once those doors are open, you have little or no control over what comes your way and sanity can get compromised, interesting though it is, its not worth it.

  2. Bit of background ...

    Shepton Mallet was orginally a "House of Correction" established in early seventeenth century - used predominately for the confinement of the "homeless and masterless" and some minor offenders. It continued under local authority control until the nationalisation of prisons in 1878. I very much doubt that up until nationalisation anyone had been executed there as until 1868 executions did not take place inside prisons.

    It was run by the Prison Commissioners until 1930, when like many other prisons, it was closed as the use of imprisonment was dramatically reduced. Under the Prison Commissioners control there were a number of hangings.

    It was re-opened in the Second World War as a Military Prison, firstly run by the British and later by the US. It was while under US control (and under US law) that the largest batch of executions took place. Channel Four made a film about this shown in 2004 called The Other Band of Brothers: Execution on the Home Front. (If anyone can get hold of a copy PLEASE tell me!!)

    It reopened as a civilian prison in the 1960s after the abolition of the death penalty in the UK.


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