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Former Her Majesty's Prison Kingston

A Grade II Listed Building in Baffins, City of Portsmouth

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Latitude: 50.8035 / 50°48'12"N

Longitude: -1.0656 / 1°3'56"W

OS Eastings: 465937

OS Northings: 100858

OS Grid: SU659008

Mapcode National: GBR VW2.SL

Mapcode Global: FRA 86NZ.2NF

Plus Code: 9C2WRW3M+CP

Entry Name: Former Her Majesty's Prison Kingston

Listing Date: 18 March 1999

Last Amended: 10 March 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1103834

English Heritage Legacy ID: 474961

Location: Baffins, Portsmouth, PO3

County: City of Portsmouth

Electoral Ward/Division: Baffins

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Portsmouth

Traditional County: Hampshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Hampshire

Church of England Parish: Portsea St Cuthbert, Copnor

Church of England Diocese: Portsmouth

Tagged with: Building

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The former HMP Kingston, Portsmouth, includes the principal prison building, executed in a robust, polychromatic, idiom; the boundary wall; and the entrance complex (comprising gate tower, Chief Warder's and Governor's houses and detached gate piers), executed in a decorative castellated style. It was built 1874-77 to the designs of George Rake. The early-C20 engineers' workshop, which includes earlier fabric to the north and west, is included in the listing but is of lesser special interest.


Architecturally, Kingston Prison comprises a series of radiating cell blocks executed in a robust, polychromatic, idiom; and an entrance complex and E-wing (the former chapel and office building), executed in a decorative castellated style; surrounding the site is the imposing flint and brick wall.

MATERIALS: the prison is constructed of massed concrete, faced with snecked Plymouth blue stone rubble, flint, red and blue Stourbridge brick, and Bath stone ashlar dressings. The roofs are slated with stone and blue brick chimney stacks. Windows are generally multi-pane steel casements.

PLAN: the prison has a radial plan, with five wings (A-E) arranged around a central octagonal, top-lit rotunda. Three of the five wings are near-identical cell blocks, arranged in a Y-shape (on a horizontal axis) around the rotunda. The arms of the Y are the south-east A-wing and north-east D-wing, and the tail of the Y is the west C-wing. Between A- and D-wing is E-wing, originally housing a chapel on the first floor, with offices beneath. To the south-west, between A- and C-wing, is B-wing: built as a single-storey wing (originally the infirmary), it has now been extended upwards. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) (b) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 it is declared that the first floor extension of B-wing is not of special architectural or historic interest.

To the north of the prison building is a large open space, originally a garden, more recently used as a football pitch. The whole site is surrounded by a high brick and flint wall, with the main entrance built into the wall to the east. The entrance complex comprises a gate tower with flanking gate houses, originally for the Governor (that to the south) and Chief Warder (that to the north).

EXTERIOR: the central rotunda is faced in blue stone with blue brick dressings, and has a Lombardy frieze below an octagonal pitched roof and glazed lantern. The five wings (A-E) are connected to the rotunda by lower two-storey blocks executed in materials matching the rotunda; they have been altered or obscured in parts by later extensions. Each of the cell blocks (A, C and D) is 14 bays long, and has two storeys over a basement (A- and D-wings with basement area and windows). The blue stone elevations are composed of two parallel horizontal rows of recessed cell windows, with heavy stone sills, blue brick shallow pointed arches and quoins, linked by bands of blue and red brick (basement windows also follow this pattern). At eaves level is a moulded blue brick cornice. The roofs are pitched, with a row of skylights on each pitch, stone-capped gable-end parapets, and large octagonal castellated chimneys towards the rotunda, which take the vents for the plenum heating system. Some of the windows in the cell blocks are taller than others; it is not clear whether these were built in this way or have had their cills lowered at a later date. The gable end of each cell block is three bays wide, with the central bay projecting slightly. To the centre is an entrance door (reached by late-C20 external steps to overcome the raised ground-floor level), and a long glass-block window above, lighting the first-floor gallery; to either side is a pair of cell windows. B-wing (the original infirmary) has a similar treatment to the cell blocks at ground floor – the later upwards extension has been carried out in modern materials.

E-wing (originally offices at ground floor and a chapel on the first floor) is architecturally distinct from the cell blocks: the elevations are composed almost exclusively of blue stone rubble and Bath stone ashlar dressings, and have a stepped crenellated parapet. The windows are large, those at ground floor being square-headed with central stone mullions, and those at first floor having shallow pointed-arches. A large entrance door to the west, facing the prison gateway, has been blocked and replaced with a tripartite window. To the south-west corner is an octagonal crenellated four-stage clock tower.

The entrance complex to the prison is approached from the east, and is comprised of the central square gate tower with flanking gate houses built along the outside of the boundary wall. The complex is executed in blue stone rubble and Bath stone ashlar dressings to match E-wing. The east elevation of the tower has diagonal stepped buttresses with the entrance to the prison site through a central recessed 2-leaf heavy timber door with iron grill fanlight above. The entrance way has rusticated moulded stone jambs with a segmental pointed arch and dripstone. Above are two balistraria and a projecting crenellated parapet which steps up to the centre, and has a Lombardy frieze. To the north is an octagonal stair tower. The gate tower is flanked to either side by two, two-storey, single-bay, wings connecting to the gate houses which project forward by two bays. The gate houses have pitched roofs with crenellated parapets and stepped gable-end parapets to the east; they have stepped buttresses and stone mullion and transomed windows. The south gate house is L-shaped in plan, and has a canted bay window with crenellated parapet at ground floor to the east, and a timber porch with decorative pierced barge boards to the north. The gate house to the north is slightly plainer and rectangular in plan, with a partially flat roof. In front of the entrance complex is a pair of original flint and stone gate piers which mark the entrance to the site.

The prison boundary wall is of brick construction, externally faced in flint, with blue brick buttressing and blue brick bands and coping; internally the wall is exposed brick, painted in part. The wall is continuous around the whole site, broken only at the entrance gateway. Here, some late-C20 extensions have been built in dark brick against the inside of the wall, to either side of the gate tower. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) (b) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 it is declared that the late C20 extensions built against the boundary wall to either side of the gate tower are not of special architectural or historic interest.

INTERIOR: the rotunda and cell blocks (A-, C- and D-wing) are relatively little altered internally. The rotunda is open to its timber roof structure, which is supported on cast iron brackets. This central space opens into each of the three cell blocks at ground and first floors, the latter via a gallery running round the edge. The cell blocks are also galleried for about one third of their length closest to the rotunda; the galleries being supported on cast-iron brackets, and retaining their original balustrading. The balustrading comprises vertical, horizontal and diagonal iron rods intersecting at the centre of each panel with a badge bearing Portsmouth's crest (a star and crescent). The original cast-iron stairs linking the ground floor of the cell blocks with the gallery above remain, although a second stair has been added to D-wing. Modern full-height security grilles have been installed to allow each cell block to be isolated from the rotunda. To either side of the wide central corridor, or gallery, running the length of each cell block, are rows of cells (their internal fittings and doors are modern), and above the cells is a blind clerestory. The basements of A- and D-wings are occupied by shower rooms, and various other service and plant rooms.

B-wing (the former infirmary) is accessed off the rotunda at ground floor level only (this originally having been a single-storey building). To the west side some cells remain, whereas to the east there are larger rooms which have latterly been used as a gym; on the first floor is a range of classrooms.

The ground-floor of E-wing retains the offices, which lead off a central corridor. The doorways have pointed arches, although a number have been altered to take square doors. One original door survives – this is six-panel with chunky chamfered stiles and rails. The two lower panels have diagonal boarding. The first floor chapel, which was open to the roof, has now been subdivided into smaller rooms, and the decorative, moulded, queen-post roof trusses have been ceiled over, but are still visible in the attic space.

The interiors of the gate tower and gate lodges have been altered and modernised; they retain little in the way of original joinery, fittings or detail, and what does survive is of a modest nature.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the single-storey, early C20, engineers' store is located to the south-west of the entrance complex and is detached from the main prison building. It stands in part on the site of the former debtors' prison and includes some fabric at the north end which appears to be from an earlier building, possibly the debtor's prison.

The north gable-end elevation is of snecked blue stone with blue brick dressings, to match the palette and style of the cell blocks. This treatment returns for one bay on the west elevation, but the other seven bays to the west, and eight bays to the east, are all rendered with blue brick piers. The building is of lesser special interest than the other listed buildings on the site.

EXCLUSIONS: pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, the following structures are excluded from the listing, or declared not of special architectural or historic interest: the three-storey workshop building connected to the west end of C-wing; the canteen, library and chapel block, with walkway connecting to the main prison building, and adjoining boiler house, to the north of the rotunda; the detached visits block to the north-west of D-wing; the first-floor extension of B-wing and the attached basketball court to the south of B-wing; the southern east-west range of the engineers' workshop and stores; the external stair to the north of A-wing; the late-C20 extensions flanking the west face of the gate tower; and the late-C20 walls adjoining the original gate piers to the front of the site.


Kingston Prison was built 1874-77 to the designs of local architect, George Rake (d.1883), to replace the Portsmouth Borough Gaol in Penny Street. The site lay to the north of the Portsea Island Union Workhouse (extant but now converted to flats), with the railway line and Kingston Cemetery to the west. Rake is also believed to be responsible for Kingston cemetery gateway and chapels (listed Grade II)

Kingston was the last of a group of 19 radial-plan prisons erected between 1842 (Pentonville) and 1877, when the Prison Act received royal assent (coming into force in April 1878). Under the act, local authorities' obligations with respect to prisons ceased, and became the responsibility of the Home Secretary. The substantial cost of Kingston, built just prior to the act, was therefore borne locally, but almost immediately the prison was taken under national control. When it first opened the prison could accommodate 104 men and 52 women, all in separate cells; A-wing (one of three cell blocks) was designated for female prisoners. There were a number of subsidiary buildings on the site which have since been lost. These included a debtors' prison (which extended west from the boundary wall behind the Governor's house), various workshops for carpentry, smithery etc, and a wheel-house for the treadwheel.

The prison was closed between October 1931 and early 1933 and subsequently held preventative detainees. These, under the 1908 Prevention of Crime Act, were habitual criminals, who had spent three terms in prison since the age of sixteen and who persisted in leading a dishonest life, and who thereby might receive an additional term of five to ten years’ preventive detention. During the Second World War it was used as naval detention quarters. In 1948 it opened as a recall centre for Borstal detainees, and from 1969, it operated as a training prison for male prisoners serving life sentences. In 2003 the prison became a more general category B and C prison, and finally closed in 2013.

Reasons for Listing

The former HMP Kingston, Portsmouth, including the principal prison building, boundary wall, engineers' workshop and entrance complex (comprising gate tower, Chief Warder's and Governor's houses and detached gate piers), built 1874-77 by George Rake, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: comprised of both decorative castellated and robust polychromatic components, the buildings form a striking architectural ensemble with a high quality of design and detail, and a craftsmanly use of materials;
* Planning interest: the prison was the last of 19 radial plan prisons to be built between 1842 and 1877;
* Level of survival: aside from the loss of original ancillary buildings on the site, the distinctive architectural character, fabric and plan-form of the prison remains unusually intact.

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