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Cell Block (Debtors' Prison) former Her Majesty's Prison Gloucester

A Grade II Listed Building in Gloucester, Gloucestershire

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Latitude: 51.8652 / 51°51'54"N

Longitude: -2.2505 / 2°15'1"W

OS Eastings: 382845

OS Northings: 218540

OS Grid: SO828185

Mapcode National: GBR 1L5.1TC

Mapcode Global: VH94B.YD30

Plus Code: 9C3VVP8X+3Q

Entry Name: Cell Block (Debtors' Prison) former Her Majesty's Prison Gloucester

Listing Date: 12 March 1973

Last Amended: 10 March 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1245472

English Heritage Legacy ID: 472572

Location: Gloucester, Gloucestershire, GL1

County: Gloucestershire

District: Gloucester

Electoral Ward/Division: Westgate

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Gloucester

Traditional County: Gloucestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Gloucestershire

Church of England Parish: Hempsted with Gloucester, Saint Mary de Lode and Saint Mary de Crypt

Church of England Diocese: Gloucester

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A former debtors’ prison and cell block, built in 1826 and designed by the county surveyor John Collingwood for the County Magistrates. The building was converted into offices in the late C20. Not included in the listing are the C20 interior fittings.


Former debtors’ prison built in 1826 and designed by architect John Collingwood for the County Magistrates. The building was converted into offices in the late C20.

MATERIALS: constructed of brick laid in English bond, with brick and vermiculated stone dressings.

PLAN: a rectangular range on a north-south axis facing the main cell block. The east elevation has a single-storey projection that runs two thirds of the building’s length.

EXTERIOR: a two-storey, originally three-storey, building with a low-pitched late-C20 roof with projecting eaves. The ground-floor is designed as an arcade of eight bays to the side elevations and three bays at each end. The brick piers have stone impost bands and each bay is infilled with a slightly recessed brick panel with a vermiculated stone cill: some brick panels are between stone jambs. Within each semi-circular brick arch is an iron-barred lunette window. There is a stone plat band that continues to all sides of the building and a raised cill band at first floor with the prison cell windows above, each within a vermiculated stone frame. To the end walls are similar cell windows to the outer bays, which have been blocked. To the south end, there is a semi-circular arched, iron window in the central bay, with glazing bars. To the north end, this central bay window has been removed and the opening partially filled with brick and a new opening inserted.

INTERIOR: to the south end, at ground floor, is an archway that retains the top section of a re-used Blackburn-era turnstile with decorative oval detailing. The pivoting gate has been removed (2013). The archway leads to the late-C20 staircase which has iron, stick balusters and a curved handrail. The internal plan form of a central corridor with cells to either side has been altered by the removal of internal partition walls to create office space. The central corridor is retained.

Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the C20 interior fittings are not of special architectural or historic interest.


The former Her Majesty's Prison Gloucester occupies the site of the 'new' C12 castle (the 'old castle' was located to the east) built in the reign of Henry I, which came to be used as a gaol by the reign of Richard III. Many of the castle buildings were demolished in the late C15 and C16, and the stone used for the construction of the new Boothall and for road repairs. By the mid-C17 only the keep (used as the gaol) and the main gatehouse survived. The gaol walls were rebuilt and a brick bridewell (a prison for petty offences) was built to the north of the keep. The conditions of the gaol were favourably reported in c.1650, 1683 and 1714. However, by 1777 John Howard, the penal reformer, was critical of the gaol on a number of counts: the state of repair of the buildings, the overcrowding and the generally poor welfare conditions. In 1780, Sir George Onesiphorus Paul (1746-1820) was appointed High Sheriff of Gloucestershire and, despite repairs to the gaol in that year and 1782, he concluded that it was in a ruinous state in 1783. He proposed a wholesale reform of the penal system, in line with Howard's recommendations, and that five bridewells and a county gaol be erected in the county. As a result, a working party was formed that secured a private Act of Parliament in 1785 to get permission to build a County Gaol at Gloucester and five bridewells at Dursley, Bristol, Gloucester, Littledean and Northleach. The bridewell and County Gaol were to be co-located in Gloucester.

Built in 1786-1791 the new gaol was designed by the architect William Blackburn (1750 – 1790) and employed a courtyard plan which consisted of a square with four, three-storey wings extending to the north and south from each corner of the square. The prior gaol buildings, including the castle keep, were demolished to make way for the new prison. Blackburn was a prolific architect during his short career, and he designed seventeen prisons and produced schemes or was asked for advice at five other sites. John Howard described Blackburn as 'The ingenious Mr Blackburn… the only man capable of delineating my idea of what a prison ought to be.'

From the early C19 attitudes to penal methods evolved, and prison populations increased, leading to a number of changes to prison regimes and requirements. In 1818 a triangular parcel of land to the east of the site was acquired by the prison authorities, and in 1826 a new section of perimeter wall was built along Barbican Road. A new outer gatehouse was erected at the north-east end of the wall, and a new debtor’s prison was built to the east of Blackburn's gaol. These structures were designed by the County Surveyor John Collingwood (c.1760-1831), and the debtor's prison was described by G. W. Counsel in his book, History of Gloucester (1829): ‘[a] very handsome edifice has lately been erected for the confinement of debtors from the design of Mr Collingwood, an eminent architect of this city’. In 1844-50, a new prison was built to the east of the Blackburn gaol, probably by the County Surveyor Thomas Fulljames, which comprises the Central Block of the former HMP Gloucester. Three-storey wings were added to either side of Blackburn’s original gatehouse and a block containing a chapel was built to the west, connecting with the Blackburn gaol.

The Governor’s House was built outside the perimeter wall to the south in c.1850 and incorporated a tower to the perimeter wall that probably dates from the Blackburn phase. Between 1910 and 1930 the remaining parts of Blackburn’s prison were demolished, with other C18 and C19 ancillary buildings cleared in the 1970s. The Debtor’s Prison building became derelict in the C20 and in the late C20 the third storey was removed, a flat roof installed and the building converted to offices by the removal of internal walls and staircases. The prison was closed in 2013.

Reasons for Listing

The Cell Block (former Debtors’ Prison), built in 1826 and designed by county surveyor John Collingwood for the County Magistrates, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Historic interest: a good survival of a pre-1850 prison building which illustrates the development and expansion of Gloucester prison in the early C19. It stands on the site of the former C12 Gloucester Castle;

* Architectural interest: for its association with the county surveyor John Collingwood. This is a well-designed building with good attention to detail, particularly noteworthy for the retention of its iron-barred lunette windows;

* Interior: part of the building was converted to offices in the late C20, however, the top section of a re-used Blackburn-era turnstile and some original internal walls survive to the ground floor; and further parts of the layout, including former cells and a central corridor to the first floor;

* Group value: an important part of the prison complex which has group value with a number of other listed Gloucester prison buildings and structures.

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