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Central Block (Wings A & B and Chapel) former Her Majesty's Prison Gloucester

A Grade II* Listed Building in Gloucester, Gloucestershire

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Latitude: 51.8651 / 51°51'54"N

Longitude: -2.2511 / 2°15'3"W

OS Eastings: 382807

OS Northings: 218537

OS Grid: SO828185

Mapcode National: GBR 1L5.1NZ

Mapcode Global: VH94B.XDT1

Plus Code: 9C3VVP8X+3H

Entry Name: Central Block (Wings A & B and Chapel) former Her Majesty's Prison Gloucester

Listing Date: 12 March 1973

Last Amended: 10 March 2014

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1245474

English Heritage Legacy ID: 472579

Location: Westgate, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, GL1

County: Gloucestershire

Electoral Ward/Division: Westgate

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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The Central Block (Wings A and B, and chapel) of HMP Gloucester is a cell block and prison chapel of 1844-50, incorporating a gatehouse of c.1789 by William Blackburn. Not included in the listing are the attached footbridge and 1970s wing to the east, the attached kitchen and workshop buildings to the south-west, and a later addition to the north-west. Also, modern interior fittings are excluded from the listing.


A cell block (A & B Wings) including a prison chapel wing, of 1844-50 and incorporating an earlier gaol gatehouse of 1786-91, within the former HM Prison Gloucester. The former gaol was begun by William Blackburn and completed in c.1810 by John Wheeler, County Surveyor, for the County Magistrates. The 1840s cells and chapel were probably by Thomas Fulljames, County Surveyor. There are C20 alterations.

MATERIALS: red brick with ashlar dressings, rusticated in part, and with slate roofs. The interior stairs and balustrades are of cast and wrought iron.

PLAN: a long range facing east with a central, slightly recessed, entrance block and an axial chapel wing to the rear. The central entrance block, originally the gatehouse entrance to the prison, was converted during the construction of the wings to each side, and the chapel wing to the rear (west). Attached to the rear of the chapel wing is a modern boiler house and kitchen block. A covered walkway connects the south end of the main block with a single-storey range of buildings of a range of dates and former uses. These attached structures are excluded from the listing.

EXTERIOR: the central block and wings are of three storeys, and the chapel wing is of two storeys. The symmetrical front to the main block has a central entrance with a rusticated stone archway and flanking warders' lodges. The north and south wing façades have rusticated banding and plinths that continue to the end elevations. Some of the window openings to the façade have dropped cills and disturbed brickwork, and a footbridge has been attached which connects with a 1970s cell block to the east. The end elevations have a central recessed bay with a central, full-height, semicircular-arched window with glazing bars. The remains of a former timber hanging drop are visible in the right bay of the south end. To the rear, the chapel wing is of four bays, each with a large semi-circular arched window with glazing bars to the first floor. Smaller semi-circular arched windows are to the ground floor, and the elevations have stone dressings, including keystones to the windows. The west end of the chapel has a central ashlar stack with a blank arch and keystone.

INTERIOR: the central entrance block opens into a vestibule with cell wings to the north and south and the chapel wing to the west. The north and south wings (A & B) have three storeys of galleried cells, accessed by cast-iron stairs. The stair and gallery railings are all original, with wrought-iron rails on cast-iron posts. The base of the posts is in the form of a lion's paw which holds the cast-iron balcony brackets that are shaped as twisted serpents (symbolically justice controlling evil). The spandrel of each bracket has a Tudor rose detail. The galleries give access to a row of cells on each side of a central, open well within each wing. The rooms in the central block have been modified to form offices with oriel windows facing the stairwell, and sealed openings. The cells directly to either side of the central block have been enlarged to incorporate the neighbouring cell. The upper storey of the main wings has a heavy dentil cornice above the cell doors. The barrel-vaulted ceiling incorporates semi-circular dormer window recesses, evenly-spaced. Most of the gates and doors are modern, although a single original cell door remains in the cell block. In the C20 some cell walls were removed, and the areas refitted, to form communal washing spaces. The chapel is at first-floor level and has a gallery at the west end, supported on console brackets, and a panelled balustrade. The roof is later, with exposed metal tie-rod trusses. At ground-floor level, the chapel wing has modern subdivisions incorporating Doric columns of the 1840s.

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 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. Little of his work survives, and at Gloucester prison it is only his original gatehouse, and probably the tower by the Governor's House, that are extant. 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 changed, 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 gatehouse was erected at the north-east end of the wall, and a new debtor’s prison was built to the east of the Blackburn gatehouse. The structures were designed by the County SurveyorJohn 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’. A treadmill for hard labour was built to the south of the gaol in the early C19. In 1844-50, a new prison based on the Pentonville design was built to the east of the Blackburn gaol, probably by County Surveyor Thomas Fulljames. It comprises the Central Block of the former HMP Gloucester (latterly A & B Wings, and the chapel). 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 Blackburn’s prison, with the exception of the gatehouse and tower, was demolished, with other C18 and C19 ancillary buildings cleared in the 1970s. New prison buildings were erected on the site in the following decades, including a unit for 'special category' prisoners to the east of the 1840s prison, and connected to it via a footbridge. Single-storey buildings were built connecting with south-east corner of the 1840s prison, extending eastwards to include modified early-C20 workshops that incorporate some earlier fabric. Late-C20 kitchen buildings are attached to the west of the chapel block. The prison was closed in 2013.

Reasons for Listing

The Central Block (A and B Wings, and chapel), probably designed by Thomas Fulljames and built in 1844-50, incorporating a gatehouse by William Blackburn of c.1789, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Historic interest: a very good survival of a pre-1850 prison block, which illustrates the development and expansion of Gloucester prison, and prison reform in general in the early C19. It stands on the site of the former C12 Gloucester Castle, possibly over the former Keep;
* Architectural interest: for its association with the architect William Blackburn and the County Surveyor Thomas Fulljames. Its lively Classical design, rich in stone detailing to the exterior, and the high quality and imaginative styling of the interior is a very good example of late-C18/early-C19 prison architecture;
* Intactness: this building survives remarkably intact for a building of this date and type, conferring more than special interest;
* Group value: an important part of the pre-1850 prison complex at Gloucester and associated with four Grade II listed buildings related to the prison.

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