BIDDERS interested in Gloucester Prison can grab a slice of history – including bodies buried beneath it.
Details released by the selling agents on behalf of the Ministry of Justice market the 3.5 acre site as suitable for residential, office and hotel use.
Whoever snaps up the 222-year-old prison, which closed in March 2013, will have a unique property on their hands – but some special steps will have to be taken before its new life can begin.
More than 100 graves of prisoners are believed to lie under part of the site, some in unmarked graves reserved for executed inmates. And any remains of King Henry III’s palace will need to be investigated too.
Hugh Worsnip, spokesman for the Gloucester Civic Trust, said the site has many plus points but it could not be flattened by a developer.
“The central core is one of the first purpose-built prisons in the world in 1791 and was designed by the distinguished architect William Blackburn,” he said.
“It became a pattern for jails all over the world and is Listed Grade II. The proportions of the interior and the quality of the ironwork on the landings are outstanding. The perimeter walls, the governor’s house, and the gatehouse are listed Grade II. We would want to see all these buildings retained in any redevelopment and found new uses.
“Many other modern additions could be carefully removed. There are burials within the prison walls which would all have to be exhumed at considerable expense to any developer.
“Most important of all, the redevelopment provides an opportunity to carry out a proper excavation of King Henry III’s royal palace which underlies the site.
“The king, together with Queen Eleanor and Prince Edward, lived there for considerable periods during his reign in the 13th Century. We would expect the city council, as planning authority, to strictly enforce planning conditions to preserve and enhance the parts of the prison site which are of national, and not just local significance. We do not want to see a repeat of the redevelopment of the 1980s when significant remains of the royal palace were dug up and carted off to the tip.”
The jail was well past its best and the Independent Monitoring Board criticised its overcrowding, poor dining provision and cramped cells in 2007, and a sudden announcement it would close means it became vacant almost a year ago.
The operators behind the Oxford Jail Malmaison hotel expressed interest in the site, but that is believed to be receding. A residential use is the most likely but some form of heritage element as well has not been ruled out.
From 1792 to 1939, a total of 123 prisoners were executed at Gloucester Prison but it’s not believed all are buried there.
Some could have been buried in nearby churchyards or claimed by relatives, but murderers could not be buried in consecrated ground so were laid to rest in the prison grounds.
The agents say though, that some inmates passed away within the prison who weren’t executed, may also have been buried there. Three areas of graves have been identified and there could be more.
The agents also indicated the more modern parts could be done away with, as it is negotiating with the planning authority, Gloucester City Council.
Council leader Paul James indicated that it would offer developers with the right vision the chance to include the Barbican site as part of the prison development.
“The prison site does represent a rare opportunity to acquire a historic site with a unique character and a river frontage,” he said.
“It could be put to a number of potential uses and, as a planning authority, we are available to provide guidance to potential buyers. I am keen that the Greater Blackfriars area, including the prison, should be developed in a comprehensive way.
“Our land at the adjacent Barbican site is also available and can be used to help make a development work. Taken together these sites have the potential to make a big difference to the city centre.”