For those who missed it, Shepton Mallet prison closed last week.
As a child of Somerset, I have distant memories of Shepton Mallet, and the prison (no, I wasn’t an inmate) is among those vague recollections, squatting in the midst of civilised town buildings like a somnolent slug.
High perimeter walls – 75ft is high – grey stone, tiny peeping windows with those tell-tale bars: I’d like to think that someone with vision would re-open it as a themed hotel, but I’m told they’re going to pull it down.
There won’t be many arguments, I imagine, in favour of its preservation. No outraged National Trust junkies will barricade the doors or lie down in front of the bulldozers – no, this is the less desirable face of history; a side of society we would prefer to forget.
Built in 1610, it’s certainly a candidate for preservation. It offered accommodation to many famous ‘lifers’ not least among which were the brothers Kray. And I believe the ghosts (I’m told there are several) would like to see their nameless memories preserved. So many of them, victims of the almost continuous ravages of smallpox and the brutality that reigned within its walls, lie buried there; their graves unmarked by any stone.
How many were hanged at HMP Shepton Mallet? No-one really knows – in early years no records were kept. In World War Two, however, it was a military prison. Sixteen American soldiers were hanged and two shot for crimes including rape and murder.
So no tears but those which the men, women and children who suffered the continuous torture of years within those cramped cells have shed, and still perhaps run bleeding among the stones. And maybe in the other silences the creak of the treadmill that once turned there might still be heard, when Shepton Mallet needs reminding of those darker hours.
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