HMP Shepton Mallet, Somerset
Date:Saturday 16th September 2017
Originally built as a House of Correction in 1625, HMP Shepton Mallet is a foreboding and terrifying prison.
The prison finally closed it’s doors in 2013, and up until this point, held the title of the UK’s oldest, working prison.
HMP Shepton Mallet now lies abandoned, but it’s empty corridors and prison cells await anyone brave enough, to spend the night inside, looking for proof of the paranormal.
Over the years, HMP Shepton Mallet has been used as a military prison, it’s seen executions and inmates have endured extreme punishments for their crimes.
If only walls could speak, this prison would surely have a tale or two to tell regarding it’s brutal, gruesome and torturous past.
HMP Shepton Mallet, sometimes known as Cornhill, is a former prison located in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England. When it closed in 2013, it was the United Kingdom’s oldest operating prison, and had been since the closure of HMP Lancaster Castle in 2011. Before closure Shepton Mallet was a Category C Lifer Prison holding 189 prisoners. The prison building is grade II* listed.
The prison was established as a House of Correction in 1625, to comply with an Act of King James I in 1609 requiring that every county have such a House. In the 17th century, Shepton Mallet was not the only place of imprisonment in Somerset: the County Gaol was in Ilchester, and there was another House of Correction at Ilchester and also at Taunton. In these times all prisoners, men, women and children, were held together in reportedly dreadful conditions. The gaoler was not paid, instead making an income from fees from his prisoners.
The total number of executions at Shepton Mallet in its early years is unknown, however seven judicial executions took place within the prison walls between 1889 and 1926:
- Samuel Ryland (or Reylands), aged 23, was hanged on 13 March 1889. He was convicted at the Assize Courts in Taunton, Somerset on 20 February 1889 for battering to death 10-year-old Emma Jane Davies at Yeabridge, Somerset on 2 January 1889.
- Henry (Harry) Dainton, aged 35, was hanged on 15 December 1891 by James Billington. He was convicted for drowning his wife in the River Avon.
- Charles Squires, aged 28, was hanged on 10 August 1893 by James Billington. He was convicted at the Assize Courts in Wells, Somerset for smothering to death his wife’s two-year-old illegitimate son.
- Henry Quarterly (or Quartly), aged 55, was hanged on 10 November 1914 by Thomas Pierrepoint and George Brown. He was convicted at the Assize Courts in Taunton, Somerset on 20 October 1914 for fatally shooting 59-year-old Henry Pugsley at Parson Street, Porlock, Somerset on 3 June 1914.
- Verney Asser, a 30-year-old Australian soldier of the 2nd Training Battalion, was hanged on 5 March 1918 by John Ellis and William Willis. He was convicted at the Assize Courts in Devizes, Wiltshire on 16 January 1918 for fatally shooting his room-mate 24-year-old Corporal Joseph Harold Durkin at Sutton Veny Camp on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire on 27 November 1917.
- William Grover Bignell, aged 32, was hanged on 24 February 1925 by Thomas Pierrepoint and Robert Baxter. He was convicted at the Assize Courts in Devizes, Wiltshire on 20 January 1925 for fatally cutting the throat of his 37-year-old girlfriend Margaret Legg in a field near Tetbury, Gloucestershire on 25 October 1924.
- John Lincoln (aka Ignatius Emanuel Napthali Trebich Lincoln), aged 23, was hanged on 2 March 1926 by Thomas Pierrepoint and Lionel Mann. He was convicted at the Assize Courts in Devizes, Wiltshire on 21 January 1926 for fatally shooting 25-year-old Edward Richards at Victoria Avenue, Trowbridge, Wiltshire on 24 December 1925.
Their remains were buried in unmarked graves within the walls of the prison, as was customary following British executions.
In 1930, the Prisoner Commissioners recommended to the Government that Shepton Mallet Prison should be closed because it was under-used, having an average population in recent years of only 51 inmates. The prison closed in September of that year, with the prisoners and some of the staff transferring to other jails in neighbouring counties. The prison itself remained empty except for a caretaker until the outbreak of the Second World War.
Use during the Second World War-
The prison was reopened for British military use in October 1939. It soon housed 300 men from all three armed services, with some having to live in huts in the prison yard.
Public Records storage-
At almost the same time as it took its first British military prisoners, the prison also took into protective storage many important historical documents from the Public Record Office in London, including Domesday Book, the logbooks of HMS Victory, the Olive Branch Petition (1775), and dispatches from the Battle of Waterloo. In all, about 300 tons of records were transported to Shepton Mallet.
American military use-
Between mid-1942 and September 1945, the prison was used by the American military as the “6833rd Guardhouse Overhead Detachment”, later “The Headquarters 2912th Disciplinary Training Center — APO 508 United States Army”. The prison was entirely staffed by American military personnel during this period. The first Commandant was Lt Colonel James P. Smith of the 707th Military Police Battalion.
At times during its use by the Americans, Shepton Mallet held many more men than it had ever held before. At the end of 1944, there were 768 soldiers imprisoned, guarded by 12 officers and 82 enlisted men.
Under the provisions of the United States of America (Visiting Forces) Act 1942, a total of eighteen American servicemen were executed within the prison walls. Sixteen were hanged in the execution block and two were shot by firing squad in the prison yard. Three of the hangings were double executions, i.e. both condemned prisoners stood together on the gallows and were executed simultaneously when the trap-door opened. Of the 18 men executed, nine were convicted of murder, six of rape (which was not a capital offence in the United Kingdom), and three of both crimes
In September 1945, the prison was once again taken over by the British Army and became a British Military prison for service personnel. It was used for soldiers who were going to be discharged after serving their sentence, provided that sentences was less than two years (if more than two years, the sentence was served in a civilian prison).
Shepton Mallet was notorious amongst British servicemen and known as ‘the glass house’. Amongst the soldiers held there were the Kray twins who, while serving out their national service in the gaol after absconding, met Charlie Richardson.
Discipline was very strict and the punishments meted out to prisoners were reportedly extremely severe.
The prison was finally returned to civilian use in 1966. It was initially used to house prisoners who, for their own protection, could not be housed with ‘run-of-the-mill’ prisoners, and also well-behaved first offenders.
The gallows in the execution block was removed in 1967 and the room became the prison library.
HMP Shepton Mallet closed on 28 March 2013
Reported Paranormal Activity
With a history as extensive as this,it’s really not surprising to learn that HMP Shepton Mallet is described as being ridiculously haunted.
Countless inmates and military personnel have lost their lives during their time spent here, and some of those are said to still be haunting the building to this very day.
A White lady has been witnessed on numerous occasions and is believed to be the ghost of a woman executed during the 17th century.
Staff have also reported seeing the ghost of an American serviceman, thought to be related to the period when the site was used by the US military.
Your overnight ghost hunt at HMP Shepton Mallet includes:
- Vigils in small groups
- An equipment demonstration before the investigation begins
- Full use of our vast array of paranormal equipment
- Refreshments, Tea/coffee & cakes
- The guidance of our experienced investigators
- Lone vigils at the end of the night where time is on our side