THE old PRISON
The state of Gloucestershire's county gaol and houses of correction attracted the attention of Sir George Onesiphorus Paul. he was a dedicated pioneer and zealous worker for the improvement and maintenance of prisons and become the driving force behind the reorganisation of Gloucestershire's system basing it on a rehabilitation programme; the first scheme of its kind in the country. Sir George based his program on three principles:
Security: secure buildings and alert staff, rather than slovenly, careless officers
Health: cleanliness, fresh air, and medical care to combat disease
Separation: segregation of prisoners according to sex and crime to prevent petty offenders from being influenced by hardened criminals.
As foreman of the grand jury, sir George addressed the jurors about the prevalence of goal fever and suggested ways of treating it and preventing it in the future. at a meeting, he carried a motion that "a new goal and certain new houses of correction" should be built; and a committee, with paul as chairman, was appointed to carry out the work.
Building work began on the site. the design was deemed one of the most original of the four correction houses across the southwest under paul's direction and later became a fine example of a model prison. the design was later used to inspire better care and rehabilitation of prisoners throughout Britain and further afield.
construction of the prison was completed and prisoners were moved in. With its airy cells-blocks, workrooms, exercise yards, chapel, and infirmaries, it served as a blueprint for London’s Pentonville Prison. Built to accommodate just 37 prisoners, each of whom had a ground floor cell by day opening onto the outdoor exercise yard and the first-floor cell by night, the House of Correction was intended for those who committed less serious offences. It was hoped that strict discipline and hard labour would deter the offender from a life of crime and that plenty of fresh air and exercise was supposed to encourage health and cleanliness was rigidly enforced.
Work in the early years included wool picking, carding and spinning. Some prisoners who had a trade were permitted to practice it inside the prison such as tailoring and shoemaking.
The desire for more punishing labour for prisoners led to the introduction of a treadmill. Prisoners took turns on the treadmill – only 9 or 10 could be accommodated on the machine at one time. While they were stepping, their peers were kept in an adjacent yard, walking in a circle, awaiting their turn.
the prison underwent further expansion and refurbishment, including a new prisoner cell block for women. a new, more effective treadmill was installed in a new Mill House built in the southern corner of the site.
doors closed to convicted prisoners but a small number were still sent here to serve a remand period. the status of the prison changed to a House of Remand and the county surveyor’s plans converted the mill house into a police station with an office and living accommodation. The exterior, with its stone plaque, remains virtually unchanged today.
the committee room and ground floor of the keeper’s house were converted into a Petty Sessional Court, a function that gave the building a new use (right up until 1974). the country police stations moved in and made this one of their country ploce stations with the cells now being used for those arrested by the police and waiting to be seen by the magistrate.
the building served as a tramp station and the cells blocks were rarely used, leading to their demolition along with the perimeter wall which was lowered to its present height.
The long history of the prison, police and a court activity on the site finally came to an end when the petty sessional court was transferred to Stow on the Wold
the building re-opened as "the Cotswolds; a Countryside Collection" - a museum of rural life preserving the history of the building and becoming the designated home of the Lloyd-Baker Collection of agricultural history.
an opportunity arose to purchase the former house of correction from the Cotswolds district council, who decided to sell the historic grade two* listed Georgian building as part of a cost-saving exercise.
after forming as a charity the "friend of the Cotswolds" raised sufficient funds to purchase the old prison to secure the building's future and started to carry out significant structural repairs and improvements to the building.
the hospitality and catering opportunities afforded by the historical venue were recognised by the relish Group, an established and highly regarded catering business operating across the Cotswolds. taking on the lease to operate the kitchen and cafe, manager Charlotte, chef Ryan and her team proudly serve artisan coffees, brunch classic, homemade cakes and lunchtime specials, providing a truly unique experience for locals and visitors alike.
The Friends of the Cotswolds are now turning their attention to improving the museum aspect and interpretation on site.
English Prisons (2002) : Brodie, Croom, Davies
Prison at the Crossroads (1981) : Marian Woodman
The Old Prison – The Story of the House of Correction at Northleach (2013) : Michael Banks