Ancestry UK

HMP Nottingham / Bagthorpe Prison, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire

HMP Nottingham (also known as Bagthorpe Prison) was opened in 1891 at a site on Perry Road, Sherwood as a replacement for the Nottingham Prison on High Pavement.

The new prison was design by the Surveyor of Prisons, Colonel Alten Beamish. The main accommodation initially comprised two parallel blocks, one for men, the other for women to its east, the two running north-south and linked by ground-floor covered ways.

An account of the nearly completed prison appeared in September of that year:


Changes which have been for long time in contemplation regard to prison arrangements in Nottingham are shortly to be carried into effect. The old gaol in John-street is to be closed, and offenders against the law are to be sent to a new building at Bagthorpe. It is upon a site considerably distant from the centre of the town that the structure is located. More than 20 years ago the War Office authorities purchased about 30 acres of land abutting Bulwell-lane for the purpose erecting barracks thereon. That scheme, for reasons which it is not necessary now to discuss, was never carried into effect, and a portion of the ground has at length been utilised by the Prison Commissioners. In all about seven acres have been enclosed, and the intention is to place there buildings for the accommodation of all the male and female prisoners who have in the ordinary course hitherto been dealt with at John-street. But it is by sections only that the work has been proceeded with. The contract, now practically completed, has been limited to the construction of large cell block to accommodate 200 male delinquents, together with the requisite offices. The separate provision necessary for the female prisoners yet remains to be made, and for this the site affords ample space. Pending the completion of the entire building, female prisoners committed in Nottingham and the neighbourhood are to be transferred to Derby Gaol — the wishes of the Home Office in that matter having already been intimated to the justices. Under an old arrangement the gaol in John-street will revert to the Corporation, at a price which has been agreed upon with the Government authorities.

It is upon elevated ground, about two miles from the Market-place, that the new building stands. The area utilised is bounded on the west by Hucknall-road, and on the south by an old thoroughfare known as Edwards-lane, agricultural land surrounding it on the other sides. It is but a few hundred yards from the new Bagthorpe Hospital, which has been erected by the Nottingham Corporation. The building operations have been in progress nearly three years, and for the preparation of the plans the staff at the Home Office, working under the authority of the Prison Commissioners, is responsible. At present the whole of the cell block for the male prisoners is finished, together with the administrative department and other important sections. With a site of the capacity which has been chosen there is ample space, not only for the building, but for ground for the purpose of exercise yards and gardens. That the whole of the work is of the most solid character goes without saying. There is nothing ornamental, but of the security which attaches to such an institution there is on every hand abundant indication. Apart from the necessary solidity which characterises the building, the perfect arrangements which have been made in regard to ventilation and other matters indispensable to the health of the inmates is above all noticeable. It is not a big prison in a comparative sense. Contrasted with some other structures, the Nottingham Gaol is in the third grade in point of size. It may not be generally known, but it is the fact, that the new prison, like that which is shortly to be vacated, is not designed to provide accommodation for all the prisoners who are committed within the limits of Nottinghamshire. Under a plan which has been followed for some years, and is still to be continued, offenders who are sentenced in the northern parts of Notts, are transferred to Lincoln Prison, those from the whole of the remaining portions of the county coming to Nottingham. If not in point of extent comparable with some other buildings, the new gaol is interesting as evidencing the latest plan upon which prisons are designed. The main cell block, which is the chief part of the work so far carried out, supplies an instance of the excellent arrangements for the purposes in view. It is 225 ft. long by 50ft. wide. The cells are arranged on four floors with 50 cells upon each. Iron staircases afford the means of access to the three upper storeys, which run to a considerable height, and the appearance generally of the interior, whilst light in character, betokens great strength. The cells are arranged in series of twenty-fives on either side of each floor, those above the ground level being approached by broad stone corridors, guarded by railings. In the basement beneath the main corridor there are three punishment cells, to which only the faintest glimmer of light can penetrate. The ordinary cells are arranged on a plan which in the main differs little from that which has been in vogue in prisons for the last 20 years. The ordinary cells are 13ft. 7in. by 9ft. 6in. They are lighted by windows containing three rows of small glass panes, the two lower of which are opaque and the topmost transparent, securely protected by iron bars. The artificial illumination is by means of an open gas flame, which is in a hole in the wall to the right of the cell door, and cut off from the interior of the cell itself by a small glass screen through which the light shines, a tin flap covering the aperture on the outer side. This is a departure from the old plan, under which there were brackets in the cells themselves. There are the usual plank beds provided, and amongst the articles allowed to each of the inmates may be enumerated a tin plate, a tin cup, a wooden salt cellar, a tin water jug, a zinc basin, and a coir scrubbing brush. There are also Bible and prayer-card placed in each cell. An electrical arrangement forms the means of communication with the warders. By pressing a small knob in the wall near the door a prisoner may set a bell ringing, and cause an indicator, resembling a miniature semaphore, outside the cell to fall, showing the officer on duty whence the call comes. Through inspection holes warders can peer into the cells any time and see without being seen. On each landing there is adequate provision in the matter of sanitary appliances, whilst the means adopted for heating and ventilating the building are of a very complete character. Beneath the floors of the main corridor are large chambers, through which the hot-air circulating pipes are laid. In the cells equable temperature is maintained. Fresh air inlets are provided, which afford the means of displacing the vitiated atmosphere, the foul air being drawn up to trunks underneath the roof, where it finds an outlet through large circular shafts, which appear from the outside to be chimneys for carrying off smoke, but which in reality play one of the most important parts in the ventilation of the prison.

A few yards from the main block, of the interior of which we present an illustration, the kitchens and laundry have been built upon a scale which is adequate meet the requirements of both male and female prisoners. The new wing for the latter will, it is surmised, be beyond this range of buildings, so that the two chief blocks will run parallel with one another, with the kitchens occupying the ground between them. For cooking purposes, capacious apparatus has been provided. The kitchen contains a big flour shoot, a kneading trough, large ovens, steamers, and five large boilers for making "skilly," the staple article of prison fare. In the laundry, which adjoins, there are all the necessary apparatus for washing, wringing, &c. The women engaged in washing stand in compartments partitioned off from one another, the doors in each case being bolted whilst the work is going on. For drying clothes there is an elaborate appliance. Turning to another part of the grounds, the hospital and the cells used for the prisoners upon their reception are located to the left of the main entrance. They consist of two buildings of moderate dimensions, separated by a large yard. When a prisoner is admitted he is taken into a temporary cell, and before his removal to the prison proper, he has to pass through the examination room, where his height and weight are taken and any distinctive marks noted. He has then to bathe in adjoining room and having assumed the prison garb in place of the clothes taken from him, he is carefully examined by the medical officer, for whom there is a room set apart on the ground floor of the building. In the event of prisoner arriving too late in the day to undergo this examination, he kept until the visit of a doctor next morning in one of the temporary cells. Upon the completion of the medical examination, those who are found to be in good health are at once transferred the main portion the prison. When the contrary is the case, prisoners are taken to the adjoining hospital, and if the disease from which they are suffering be one of infectious character, there are special wards available, cut off from all other parts of the building. The hospital proper is not of large dimensions, being about sufficient to give room for eight beds. There is a dispensary, and the nurses' apartment, and the usual offices adjoining. On the same floor there are also three or four special cells, in which patients, who are sufficiently convalescent to leave the hospital at night, but not well enough to undergo the ordinary prison discipline, have their beds. At the end of the small corridor, in which these cells are placed, there is an ominous looking room, designed for patients whose mental state leads to frenzied outbursts. The floor here is padded thickly, and to a height of 7ft. or 8ft. the walls are covered with soft material to lessen the danger of bodily injury. Through a small hole in the side of the wall the warder or nurse on duty is enabled see into the chamber, the point of vantage for this purpose being reached by a short flight of steps. Prisoners are allowed to see their friends on appointed days in a small building near the main entrance. In this there are six small compartments, three on either side, divided by a central passage, in which the warder stands whilst conversation is in progress. The compartments for visitors are protected in front by stout galvanised wire, whilst those on the opposite side have open louvres so radiating that a prisoner can only see the person in the compartment immediately opposite, it being impossible for him to peer into either of the adjoining boxes.

The exterior view of the large cell block which we publish above shows the east elevation of the building. It is at the south end that the administrative offices, containing rooms for the visiting justices, the governor, medical officer, clerk, &c., are located, and above them the chapel is placed. The entrance to the chapel will be through a door opening on to the gallery on the first floor of the prison. The place set apart for worship is of commodious proportions, capable of accommodating nearly 400 prisoners. It will have a chancel and vestry, and, following the plan which obtains in regard to prison structures, the seats will be arranged and partitioned that none of the prisoners can see each other during the service. The façade of the administrative block and chapel will form the only break to the rigidity of the outline in the case of the cell block. The chapel is to be lighted the south end by large semi-circular windows, and on the gable overhead the prison clock will be placed. A coach-house, close to the kitchens, in the centre of the ground, is designed to serve as the place of execution. It is a building of sinister plainness, sufficiently large to hold the prison van, for which purpose it will ordinarily be used. Beneath the boarded floor, which may be taken up at will, a large pit has been dug, into which the body of the condemned will drop when the bolt is drawn. The pit is of the depth of 12ft., the sides being bricked. By means of a flight of 11 steps, the medical officer, or others engaged, may descend to examine the body after the execution has been effected. The materials to form the trap have been prepared, and two stone projections from the walls the coach-house gruesomely indicate the supports upon which the beam for the rope will rest. The bolts for the trap are of steel. Double doors afford access to the coach-house on the south side, and through these the prison van will be taken. At the opposite end there is a smaller door, which never to be opened except at an execution. Emerging from the prison at the south-east corner, near the administrative block, the condemned culprit will be required to traverse the grounds for a distance of about 15 yards to the place of execution, the view of the gallows being shut out until he is within the coach-house itself. The site which has been utilised for the purpose of the new prison is enclosed by boundary wall of the height of 18 feet. Massive doors protect the entrance, a short distance from Which houses for the accommodation of the warders have been erected. The efficiency of the arrangements for the object for which the building is designed at all points apparent. The plans have been prepared under the direction of Colonel Beamish, of the Home Office Department, the clerk of the works being Mr. Payne. Mr. H. Vickers, of Nottingham, the contractor, by whom the work has been efficiently carried out.

HMP Nottingham male wing, 1891.

HMP Nottingham male wing interior, 1891.

A more detailed and technical report on the buildings appeared in 1910:

First visited 12th August, 1903.

Accommodation, 200 men and 28 women, total, 228.

Daily average, 149 and 21, total 170.

Area of site, 21 acres; walled in 5.3 acres.

Number of prisoners per acre, 11, or 43, accordingly.

This Prison is situated on the top of a hill in the country, at Bagthorpe, three miles out northwards from the Midland Railway station; but the electric car at the Sherwood terminus is 10 minutes distant. The site was originally purchased by the War Office for a Brigade Depôt, but discarded, and handed over for a Prison. The design is by Colonel Beamish, and dated 8th October 1890.

The main road from Nottingham ascends the hill, and passes about 160 yards to west of the Prison yard: the Governor's house adjoins the main road, being situated in a beautiful garden about 80 yds by 40 yds. Next east comes the Chief Warder's house, and eight Warders' quarters on the two-flat plan (seen also at Wakefield and Canterbury) with yards and external w-cs, and garden allotments behind.

The quarters and gardens (in front, or on south side of which, the approach road to Prison runs east and west), occupy about 1.6 acres, and the Prison yard is about 160 yards square, leaving about 14 acres of unused ground, on north side, which is let for cultivation.

The site has a beautiful southern aspect, but a remarkable defect in the design seems to be the placing of the Entrance and Gatehouse at the south west corner of the walled enclosure, so that the women, and all visitors, have to pass in front of the Men's accommodation.

The Gate faces west, and the Gate building has a visiting room for three persons, a sleeping-in room, mess room for warders, and the usual Gate-office.

The boundary wall is of brick and 18' 8" high, and has a round cope at top. There are buttresses inside, but not outside, and the wall is built in level horizontal courses up and down hill, which necessitated ugly steps in the cope, which are made of stone. The top foot of the wall tapers rapidly inwards, and consequently has no drip, so is much injured by wet.

All the buildings are of red brick, and the Men's cell block (B) with offices and Chapel in line occupies the centre of the yard, and is well placed, running north and south. To its right or east is the Females' cell block (C) which also runs worth and south, and has a connecting covered way to B, which "way" is built parallel to, and under the same roof, with one from B to the Kitchen. To left of B is the males' Reception, with Infirmary over, also connected by covered way thereto. Outside of these is the detached stores building, with ladder shed at the back, while behind the reception is the work's workshop. Similarly in front of C, and connected thereto by an L shaped covered way, is the females' reception and infirmary, while behind C is the kitchen and laundry, side by side, with separate covered way, as above named, to B, on which is placed the men's weekly bath house. The sides of B are thus left clear and open, for light and air, and there are commodious exercise yards, (with asphalte paths), and yard closets on the west, besides garden space in abundance.

It seems a pity that division walls, with gates and ramps, around the stores and males' reception (as well as of necessity around Females' Prison) prevent the free patrol of the Prison yard, and the thrusting forward of the females' reception, out of the line of frontage, exposes it fully to sight from the Entrance Gate. The greatest error however of the females' Prison plan seems to be, that it has no external entrance, except through reception or from men's Prison. Wide asphalted roads have been formed, at great expense, around the yards.

The facade of offices and Chapel are designed in "Italian" style, with clock tower and stunted Dome roof over it, but the effect is poor, and not equal to Bristol. The side elevation of B block shows prominent pilasters between' the cells, sunk window breasts, and oversailing above to carry the cornice.

Of detached buildings,excepting the small Photo house in front yard, and the wood chopping boxes, covered with corrugated iron erected in 1903, opposite the north end of B, (which face north, and now have the paved floor in front enclosed and roofed over).

The Stores constituted in 1903 are the only important erection. A defect of this building is its division into so many rooms or parts. There is a small office, unused and empty; then another like room, and a Provision store 4/5 empty too! The front room is called a coal store, but had no coal. All these rooms might be thrown into the main store (with stands) now overcrowded, and then the shed for vegetables, (as has been proposed), would be necessary.

The Buildings on the covered ways are now noted, the Kitchen, has a west external door, and a large lantern in roof, and (like Bristol) no "blow through", so that heat is complained of in summer. There is an expensive steel wash up trough (from Armstrong of Leeds): five cooking pots of 40 gallons (approx.), two small Kitchen vegetable steamers, two steam boilers, one range, and an oven (one baking only per day) with an elaborate iron furnace front,and iron ash pit.

There is a large flour loft, and a serving lobby for women's food (used by the Visiting Committee for entering females' Prison). There is a good wooden hood over the cooking pots, and an iron gate on the yard door.

This is at the back of the covered way from B to kitchen, and contains seven divisions, very cramped up, with iron baths painted white. The water is heated in the kitchen by steam, in a tank placed over the steam boilers.

Right in front of the parallel covered ways, (under one roof) leading from B to kitchen and to females' Prison, is the Execution House, used also as a van shed. This has a Pit, but no exit therefrom, except at the top. It is fitted with a new pattern beam, block and chain, but was not used between 1900 and 1903.

The women's yard begins at its south east corner, and a visiting room has been there erected which abuts upon the Execution House wall. There is also a covered coal store, with open front, and a pavement, for storing it on, in the open.

The Laundry is alongside the kitchen, and like it, needed a gable ventilator. There are here two coppers, six tubs of wood, a hot tank over, and retort below the drying closet of six horses by Jones & Attwood (which has special screw knobs on rail pipe ends). There is no Inlet (otherwise) to closet, but an outlet in the roof, drawn down to furnace. The result is frequent "baking" and "rusting" of clothing.

Block C is double sided, seven cell spaces long and three flats high. There is a "special cell" in a Basement, and at north end is an aisle, or lean-to on flat 1, holding weekly females' baths, and warders' w.-c. There are good iron stairs 3' 7" wide, and a 4' 6" high railing to galleries, of 3/16" horizontal rods, (spoiled by a stiff top).

The cells have flat concrete ceilings, red and black tiled floors, sheeted doors, with Thomas' lock with bevelled bolt and two throws, one row of clear glass in the windows, (which, are of the 21 pane pattern), and an electric bell to each. Otherwise they are "Pentonville" cells in all particulars. The Corridor is light, but has been much obstructed by forming stairs into the roof! The w.-cs are in an annex on east side only, but one to each flat. There is a condemned cell, C II 3. It is unfortunate that two flats of this Building have had all the seven cells taken up on west side, for conversion into rooms for three female warders, for whom no accommodation was made otherwise.

An L shaped passage leads from the south end of C to Females' Reception, passing by their Disinfector and Clothes store in route.

This Reception is of modern arrangement,, with four waiting boxes, but they have flat ceilings, and cell locks. The Examination room and Reception Bath adjoin.

Up a fine staircase of stone, the Females' Infirmary is found above the Reception. At stair-head is a padded cell, with inspection steps and head cavity for observation, but the observer is by no means hidden. There is one good sick ward, and it appears small for four beds, but a small "lying-in" ward is also available. There is a good nurses' bedroom, and the lavatory accommodation is most elaborate.

The Men's Reception is entered from the front; on the left is an Examination room and opposite are seven good boxes, with sheeted doors, and cell locks. Beyond Examination room are two good baths, Prison clothes store and w.c, and on right the Medical Officer's room. Behind in an annex is the private clothes store and disinfector. Round the corner are four little cells 8'6"x 5'0" with asphalte floors, (not used for sleeping).

Ascending, the Males' Infirmary is found over. The front ward has four windows on infirmary each side, and holds six beds: a bath and w.c. adjoin. There is a nurses' room and dispensary, and two cells for convalescents. These are placed sideways over the little reception cells below, and are consequently dark in some parts! At the end is a canvas padded cell, again with "observation steps". About the passages are many inconvenient cast iron "swing" windows, opening in horizontal sections, which will not close tight, but they are without guard bars. In the front walled yard, used for hospital exercise, is a Mortuary with door seen in front, and the yard itself has a door, opposite to that which leads by flat III,(which is thus available for either sex). Ascending this long stone stair a "Geyser" was found in the passage of Isolation Hospital, but it was used for heating the water for "wheel" bath only, and not for bathing on the spot. The Isolation ward is small but there is a good nurse's room, w.c. &c.

The works' workshop is built against the Private Clothes Store at back of males, reception but entered from without, and is seldom in full use. It contains a carpenter's bench, a smith's forge, and a fitter's bench, with a paint store division, and an Artisan Warder's office, (glazed), where are numerous plans remaining.

The Offices have (like the males' cell block B) very poor yellow tiles, mixed with black, in passage floor. There are here four good rooms in each side, and a Solicitor's' room, and Library in a glass division at north end , and this building differs from Bristol in having no basement below the office rooms. Ascending to the Chapel above, a low ceiling is found. There are fourteen windows, each with a hopper for ventilation 17" x 5½", and two centre flowers, with perforations under 12" tube Buchan's as Extract. At first the perforations seemed small, but subsequent examination showed the valves to be closed, and since opened, all has worked well.

The seats are good, with backs and kneelers, and Gill stoves heat the place well. Gas Lighting was introduced for a few dark winter mornings and afternoons only, but an alteration of an hour would have made the 14 windows suffice.

The Males' Prison is reserved for the last. It has four flats and 26 cell spaces length. Entering from office or south end there are four gated cells seen on the left of B I, (erroneously called locally B II,because the Boiler house is below ) and then the Chief Warder's office of two cells with one cased and one cell window, and very heavy roof beams, but no fire place! There are two warm cell inlets and two cell extracts, but these had not been swept, and did not draw well on 12th August 1903. All the doors of this block have inspection "traps", and gas boxes rendered in cement .with clear glass, and tin shutters, and large flues which cause flickering badly! The wooden corner tables have no girder support, and get loose. The men's corridor is dark as there are no windows in south gable, and nine small ones only in north end. There are three skylights which are not continuous. The railings are like the Females' Prison, and the Galleries have two intermediate supports between the brackets. There are wide stairs with cast iron risers, and (even in Females' Prison) a centre stringer! In the real "Basement", opposite the Boiler house, there are three "special" cells on east side. Complaints have been made of unequal distribution of heat to cells in this block, but the Record book does not substantiate real cold. The top flat is undoubtedly the warmest, but the heating pipes have been lately rejointed, and means taken to obtain more equal radiation.

The corridor roof has very neat iron trusses, and indeed all the rafters are iron, and the many guard bars below the distant corridor skylights form a noticeable feature, as also does (as in C) the great stair and cross landing to attics, which much blocks the light. There are eleven large clerestory windows each side, and there are w.cs to each flat in annexes on both sides, but these unfortunately have been placed opposite each other (allowing prisoners to make signs across).

The Boiler flue is in a brick chimney in eastern closet entrance. The cells are in all respects like those in Females' block, have solid 18" window breasts, and good red-tiled floors, the same tiles being found in floor of covered way to Reception. There are two condemned cells B II 1 & 43.

There can be no doubt it was intended that the ample width (16 feet) given to modern local Prison corridors, was expected to be used for prisoners' work in association. This provision has however of late years been somewhat set aside, and detached Industrial shops provided even where not required for Juvenile Adults. An example of this is seen at Nottingham, where an elaborate shop was constructed at great cost in 1905-6, which for sometime after completion was seldom adequately occupied. It stands in the north yard, near the work's workshop, and the two seem alike in their apparent want of appreciation. On the other hand, the recent extension and improvement of the wood chopping establishment is useful and appreciated.

The prison was remodelled in 1912. It prison closed in 1930, then between 1932 and 1950, the site was used as a Borstal institution known as Sherwood Borstal. In 1954, it became a Preventative Detention prison, mainly for habitual criminals. Around ten years later, it became a men's closed training prison, where inmates could learn a trade or undertake educational courses, such as the Open University. In 1997, it became a category B local prison, receiving prisoners from the courts of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

In 2008-10, the prison was rebuilt and the remaining Victorian wing demolished.


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