Flashback to January 2013

2013

The final parade, March 22, 2013.
The final parade, March 22, 2013.

The shock death sentence was announced on January 10, 2013.

Shrewsbury's centuries-old jail was to close, the Ministry of Justice said.

The Dana had done its time. After its many years of service, admittedly not necessarily appreciated by those within its thick walls, it had been condemned as too old and too costly.

It was also very overcrowded, the second most overcrowded prison in England and Wales, with 326 prisoners held in a space designed for 170, according to a Prison Reform Trust report shortly before that closure announcement.

Shrewsbury jail is a Grade II listed building.

It was one of six prisons in England which would, it was stated, shut forever on April 1, 2013, although in the event Shrewsbury effectively shut before then, with the last prisoners moving out on February 27.

The reason? It was a drive to scrap ageing prisons and cut costs by £63 million a year.

An official ceremony was held on March 22 to mark the end of over 200 years of the site as a jail, when over 200 prison officers and other staff marched out of the gates for the final time.

The final parade, March 22, 2013.

The jail was, and is, part of Shrewsbury's heritage and history, an unlikely gem, being Grade II listed for its historic and architectural value.

The relatively sudden closure of such a substantial building so close to the town centre also raised the question of what should happen to it afterwards.

Turning it into a hotel was one popular suggestion, following the lead at Oxford where the jail there had been converted into a luxury hotel.

For Shrewsbury there was however a different direction, with proposals put forward for a mixed scheme, which led to a long planning wrangle with Shropshire Council.

Today part of it is run as a visitor attraction, with what might be termed "prison experiences," although the building has been on the market since 2019, through Towler Shaw Roberts in Shrewsbury.

If you're interested, price is on application, and it comes with planning permission which includes student accommodation and 59 apartments on the main complex site and a further nine on the visitors' car park.

According to TSR's online sale documents A and C wings, the kitchen, and part of D wing, are currently occupied by Jailhouse Tours on a temporary licence.

For all its forbidding aspect, it is unlikely that old lags will have Shrewsbury down as one of the toughest institutions within the prison service. Even the prison food was once praised for its high standard in a “Good Jail Guide”.

The cells had integral sanitation – the days of slopping out were over – power, and television. Back in 2004 well-behaved inmates could enjoy the reward of being given a Freeview television box, meaning they could access dozens of channels, including the shopping channel.

One of the cells, pictured here shortly before the closure.

In the end it was a men's Category C prison, or Category B/C according to some reports, but in its time it had hosted some notorious A-list convicts.

One was the insanely violent "Mad Frankie" Fraser who was sent there in 1945 and was given 18 strokes of the cat (still used then in jails) for attacking the governor with an ebony ruler snatched from the governor's desk.

Another was one of the great train robbers, Robert Welch, who was there for a time in 1964 after being given a 30-year sentence.

And then there was Sidney Noble, known as “Doctor Death”, who interrupted his 10-year sentence in 1979 to marry a woman from Kettering at Shrewsbury Register Office.

The main cell block at Shrewsbury prison in 1971.

A grim aspect was that it was a place of execution for many years, which in older times was done in public before great crowds.

In April 1822 five prisoners were hanged for burglary in just one day.

The practice was to bury the body of the executed offender within the prison precincts.

During a redevelopment in 1972, the remains of 10 unnamed prisoners executed at Shrewsbury Prison were dug up. Nine were cremated and one set was handed over to relatives.

The last execution at Shrewsbury was almost exactly 60 years ago, on February 9, 1961.

A jail was completed on the site in 1793, although the building today is largely Victorian with Thomas Telford's gatehouse being one of the few surviving 18th century features.

Since its closure thousands of people have had tours of the building, and it has been the venue too for popular ghost tours – according to paranormal groups it is believed to be the second most haunted former jail in the world.

Unsurprisingly it has proven to be a ready-made set for film and television, with scenes shot there including a prison riot for Coronation Street, and the TV drama Time, starring Sean Bean and Stephen Graham.

Sean Bean and Stephen Graham in Time
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