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The former Tread-wheel House at HMP Shepton Mallet

A Grade II* Listed Building in Shepton Mallet, Somerset

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Latitude: 51.191 / 51°11'27"N

Longitude: -2.5434 / 2°32'36"W

OS Eastings: 362119

OS Northings: 143669

OS Grid: ST621436

Mapcode National: GBR MS.5CFD

Mapcode Global: VH8B0.VBRB

Entry Name: The former Tread-wheel House at HMP Shepton Mallet

Listing Date: 10 March 2014

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1417744

Location: Shepton Mallet, Mendip, Somerset, BA4

County: Somerset

District: Mendip

Civil Parish: Shepton Mallet

Built-Up Area: Shepton Mallet

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset

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Shepton Mallet


A former tread-wheel house built in 1823 by Stothert and Pitt, and based on a proto-type designed by Sir William Cubitt in 1819, converted into offices in the early C20.


MATERIALS: exposed rubble limestone with stone ashlar dressings and a slate roof.

PLAN: a rectangular plan, formerly with wheel and gear wheels arranged vertically and accessed via a series of yards to the front, with hospital rooms above.

EXTERIOR: the front elevation of the tread-wheel house has a row of ten segmental arches at ground-floor level which formerly opened up to a series of walled yards that ran along the full length of the front of the building, and could be overlooked by guards from a stone inspection terrace. The prisoners accessed the six sections of the tread-wheel from the yards, the positions of which are marked by six large segmental arches at first-floor level (now closed off). The first floor is accessed via steps to the centre and the corners of the building leading to a gallery that runs along the entire width of the building, probably roughly at the height where prisoners would have accessed the wheel. The stone rubble wall, enclosing the left-hand stairs, may have formed part of the former walls to the yards. To either side of the six large arches, is a narrow opening, each giving access to a stair leading to the former infirmary on the third floor. This floor has eleven, multi-paned windows, set above the string-course, including three taller window openings to the centre, which were probably inserted at a later date.

The rear elevation of the tread-wheel house and its north end are blind, the latter forming part of the prison’s perimeter wall. The south end has a wedge-shaped lean-to rising up to just under the eaves, with a central, segmental-arched doorway to the ground floor and two narrow vents set under the eaves. The rear of the lean-to forms part of the perimeter wall (formerly rising up to the eaves of the tread-wheel house).

INTERIOR: the tread-wheel house was converted into offices in the early-C20, at which point a floor was inserted at the current first-floor level. Arches marking the position of the former tread-wheels remain visible inside the building. The arches at ground-floor level are used for storage. No further fixtures and fittings of note survive on the ground and first floor. The top floor (the former infirmary), was not inspected, though the stairs leading to it, on either side of the building, survive.


Shepton Mallet House of Correction was built in the early C17 and in use by 1625. By the second half of the C18 the buildings were in a poor state of repair and the institution was described by John Howard, the well-known C18, prison reformer, as a 'shocking place’. In 1790 much of the prison was rebuilt including a gatehouse and Keeper’s House which were newly erected, incorporating parts of the early boundary wall. However, the pre-C19 prison remained a haphazard arrangement of buildings.

Between 1818 and 1820 a major new scheme of works was carried out to improve the prison facilities. The architect was George Allen Underwood (c. 1793-1829) who was County Surveyor for Somerset and Dorset. The new prison incorporated the earlier blocks along Cornhill, with new blocks added to the south. The new wings were arranged in a quadrangle plan frequently employed in the late-C18 and early-C19, with a central courtyard divided into wall-enclosed yards, an administration block to the north, and other prison facilities to the east, south and west including day rooms on the ground floor and sleeping cells on the upper floors. In 1823 a tread-wheel, to be worked by prisoners, was constructed in the north-west corner of the main prison, which powered a mill building erected outside the prison (now no longer extant). The tread-wheel house was accessed by inmates via a narrow passage that ran from the main courtyard in the quadrangle through the current B wing (the western cell wing to the prison quadrangle), leading to the triangular shaped work yard and tread-wheel house to its west. Both the mill building and the tread-wheel house at Shepton Mallet were built by George Stothert's foundry in Bath, who also supplied the machinery. The tread-wheel is an adaption of a proto-type designed by Sir William Cubitt in 1819, with the wheels and gear wheels arranged vertically.

In 1830 the early blocks on Cornhill were replaced with a more regular front range, and an impressive Classical-style gatehouse. A ground plan dated 26 June 1830, drawn up by Richard Carver (c.1792-1862), Somerset County Surveyor, accompanied the building contract and shows that a female ward with an attached semi-circular chapel were also part of the scheme and were added to the south end of the courtyard prison. By the early 1840's the issue of overcrowding forced another phase of major alterations to increase cell capacity. Plans and a specification for work were prepared on 27 February 1843 by Carver. This scheme saw existing prison ranges adapted to form what would largely become the present day A (east), B (west) and the D Wing (south). A corridor was added to the east side of the original east wing by roofing over the gap between the cell block and the perimeter wall, allowing the cells to open onto an internal corridor rather than the courtyard as they had previously. A corridor and an extra line of cells were added to the west wing. An upper storey was added to all of the wings. Another corridor was created along the north side of the southern range of the prison to serve as the reception on the ground floor and the hospital above. Apart from internal refurbishment and re-fenestration, the main quadrangle has changed little since the 1840s. In 1848 the need for better female accommodation was recognised and a U shaped range (known as C wing), including a prison wing and a chapel (now used as a gym) were built on the site of the 1830s female ward and chapel.

In 1878 responsibility for the prison passed from the county to the Prison Commission, which was formed under the 1877 Prison Act. Shepton continued as a House of Correction until 1884 when it became the County Gaol. In 1903 the tread-wheel house was converted into an industrial shop. On the night of the 2 July 1904 a fire engulfed the main prison, resulting in the destruction of the roofs of the three cell wings, and leading to a major refurbishment, including the replacement of the original timber roof. This work continued into 1907 when the female wing (C wing) was also refurbished. The prison was closed in 1930.

In 1938, to protect the valuable collection of the Public Record Office in case war would break out, parts of its collection were moved to the prison in Shepton Mallet, including a copy of the Magna Carta. In 1940 the prison was taken over by the British Army and was occupied by the Royal Pioneer Corps. In 1942 it was used by the United States forces as a detention centre for their soldiers, at which point a two-storey brick execution chamber was added to the south side of the main prison block. At the end of the war the buildings were once again in use by the British Army. The site reverted to a civilian prison in 1966 and a new kitchen, boiler room, chapel and education block was built to the west side of the main quadrangle. Later, a separate factory block was added across the road on the south side of the site, and linked to the main prison site by a footbridge. Further buildings were added including a furnace complex and a new gatehouse along with a vehicular gate in the south-east corner of the prison, relegating the C19 gatehouse to a ceremonial entrance.

In the 1990s substantial refurbishment of the interior wings took place as part of a national programme of improvement of the Prison service. HMP Shepton Mallet closed early in 2013.

Reasons for Listing

The former tread-wheel house at HMP Shepton Mallet, erected by Stothert & Pitt in 1823, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: it is a particularly early and rare survival of a C19 prison tread-wheel house based on an important and influential design by the engineer William Cubitt;

* Historic interest: it makes a particularly important contribution to the understanding of the development of the C19 penal system both in architectural and in socio-historic terms, and in particular the use of forced labour;

* Intactness: for a building of this type and date, its level of intactness is exceptionally high;

* Group value: it has strong group value with the other neighbouring listed prison buildings, some listed at Grade ll*.

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