WITH VIDEO: Doors close at Dorchester prison for final time

Dorset Echo: Doors close at Dorchester prison for final time Doors close at Dorchester prison for final time

THE DOORS of HMP Dorchester have officially closed.

It was with ‘heavy hearts’ that hundreds gathered yesterday in North Square to mark a ‘sad day’ in the history of the county town.

Staff members joined former workers and a host of local dignitaries as the prison’s flag was lowered for the last time.

Video of the closing ceremony

They were reassured that the closure had ‘nothing to do’ with the performance of the prison, which is one of four to be axed across England.

Governor Carole Draper said staff should be proud of their achievements and leave HMP Dorchester with their ‘heads held high’.

She said there would never be a good time for the closure but was grateful it ‘came at a time when other alternatives were available for staff’.

She added: “Dorchester was a high-performing jail and the decision to close had absolutely nothing to do with its performance.

“The decision was made at a time when other alternatives were available for the staff and an awful lot of them have stayed within the prison service. That means that all of their skills and expertise has been retained.”

She said she was touched that so many people had come to the public closing ceremony, which followed a private service for staff.

She said: “This is a significant day in the history of Dorchester.

“The jail has been part of the town for many, many centuries and now staff will never take the walk up to North Square again.”

It is believed that 90 percent of staff have been allocated other jobs while 10 percent have taken voluntary redundancy.

In a statement read out on behalf of staff they said their time at Dorchester would ‘always be in our hearts’ and they were proud to work in a prison where ‘people can be appreciated for who they are, not what they have been convicted of’.

Dorchester became the county town of Dorset due the jail.

Dorchester Mayor Stella Jones said the date of the first prison – 1305 – is ‘so important’ that it is featured on the mayor’s badge.

She added: “Dorchester prison has been at the heart of Dorchester.

“The people welcomed the prison here and the people who worked in the prison were part of the community. It is a sad day when we no longer see them walking to North Square to do their jobs.”

After the lowering of the flag, the procession travelled to the town pump, where town crier Alistair Chisholm gave the last ‘Oh ye!’ for HMP Dorchester.

The bells of St Peter’s church rang out and traffic stopped as officers marched their way down High West Street.

Alistair said: “This really is an historic day in the history of Dorchester.

“I know from the visits I have made to HMP Dorchester that it was an excellent facility.

“The staff were so proud to say ‘we may be a small jail but we are a good jail’.”

 

 

The end of time for Dorchester prison

 

 

ATTEMPTED jail breaks, ‘entertaining’ episodes and controversy over conditions have littered the long history of the ‘county gaol’.

Dorchester has not been without a prison since the 1300s.

But now seven centuries of crime and punishment are over.

HMP Dorchester is the fourth recorded prison in Dorchester – the last in a line that dates back to 1305, when King Edward I wrote letters confirming the county’s jail would be here.

Town crier Alistair Chisholm said: “Dorchester’s reign as the county town started when it was chosen to hold the county jail.

“One could argue that after its closure, we are no longer the county town.

“It has an integral part in Dorchester’s history and has helped make the town what it is today.”

This first Dorchester prison was at the corner of Icen Way and High East Street, and this end of Icen Way was called Goal Lane.

In the middle of Icen Way was Bell Lane.

And Bell Lane housed the Old Bell Inn, where condemned prisoners would take their last meal before the doomed walk to Gallows Hill.

Dorchester’s second recorded prison was built in 1633, at the bottom of High East Street.

Some years later, various prisoners from the Monmouth rebellion died in this jail.

The third of Dorchester’s prisons was built on the same site in 1784 and remained only until 1793 when it was sold – and replaced by a building on the site of the prison we see today.

This prison cost £18,883 to build on land given by Francis Browne, then MP for Dorset.

Conditions inside the prison were gloomy. Most of what we know has been found in letters written by prisoners themselves.

One of the best-known examples is the story of Gilbert Wakefield, an 18th century clergyman, who was sent to HMP Dorchester for two years after writing a controversial pamphlet about social reform.

Wakefield decided to devote himself to helping other prisoners less fortunate, making enquiries and giving them food and clothing. He would buy large quantities of mackerel for them, which were brought to the jail by Weymouth fishermen.

Upon his release, Wakefield brought many of the cases of the prisoners he met to the attention of Dorchester Magistrates. He appealed for an official inquiry into the jail, but to no avail.

It was his time in Dorchester prison that Wakefield’s family blamed for his premature death.

And it wasn’t until around 76 years later that officials would finally recognise the conditions he had tried to bring to their attention.

In the mid-nineteenth century, around 1877, responsibility for Dorchester jail was transferred to the Prison Commission.

At this time it was surveyed- and the commission found the prison to be ‘generally in such a state and so obsolete in its construction that nothing is left for the government but to set about its reconstruction’.

And so stands the HMP Dorchester we see today.

The past of North Square may be finished but it is hoped an exciting future awaits.

Since the closure of the prison was announced in September, Dorchester Civic Society has been busy setting up a working group to see what can be done to capitalise on the historic site.

The group, which includes an architect, surveyor, town planner and urban planner has set out a ‘vision’ for what it wants to see in the place of the prison.

Alan Rowley, chairman of the Civic Society, said: “The closure is a big day for Dorchester.

“The closure is bad news for Dorchester – loss of employment, the rehabilitation and so on.

“But we have to look for the opportunity in the loss.”

The prison stands on a site occupied since Roman times, including a castle which stood from around 1137 until the 14th century.”

In 1986, rebuilding of the wall around the prison revealed the castle’s defences.

As archaeologist Jo Chaplin told the Echo at the time: “The site has been in continuous occupation since Roman times and successive developments have meant that any remains are very jumbled up.”

English Heritage has surveyed the building to see if anything, aside from the listed gates, needs protecting.

Once this is known, the planning process can begin for what is hoped will be a bright future for an historic part of town.

Comments (8)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

7:24pm Tue 17 Dec 13

bargain price says...

Funny how some people say its too old and run down for prisoners, but it not a holiday camp you know your sent to prison for a reason
Funny how some people say its too old and run down for prisoners, but it not a holiday camp you know your sent to prison for a reason bargain price

10:06pm Tue 17 Dec 13

David_divenghy2 says...

Look at those criminals at the front, the greatest lie ever told.
Look at those criminals at the front, the greatest lie ever told. David_divenghy2

10:39pm Tue 17 Dec 13

troggers says...

Where was our MP Mr Letwin on the day Dorchester Prison closed. To busy or just couldn't be bothered to attend the closing ceremony, another slap in the face for people who elected him and the county town.
Well done to all those who took part in the closing ceremony, Goverment didn't support you, but you did Dorchester proud. GOOD LUCK AND BEST WISHES TO ALL DORCHESTER PRISON STAFF.
Where was our MP Mr Letwin on the day Dorchester Prison closed. To busy or just couldn't be bothered to attend the closing ceremony, another slap in the face for people who elected him and the county town. Well done to all those who took part in the closing ceremony, Goverment didn't support you, but you did Dorchester proud. GOOD LUCK AND BEST WISHES TO ALL DORCHESTER PRISON STAFF. troggers

12:08am Wed 18 Dec 13

dorchesterk says...

Sad
Sad dorchesterk

8:24am Wed 18 Dec 13

wurzelbasher says...

Another blot from this useless Government. Not enough money to go round because it all leaves the country in EU payments and Foreign Aid.
Vote UKIP and let's have a complete change with the way this country is run!
Another blot from this useless Government. Not enough money to go round because it all leaves the country in EU payments and Foreign Aid. Vote UKIP and let's have a complete change with the way this country is run! wurzelbasher

11:12am Wed 18 Dec 13

Hunter4 says...

Our West Dorset MP stated the building isn't fit for purpose although every report from resettlement through to security disagrees with this.
HMP Dorchester was a highly performing establishment in EVERY area!
Very sad that instead of our tory MP fighting for jobs in his area he's doing the exact opposite.
I feel for all of our youngsters leaving school who have to leave the area these days in search of a career, although again our MP tried to justify it by stating this has always happened, no actually it hasn't Mr Letwin.... if you were from West Dorset you would know teenagers leaving school would have been employed at places such as Winfrith, Herrison hospital, which were closed by the government & Eldridge Pope, along with the fact that county hall and the post office only advertise for temp staff and now with the prison closing teenagers who want to stay with their friends and family in their home town are now leaving in droves not because they want to but because they have to.
Everyone across the country is feeling the pain caused by this government at the moment and West Dorset is certainly no different and is gradually being devastated
Our West Dorset MP stated the building isn't fit for purpose although every report from resettlement through to security disagrees with this. HMP Dorchester was a highly performing establishment in EVERY area! Very sad that instead of our tory MP fighting for jobs in his area he's doing the exact opposite. I feel for all of our youngsters leaving school who have to leave the area these days in search of a career, although again our MP tried to justify it by stating this has always happened, no actually it hasn't Mr Letwin.... if you were from West Dorset you would know teenagers leaving school would have been employed at places such as Winfrith, Herrison hospital, which were closed by the government & Eldridge Pope, along with the fact that county hall and the post office only advertise for temp staff and now with the prison closing teenagers who want to stay with their friends and family in their home town are now leaving in droves not because they want to but because they have to. Everyone across the country is feeling the pain caused by this government at the moment and West Dorset is certainly no different and is gradually being devastated Hunter4

11:13am Wed 18 Dec 13

PENITAR says...

bargain price wrote:
Funny how some people say its too old and run down for prisoners, but it not a holiday camp you know your sent to prison for a reason
Yes - like a two week visit for alleged rates arrears, so nicely covering up Purbeck District Council maladministration in failing to provide full information as would have avoided such allegation !

Cost::- Deprivation of Liberty and 12 times the amount of arrears alleged !

Prison staff were absolutely professional / reasonable and helpful and the meals (prepared / served by inmates) were Brilliant.

A credit to the Prison Service - sad to see it go.
[quote][p][bold]bargain price[/bold] wrote: Funny how some people say its too old and run down for prisoners, but it not a holiday camp you know your sent to prison for a reason[/p][/quote]Yes - like a two week visit for alleged rates arrears, so nicely covering up Purbeck District Council maladministration in failing to provide full information as would have avoided such allegation ! Cost::- Deprivation of Liberty and 12 times the amount of arrears alleged ! Prison staff were absolutely professional / reasonable and helpful and the meals (prepared / served by inmates) were Brilliant. A credit to the Prison Service - sad to see it go. PENITAR

11:30am Wed 18 Dec 13

shy talk says...

Another loss to the local economy. However I wonder what would be the feelings of people. If the government decided to build a modern prison near Dorchester. Dare I say at Poundbury?
Another loss to the local economy. However I wonder what would be the feelings of people. If the government decided to build a modern prison near Dorchester. Dare I say at Poundbury? shy talk

Comments are closed on this article.

click2find

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree