Monday, 1 July 2013

HMP Shepton Mallet

I suppose it's not surprising that many of Britain's prisons are believed to be haunted. Shepton Mallet is one such example. Built in 1601 by order of King James I as a House of Correction and closed on 28th March 2013 as part of Government cutbacks. Today, for a small fee, Jailhouse tours are the order of the day, attracting those interested in Shepton's history. For those seeking the supernatural, there are overnight vigils available, whether by guided tour, or if you're feeling brave, you can explore the prison and grounds on your own.

Shepton has a dark history. In the early days men, women and children were held in squalid conditions.Sanitation was primitive; a breeding ground for dysentery, ulcers, venereal disease and jaundice, to mention just a few. Some of these infectious diseases often proved fatal. Bodies would be removed and buried in unconsecrated ground just outside the prison walls in unmarked graves. It is not known just how many perished within Shepton's walls.

Sentences were often long, many carried the death penalty, either by hanging (the hanging shed can still be seen) firing squad (bullet holes are still evident in the walls) and HDQ (hung, draw and quartered). There are 9 unmarked graves, that I am aware of in the prison grounds, a method of interment common practice in British jails following executions. Toward the end of WWII Shepton was run as an American military prison. Records show that 18 servicemen were executed; 16 hanged and 2 by firing squad. The last person to hang in Shepton was John Lincoln in 1926 for the murder of Edward Richards of Trowbridge.

When Shepton closed, several of its officers transferred to HMP Erlestoke (which is also reputedly haunted). Those I have interviewed tell of areas within the prison, especially A-Wing which seems to be a hotspot for unexplained events. Several officers were apprehensive when asked to work A-Wing such was the atmosphere. One cell in particular was the cause of much upset. Prisoners assigned to that cell would on occasion ask to be moved to another cell. When asked why they would tell of seeing a figure leaning over their bed. Officers would, on occasion, be alerted to the sound of a prisoner hammering with hands and feet against their cell door to be let out.

Some officers reported a 'weird presence' when in the blue tiled duty room. In January 1967 the Governor, after being inundated with so many reports, decide to call in the assistance of two Chaplains; Prebendry White, Rector of Shepton Mallet Parish Church and a Catholic Priest in an attempt to "calm" things down in the hope that their visit would go some way to reassure his nervous staff. The clergy investigated the phenomena but were skeptical from the outset. A blessing was considered, if only to pacify the officers but after some consideration judged unnecessary. In their opinion the incidences were such as to not warrant there being such a procedure. In other words they thought it all in the mind. To conclude, their advice to officers and prisoners was to forget the incidences, which prompted one officer to remarked 'that's all well and good if it hasn't happened to you.' Several officers told them of incidences of being "pinned down" by the neck and vowed never to work the duty room again. Some reported rapid temperature drops would occur spontaneously. One officer told of trying to lock the door but unable to due to a presence pushing from the other side. Prebendry spoke to the Governor at length. In his opinion the stories were groundless and he did not believe in the existence of ghosts anyway.

So helpful!

The apparition of a woman dressed in white, which, not surprising came to be known as the White Lady, has been seen several times by officers and prisoners. The story goes that in 1680 a young woman murdered her fiance' during a quarrel. She was tried and sentence to hang. The evening before her execution she was asked by the matron, as was customary, if she had any last requests. Through tears of remorse she asked for her wedding dress to be brought to her cell, this was approved. The morning of her execution she was found dead in her cell wearing the dress. A full blown manifestation of her ghost is said to haunt the landings and prison yard.

Up until its closure, prison officers still claim to hear banging, heavy breathing and a strong presence, again especially on A-Wing.

Recently, a work colleague of mine and her husband visited the prison where she claims to have had some interesting results using a EMF meter (electromagnetic field meter) and a spirit box. The latter is a device similar to a radio and said to enable communication with the spirits. Their investigation began in the Psychiatric Ward where a voice was heard through the spirit box saying 'I am so cold.' On A-Wing they asked for confirmation of the presence of the White Lady and again through the spirit box heard clearly - 'I am.' When outside and in the vicinity of the wall where the firing squad dispatched many a soul. They asked if anyone was there, a muffled message came through but one word was clear - Weston. Subsequent investigation has yet to turn up anything conclusive about Weston.

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