The History of HMP Ashwell
We had an opportunity to investigate Ashwell Prison with Spooktacular Events. The prison is now closed down and owned by Rutland County Council. For us to include this on The Ghost Book would mean breaking our number one rule 'All locations we investigate are accessible to you, the public.' However, the location has such an interesting history, we decided to share it with you. You also have an opportunity to explore Ashwell for yourself by booking an event with Spooktacular.
Surrounded by piles of rubble of former buildings and razor-wire fencing, it's hard to shake the uneasy feeling that greets you as soon as you enter the prison grounds. Ashwell Prison is a site steeped with emotion. First and foremost, you begin to imagine the prisoners who spent time there. Some evil and serving life sentences for heinous crimes, some remorseful for their actions and others perhaps charged with offences they didn't commit. But residual emotions may date back much further than initially imagined.
In February, 1944, units of 505 paratroopers left Northern Ireland for their long journey to Leicestershire. The US 82nd Airborne Division set up base at neighbouring Rutland, near Cottesmore Airfield. The riggers of the 82nd Parachute Maintenance Company immediately got to work. Their job was to pack and repair parachutes for training at the nearby 'jump school'. The 505, 507, 508 and the parachute infantry regiments trained at the nearby airfield in the lead up to the Normandy jump. We can only begin to imagine the feelings of these men, many of them very young. There is no doubt that accidents happened in training. One such tragedy is reported in the works of Julian Jenkins 'Langham's Wartime Experiences American Style'.
'Accidents will happen during these training periods, and one in particular happened between the Ashwell camp and Langham.
It started when an unfortunate jumper plunged to his death on the jump field at Langham. Indeed - many people, including men from the camp, witnessed the chute’s failure to open and went over to view the body.'
The prison opened in 1955 and was originally an open prison for men. In 1987 it was converted into a Category C adult male establishment. In more recent years, Ashwell Prison began to feature quite regularly in the news. In 2003, four rioters caused damage amounting to over £10,000. A prisoner was found drinking in his cell and began to behave aggressively towards a guard. The prisoner, with three others, barricaded themselves into a room and began destroying office equipment, computers and windows. When brought under control, all four inmates were transferred to other prisons.
In 2005, a prisoner suffering with Tuberculosis escaped from Leicester Royal Infirmary whilst being treated for the illness. He was described by Leicestershire Police as dangerous and infectious. He was caught two weeks later.
£6,000,000 was invested in the prison in 2008. A new wing was opened, adding 64 cells and increasing the capacity to 619. This money was wasted however, as in 2009 Ashwell hit the headlines again. This time, a riot broke out on 1oth April and lasted two days before officers brought the situation under control. It began when an inmate, serving a three year sentence, confronted staff and refused to return to his cell. As many as 400 prisoners became involved, with a 60 strong 'hardcore'. According to the Prison Officers Association spokesman Glyn Travis, the riots were brought on following a decision to remove privileges from certain prisoners. In total, around 480 prisoners were transferred and 180 were secured in cells. 75 percent of the prison had been made uninhabitable and over the following years, costs of reconstruction proved too high and the prison closed its doors.
I have only been able to find evidence of two deaths related to the prison. This isn't to say there aren't more, but evidence is extremely hard to come by. Without giving away too much information regarding the identity of the individuals, the first took place in 2005. A man died in hospital 32 years into a life sentence. He was 67 years old and his death was brought on by an earlier stroke resulting in deep vein thrombosis. The second was a young man who died of a heart attack whilst exercising in the gym in 2009.