Shepton Mallet Prison closing as tourist attraction from January 2024

Shepton Mallet Prison was built 400-years-ago and has held ghost tours since 2017. Credit: Google Maps

The world's oldest purpose-built prison will close as a tourist attraction in January 2024, its operators have announced.

Shepton Mallet Prison was built 400 years ago and has held ghost tours and events since 2017. The Kray Twins were held there in the 1950s, while it was still a working jail.

The site is owned by City & Country, and operated by the Cove Group. The decision to close was announced on 28 November and follows a falling out between the two parties.

In a statement on the prison's website, Joel Campbell, CEO of Cove Group, said: “Over the past seven years we have invested over £1 million into Shepton Mallet Prison, and despite a relentless campaign of perseverance, our endeavours to safeguard and enhance this historical site have been met with a disheartening lack of support from City & Country.

“Our efforts to secure a future for the prison through direct purchase were not just undervalued but met with resistance and unreasonable financial demands, especially concerning property insurance costs that far exceed the market rate.

"Despite our continued efforts to negotiate and find alternative insurance arrangements, City & Country have informed us that if we do not meet their demands then notice will be served imminently.

"This impasse has forced us to make the heart-rending decision to cease operating Shepton Mallet Prison from 2 January 2024. The closure is a stark reflection of the disregard shown by City & Country towards a business that has not only celebrated but vitalised the history and economy of Shepton Mallet."

The statement added that the site's closure would result in the loss of eighteen jobs and an attraction that has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors to Somerset.

Site Manager, Charlie Lawson, said: “Our success has been a testament to the resilience, creativity, and unwavering spirit of our brilliant team.

"It has been a privilege to protect and enhance such an important part of the region’s heritage. The closure is a blow not just to us, but to the entire community that embraced us.”

Joel Campbell added: “As a team, we are proud of the indelible mark we’ve left on Shepton Mallet, Somerset, and the UK’s heritage tourism. We hope that our story will inspire future generations to cherish and protect our rich, collective history.”

Response from City and Country

In a press release, City and Country confirmed that there had been a falling-out with SG Prisons, which is part of the Cove Group, over the insurance on Shepton Mallet prison.

"SG Prisons has suggested that they could place insurance for less money however they have been unable to demonstrate that the figures that they suggested was for like for like cover as of today’s date.

"Discussions have taken place with the Cove Group regarding a possibility of agreeing terms for a sale however we were unaware that these discussions had come to an end as we were expecting a proposal from them.

"However, these are two separate issues and whilst we are happy to listen to proposals they wish to make we cannot allow the listed buildings to be put in jeopardy."