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Old Gaol Redevelopment Abingdon

Updated on September 22, 2014

Abingdon's Napoleonic Era Gaol

The Old Gaol was built from 1805 to 1811 by Napoleonic prisoners of war. It housed all prisoners for the County of Berkshire for 50 years and has the distinction of being the first British example of a gaol built with wings extending from a central core. It was a modern prison at the time with airy cells, exercise yards, an infirmary and chapel. From 1874 it was used as a grain store when it was bought John Creemer Clarke MP for Abingdon and owner of Clarkes's Clothing factory in West St Helens. The Old Gaol was built because of the criticism of the existing facilities but also because of Abingdon's attempt to retain its status as Assize Town.

The Old Gaol was opened as a leisure centre including a swimming pool in 1974 and closed in 2002 after the White Horse Leisure and Tennis Centre was opened.

The Old Gaol Development offers the prospect of opening Abingdon more to the Thames by offering more river side leisure activities. In the mean time archaeologists will have a fascinating opportunity to investigate a site at the very core of the oldest continuously occupied town in England. Remains of Iron age, Saxon, Roman and Medieval occupation are probable.

Redevelopment at Abingdon Old Gaol finally begins January 2011 see below.

But beware the former Old Gaol Centre Deputy Manager Mr Blosses's warning The ghosts are quite harmless and they only seem to be around when there is building work going on. Perhaps they don't like being disturbed.

Old Gaol Redevelopment Foundations June 2011

Old Gaol Redevelopment Foundations June 2011
Old Gaol Redevelopment Foundations June 2011

Concrete Foundations finally laid Old Gaol Redevelopment

Concrete Foundations finally laid Old Gaol Redevelopment
Concrete Foundations finally laid Old Gaol Redevelopment

First view of underground parking Old Gaol Redevelopment

First view of underground parking Old Gaol Redevelopment
First view of underground parking Old Gaol Redevelopment

Old Gaol Abingdon River Facing Side - New Life in Old Gaol

Abingdon developer Cranbourne Homes has been chosen by the Vale of White Horse District Council to transform and revive the Old Gaol site in Abingdon.

The deal not only opens the site up to the public with plans for cafes and shops on the ground floor and unprecedented access to the riverside gardens, but also includes provision for 24 affordable homes at two other sites in the town and space at the Old Gaol site for the Abingdon Bridge youth support project, which currently occupies the site.

The Old Gaol site will include 61 homes with underground parking provision, five to six shops and restaurants and an on-site manager. The scheme incorporates sustainable features including solar power, grey water recycling and “green” roofs.

Redevelopment at Abingdon Old Gaol finally begins - January 2011

Click thumbnail to view full-size
See the shoring stonesSee the shoring stonesThe first concrete laid
See the shoring stones
See the shoring stones
See the shoring stones
See the shoring stones
The first concrete laid
The first concrete laid

Abingdon Gaol Entrance - Old Gaol Information according to the Old Gaol Information Pack

1. The Old Gaol

The ground floor will have restaurants, cafes/bars with open access to members of the public and to the riverside garden. The developer wishes to have information about the history of the site in this space and would welcome help from the Town Council and community groups with this. The upper floors of the Old Gaol building will be converted into ten apartments.

2. Riverside Garden

Unprecedented access to the riverside garden will be guaranteed for the public. A pedestrian route along the riverside from Bridge Street will be opened up and an open route from the courtyard directly into the garden will also be created. These two access routes will not require people to enter any of the commercial premises in order to use the garden. For community safety reasons these routes will only be open during daylight hours. It will be possible for members of the public to access the garden through the Old Gaol facilities during their opening hours. Members of the public will also be able to walk around the back of the Old Gaol (between it and the new apartments) to access the garden during daylight hours except on Sundays and bank holidays. The developers have also hope that the Riverside Gardens can become a setting for open air events and concerts.

3. Bridge Street and Bridge View

The ground floors of existing buildings will be converted for commercial uses (such as shops) and the upper floors into five residential units.

4. The Old Police Station

The Police Station Annex which links the Police Station to 25 Bridge Street will be demolished to give improved vehicular access to the site and to open a new view of the Gaol from Bridge Street. The original Old Police Station will be converted to provide community space in part of the ground floor which will be offered to the Abingdon Bridge Project and the remainder of the building converted into three apartments.

Visit Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Old Gaol Outbuildings Demolition Begins

These include the massive gym and swimming pool hall and a few outbuildings

Old Gaol Redevelopment Poll

Old Gaol Redevelopment, Do you approve of the redevelopment

See results

Out Buildings Demolished

Video of the Old Gaol Before Redevelopment

A last record of the out-buildings and swimming-pool block that have now been demolished

Building Demolished to Provide Access to The Old Gaol

Turnagain Lane would never have been adequate as it exits on the pinch-point of Bridge Street.

Building Demolished to Provide an Entrance to the old Gaol

Building Apparently Dated from 1842 had been long empty. It is possible to see that the buildings must have been used by the police as you can see the recently bricked up doorway (perhaps you can see from the photo).

The Old Police Station is a Grade II listed building

1856 - Opened

1999 - Closed when a new police station opened away from the town centre.

Old Gaol Redevelopment Plans

Abingdon Old Gaol Redevelopment Schematic/model

Final development may differ. The contract was won by Cranbourne Homes.

Abingdon Old Gaol Redevelopment Swimming Pool Demolished

The Abingdon Blogger photographed this rather forlorn swimming pool depth sign on a remaining wall of the Old Swimming Pool.

Last view of Old Gaol Swimming Pool

Last of the Old Swimming Pool Abingdon Gaol

Abingdonians will recognise the balcony where the swimming pool cafe was located.

The Ghost of Abingdon Gaol

Youngest person ever hanged in England

Supposedly an 8 year old boy who with evil malice had fired several barns was hanged in Abingdon Gaol. His ghost is supposed to haunt the building. Mieneke Cox prominent and the sadly recently deceased Abingdon Historian claimed that there were no records of this event. Whether true or urban legend the story is out and has even featured on the BBC. So is it another Urban Legend?

View of Old Gaol Outbuilding Demolition from St Ethelwolds East St Helens

Old Gaol Original Entrance in Delapidated State

The building on the Right was at one time a delightful tearoom. the other half was for a longtime Abingdon's Tourist Information Office.

Twickenham House East St Helens will be Integrated into the Old Gaol Development

The Tomkins family, who were Baptists, maltsters and builders and were responsible for several fine houses in Abingdon, notably Stratton House (1722), the Clock House (1728) and Twickenham House (1756).

According to the Vale Information Pack, Cranbourne Homes is owned and run by father and son team Mick and Shaun Dominic. They already own Twickenham House in East St Helen Street, which is next to the Old Gaol, and plan to redevelop the entire site to allow public access from East St Helen Street right through to the riverside gardens.

Books Referencing the Old Gaol

  • Excavations Old Gaol Abingdon, Miles, D. and others, Oxoniensia vol 40 1975
  • Excavations Old Gaol Abingdon, Parrington, Michael, Oxoniensia vol XL 1975
  • Excavations in Abingdon, 1972-4 The Animal Bones from the Broad Street and Old Gaol sites. R. WILSON

    With D. BRAMWELL and A. WHEELER

  • Abingdon an 18th Century Country Town by Mieneke Cox

Abingdon Gaol Timeline History and Facts - The New Gaol

I call the Old Gaol "old" even though at one time it was obviously the "New Model Gaol"

  1. The previous Gaol in the rooms above St Nicolas Arch had become notorious as reported by John Howard Sheriff of Bedford and prison reformer. (The arch and rooms still exist)
  2. 1805 Construction of Old Gaol begins

    French prisoner of wars were used.

  3. In 1803 the corporation sold the White Hart Inn for conversion to a House of Correction and Gaol. The idea of conversion was abandoned and plans for the imposing building we know today. There were 3 wings of which one for women, exercise was possible in the courts between the wings. There was a chapel and an infirmary in the central block. There were four categories of prisoners, debtors, felons, women and those awaiting trial. There was a colonnaded forecourt which may be seen in an early painting. A Grand Jury room, judges lodgings and school room were also provided.
  4. 1811 Old Gaol Opened

    The Old Gaol had cost £26,000s. A Hemmings was a turnkey

  5. 1820 Sir Charles Wolseley, 7th Baronet gaoled for 18 months

    The 7th Baronet Sir Charles was a well travelled man, spending many years in France and was even part of the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution. He was a very outspoken character back in England and in 1820 he was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay £1,000 in fines for his behaviour

  6. William Gerring was Deputy Governor of the gaol, 1851 and 1861
  7. 1865 Parliament

    SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID wished to remark with regard to Abingdon Gaol that the Court of Quarter Sessions had expressed an opinion that it was unnecessary. The average number of prisoners in it was only five. Large counties found one prison quite sufficient, and the question was whether the county of Berks was to continue to be taxed for the benefit of a few inhabitants of Abingdon and the officers of the gaol. Sir George Bowyer of Radley argued that iIf Abingdon Gaol were done away with, the sessions and assizes must be held at Reading, and the sessions for Abingdon could not be held at all, so that the criminal jurisdiction would be entirely taken away from that end of the county, and great inconvenience and hardship would thus be inflicted upon jurymen and witnesses there resident. There was a tendency to take everything to Reading, but he thought that exceedingly unjust, and he should always continue to resist that encroachment on the part of the Reading end of the county

  8. 1868 Old Gaol Closed as a Prison

    Abingdon having lost its status as County Town of Berkshire, then lost its County Gaol the prisoners were transferred to Reading.

  9. 1874 Old Gaol sold to John Creemer Clarke

    Sold for just £2,500

  10. 1880 Sold on to Charles Woodridge

    Sold for just £2000. Charles was a saddler and corn dealer and used the Old Gaol for storing Corn. Other sections turned into tenement dwellings. Charles also added the buildings which front Bridge Street, which were considered a great improvement.

  11. 1920's Corn Store

    The former County Gaol is now used as a store for the stocks of Messrs Harris & Matthews, Corn

    Chandlers, whose shop occupies the frontage of the large stone house, facing the Street at the

    entrance to the yard. Next is the Police Station, and then a narrow entry named Turnagain Lane.

    This leads to a courtyard full of small stone cottages, crammed together round the edge of the yard.

    These were once the residences of the prison Guards.

  12. 29th Nov 1975 Old Gaol Leisure Centre Opened

    The Old Gaol was opened as a leisure centre including a swimming pool in 1974. A small cinema, theater,a bar and a cafe. This cost an enormous £1.25 million. Built by Amey Construction. Prince Philip visits.

  13. 1998, 24th September

    The Reading "Evening Post" reports that staff at Abingdon Sports and

    Leisure Centre have complained of ghostly laughing and knocking. old gaol's deputy manager Steve Blosse has not had any chilling experiences he says many of his staff have had ghostly encounters. He continued the ghosts are quite harmless and they only seem to be around when there is building work going on. Perhaps they don't like being disturbed."

  14. 2002 The Old Gaol Closed

    White Horse Leisure and Tennis Centre opened in Audlett Drive.

  15. 2006 Old Gaol Site put up for Sale
  16. 2010 Demolition of "Modern" Outbuildings

    See Timeline for the Redevelopment for more information

  17. January 2011

    Evidence of ground preparation but not one brick laid.

  18. February 2011

    Foundations being laid

Riddle of the Boy Hanged in Abingdon Gaol

He is said to haunt the Gaol

Probably the youngest child executed in England was John Dean who was convicted of arson at the Abingdon Assizes on the 23rd of February 1629. His age is given in The Annals of Windsor as between eight and nine years and he had set fire to two houses in Windsor. It would appear that the judge, Mr. Justice Whitelock, found evidence of malice, revenge and cunning and therefore did not recommend a reprieve for the boy.

This is well before the Gaol, but is likely the origin of the legend.

The Building of Abingdon Gaol

When the prison was being built the French prisoners who were used to build the New Gaol were kept at night under lock and key. The French Officers as befit their class were allowed to lodge in the town on the condition of Gentleman's Honour, however some were so home sick they tried to escape.

Thames-Side Stone Buildings to be integrated into the Old Gaol Redevelopment.

These were used until recently by small businesses, wit a marvellous view of Nags Head Island

Rear of Old Gaol 19th June 2010

Not much going on

View of Nags Head Island and Burford Bridge from the Old Gaol

This is a Thames backwater. View of the Nags Head Nags Island

Old Gaol Redevelopment Timeline

It should be noted that the redevelopment was negotiated during the worst depression in the housing in recent times.

  1. December 2006

    The Old Gaol in Abingdon will be put on the market by the Vale of White Horse District Council for development bids in the New Year.

  2. January 2009

    Plans to transform the Old Gaol site in Abingdon were given unanimous approval on 26 January 2009. Cranbourne Homes was chosen by the Council to transform and revive the Old Gaol site in Abingdon.

  3. July 2009

    THE Audit Commission has thrown out complaints that the redevelopment of Abingdon's Old Gaol was a bad deal for taxpayers. The £25m project in Bridge Street will see the construction of 61 two- and three-bedroom homes including eight penthouses with terraces overlooking the River Thames.

  4. March 2010

    Demolition of outbuildings and the 1974 Swimming pool block. Also demolition of two houses on Bridge St to allow vehicular access.

  5. June 2010

    Demolition and entrance complete. Little activity.

  6. September 2010

    Abingdon Herald announces that the Old Gaol is expected to earn the Vale of White Horse District Council about £4m.

    The Vale council received a £2m down payment for selling the historic site to Cranbourne Homes, and more cash was expected on top from the sale of 61 units which is expected to be worth another £2m.

Archaeological Dig at Old Gaol Redevelopment July 2010 - John Moore Heritage Services

Access to River front and Turnagain Lane Restored

Old Gaol View from Abingdon Bridge

The Old Gaol dominates the view when approaching Abingdon from the East

View of Old Gaol from Burford Bridge, Nags Head Island, Abingdon

A view largely unchanged for 200 years.

Old Gaol from County Hall BEFORE outbuildings Demolished

This photo allows you to see what has been demolished including the very substantial Swimming Pool Hall and Gym. Compare this photo with one taken below in July 2010

Old Gaol from Abingdon County Hall Roof July 2010 - After demolishment of outbuildings

See above for a picture taken before building demolished

Massive Development Area Created in Heart of Abingdon

Old Gaol Abingdon Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
View of Crown and Thistle Inn, Restaurant and Hotel from Turnagain LaneTurner Brothers Demolition demolished a pair of houses that were presumably used as an extension to the Old Police Station as the bricked up passageway indicates. The buildings were demolished to create a road entrance to the new development.The old sports centre was huge but largely hidden from view. Image from Abingdon Blog.
View of Crown and Thistle Inn, Restaurant and Hotel from Turnagain Lane
View of Crown and Thistle Inn, Restaurant and Hotel from Turnagain Lane
Turner Brothers Demolition demolished a pair of houses that were presumably used as an extension to the Old Police Station as the bricked up passageway indicates. The buildings were demolished to create a road entrance to the new development.
Turner Brothers Demolition demolished a pair of houses that were presumably used as an extension to the Old Police Station as the bricked up passageway indicates. The buildings were demolished to create a road entrance to the new development.
The old sports centre was huge but largely hidden from view. Image from Abingdon Blog.
The old sports centre was huge but largely hidden from view. Image from Abingdon Blog.

John Moore Heritage Services Archaeologists for Abingdon Old Gaol - Digging back into Abingdon's Prehistory

I've heard that John Moore Heritage Services are amazed by how many layers of history they have found on the cleared land behind Twickenham House. I can't remember whether I heard 5 or 7 layers in any case they are digging deeper and deeper and brought a mechanical digger in again. They have also started a satellite excavation. The local history society AAAHS : Abingdon Area Archaeological and Historical Society could have advised as much as they excavated a Roman building here many years ago. The AAAHS were astonished that their advice and input was not sought. Roger Thomas the AAAHS Chairman made many requests in this respect.

Abingdon Old Gaol Redevelopment Stalled December 2010

Abingdon Old Gaol Redevelopment Stalled December 2010
Abingdon Old Gaol Redevelopment Stalled December 2010

Old Gaol Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Former passage to demolished buildings, Abingdon Old GaolOld Gaol viewed from East St Helens in the snow
Former passage to demolished buildings, Abingdon Old Gaol
Former passage to demolished buildings, Abingdon Old Gaol
Old Gaol viewed from East St Helens in the snow
Old Gaol viewed from East St Helens in the snow

Abingdon Old Gaol restored to original awaiting redevelopment in the snow 2010

Abingdon Old Gaol restored to original awaiting redevelopment in the snow 2010
Abingdon Old Gaol restored to original awaiting redevelopment in the snow 2010

First Wall Built at Old Gaol Abingdon

First Wall Built at Old Gaol Abingdon
First Wall Built at Old Gaol Abingdon

Old Gaol Underground Car Park

Old Gaol Underground Car Park
Old Gaol Underground Car Park

Old Gaol From Nags Island Abingdon - The Underground Garage is nearly complete

Abingdon Old Gaol Redevelopment Takes Shape

Abingdon Old Gaol Redevelopment Takes Shape
Abingdon Old Gaol Redevelopment Takes Shape

08Oct11

What are your memories of the Old Gaol Leisure Centre?

Abingdon Gaol Guestbook

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: The evaluation did not indicate all those layers Dave... in fact info was way off.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      What you have heard about JMHS being "Amazed" about the number of "layers" is totally incorrect considering they had already undertaken an evaluation of the site.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Oh my, this is a fun lens to look at the photos on. I just love it when old buildings get their day of lip-stick and rouge .