The Buildings That Replaced London's Prisons

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 21 months ago
The Buildings That Replaced London's Prisons

Throughout its life, London's status as a major metropolis led to it attracting its fair portion of crime, which in turn led to prisons being built, many of which are no longer standing today. We've found a few interesting modern structures that now sit on their remains.

Tate Britain which is where Millbank Prison once stood. Photo: James Beard

Millbank Prison

Author Henry James once visited Millbank Prison and described it as, 'lying there, sprawling over the neighbourhood with brown, bare, windowless walls, truncated pinnacles and a character unspeakably sad and stern.'

Standing on its former site is a radically different establishment: Tate Britain. The gallery doesn't inspire the same misery as its predecessor for most people, but we're sure there's a modern art hater out there somewhere — dragged along on a family day out — feeling like an inmate on the inside.

Newgate Prison

It's a nice touch that you can still see menacing bars from the Old Bailey. Photo: JAY

This is perhaps the most apt out of any of the transformations listed. From one branch of the justice system to another, where Newgate Prison once stood is now the Old Bailey. Instead of sitting in a cell, this is now the place where you find out you'll be sitting in a cell.

Coldbath Fields Prison

Mount Pleasant's neighbour looks like it might still be a prison today. Photo: Joe Dunckley

Coldbath Fields Prison* and Mount Pleasant Mail Centre share more than their unusual names. They're also built on the same bit of land in Farringdon.

*Seriously, was You're Not Going To Have A Very Nice Time Jail already taken?

Gatehouse Prison

The memorial is the column on the left of this picture. Photo: David Bank

The Gatehouse Prison was the gatehouse of one of London's most famous landmarks, Westminster Abbey. Dissenters against the church were held here until the place was torn down in 1776.

The very spot it once stood is where tourists mill about and congregate today. It's also the spot for the Westminster Scholars' Crimean War Memorial.

Palace of Placentia

Old Royal Naval College. Photo: Daniel Coyle

The Palace of Placentia is a beautifully named royal residence from the 15th century, and was the birthplace of Henry VIII. However, the palace fell on hard times and just over 200 years after its creation, it became a much less glamorous biscuit factory, and a prisoner-of-war camp during the English Civil War.

Charles II wanted to rebuild the palace so had it demolished, with the site remaining empty until 1694 when building began on Sir Christopher Wren's Greenwich Hospital. That lasted until 1869, after which the building was transferred to the Navy for use as a training site. Nowadays it's famous as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Old Royal Naval College.

Tothill Fields Bridewell

Photo: Joe Dunckley

Tothill Fields Bridewell is the second Westminster spot on this list. It stood from 1618 to 1877, going through numerous incarnations: at times it was a men's prison, at others a women's, and was even a juvenile prison for a period. When the prison closed in 1877, its foundations were found to be so sturdy that they were reused when the cathedral went up in its place.

Tower of London

The most recently functioning prison on this list. Photo: Matt Brown

Where the Tower of London once stood is now... the Tower of London. This one isn't going anywhere anytime soon, but its days as a prison are long behind. It's an oft-quoted bit of trivia that the last residents of the prison were east London's favourite gangsters, the Kray Twins, who left in 1952.

Last Updated 26 April 2017