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Where is Northye Prison Bexhill? Exploring Its History and Status Today

Northye Prison in Bexhill, East Sussex was an infamous historical prison that operated for over 130 years before closing in 2013. At its peak, Northye housed some of Britain’s most dangerous criminals and gangsters.

Today Northye stands derelict after ceasing operations. The eerie abandoned structure serves as a relic of Bexhill’s past, but its future remains uncertain. Understanding Northye’s complex history and status today provides insights into Britain’s changing correctional system.

Northye Prison’s Origins and Early Years

Northye Prison originated in the 1880s as part of a wide-ranging prison expansion program across England. Some key details about its beginnings:

  • Constructed in 1888 on site of former military barracks.
  • Original name was St. Leonard’s Prison, renamed Northye in early 1900s.
  • Built to “separate system” model with solitary confinement of prisoners.
  • Contained initial capacity for about 150 inmates when opened.
  • First Governor was Edmund Du Cane, leading prison reformer.
  • Used for housing convicts and debtors after sentencing at Sussex Assizes.

As with other prisons of its time, Northye emphasized punishment, hard labor and restricting inmate freedoms. Prisoners were isolated in their cells, required to stay silent and forced to complete menial tasks.

The prison expanded in 1902, 1905 and 1935 to accommodate additional inmates over the years. By the 1960s, it could hold over 400 prisoners.

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Notorious Criminals Jailed at Northye

While most inmates were petty thieves and minor offenders, Northye Prison also housed some of Britain’s most notorious and high-profile criminals:

  • Teddy Taylor: 1960s gangster involved in Great Train Robbery.
  • Frank Mitchell: Infamous 1960s criminal known as “The Mad Axeman”.
  • Charlie Richardson: Leader of violent Richardson crime family.
  • Roy James: Career criminal and getaway driver in Great Train Robbery.
  • Dave Courtney: Reformed gangster wrote memoirs about time in Northye during 1980s.
  • Bruce Reynolds: Mastermind of Great Train Robbery jailed there in late 1960s.

These and other dangerous inmates gave Northye a formidable reputation. Additional guard towers, walls and security were added over the years to control the volatile prison population.

PrisonerDetailsSentence
Teddy TaylorGangster in Great Train Robbery22 years
Frank Mitchell“The Mad Axeman”Life sentence
Charlie RichardsonRichardson crime family leader25 years

Closure and Current Status of Northye Prison

After over 130 years in operation, Northye Prison finally closed in June 2013 as part of a nationwide prison modernization scheme. Its closure came for several reasons:

  • Overcrowding: Chronic overcrowding made conditions very poor by the 2000s.
  • Costs: Northye was expensive to maintain for aging facilities.
  • Layout: Its outdated Victorian design was inefficient by modern standards.
  • Age: The site and buildings were simply too old to easily upgrade.

All remaining inmates were transferred to other facilities in 2013. The empty prison was sold to a private developer in 2019 with tentative plans to transform the site into housing units, retail stores and a supermarket.

However, as of 2023, the prison remains abandoned and awaiting redevelopment. Ongoing debates over preserving parts of the site for historical value have delayed demolition and construction.

Northye now lies derelict with its future uncertain. The decaying remains of the once notorious jail stand as an eerie relic awaiting a new chapter. Some believe its 19th century prison chapel should be preserved for the community.

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Site Overview and Layout

Covering over 5 acres, Northye Prison was a sizeable complex prior to closing. Some details about the former prison site:

  • Enclosed by a formidable 20 foot high perimeter wall.
  • Contained 4 self-contained cell blocks (A,B,C and D wings).
  • Prison buildings constructed in a rectangular shape surrounding central open yards.
  • Inmates housed in cells along exterior block walls organized by category.
  • Single story cell blocks with mezzanine level cell rows.
  • Administrative facilities at front including governor’s house.
  • A prison chapel was added in 1905 and expanded in 1921.
  • Kitchens, laundry room and workshops located behind cell blocks.
  • Two 25m x 8m rectangular exercise yards for inmates.

Many surface-level prison structures remain intact but interiors have been ransacked and badly deteriorated after a decade abandoned. Scaffolding now supports some unstable blocks.

The Future of the Former Northye Site

Northye Prison’s 19th century architecture presents challenges for modern redevelopment of the vacant site:

  • Partial Demolition: Some blocks will likely be demolished but 2 facades and chapel preserved.
  • Housing Units: At least 100 new homes planned including in former administrative section.
  • Historic Preservation: Chapel and parts of perimeter wall to remain for community use.
  • Commercial Space: Supermarket, shops, cafes planned for western half of site.
  • Access Roads: Improved local road access needed.
  • Timeline: Detailed plans still being finalized but construction hoped to begin 2025-26.

Finding the right balance between commemorating local history and progress is key for authorities. Breathing new life into the old prison space can benefit Bexhill.

Conclusion

For over 130 years, Northye Prison occupied a formidable place along the Sussex coastline. Now derelict, its remaining ghostly facades serve as a relic of Bexhill’s Victorian past.

Repurposing at least parts of the abandoned prison can preserve its historical legacy. Smart, sensitive redevelopment can revitalize Northye for 21st century uses while retaining traces of its 19th century origins.

Though expanded and improved prisons have replaced it, Northye’s lingering presence is a reminder that even the most imposing structures do not last forever. But their stories can still be told, even as new ones begin.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Northye Prison located?

Northye Prison is located in Bexhill in the county of East Sussex, in the south of England. It lies near the southeast coast.

What was the original name of the prison before it was renamed?

Northye was originally called St. Leonard’s Prison when first constructed in 1888. It was renamed Northye in the early 20th century.

Why did Northye Prison close down in 2013?

Northye was closed due to overcrowding, high maintenance costs, inefficient Victorian design, and aging buildings. Most inmates were transferred to other prisons.

What notorious criminals were once jailed in Northye Prison?

Some notorious inmates included gangster Teddy Taylor, violent convict Frank Mitchell, crime boss Charlie Richardson, and Great Train Robber Bruce Reynolds.

How is the former Northye Prison used today?

Today the former prison lies abandoned and awaiting redevelopment. Since closing in 2013, the old decaying site is currently unused. Partial demolition is planned.

What are the plans for redeveloping the former prison site in the future?

Plans include demolishing some blocks while preserving facades, building new housing units, adding commercial space like shops, and retaining the 19th century chapel.

When was Northye Prison originally constructed?

Northye Prison first opened in 1888 after construction began on the former military barracks site that same decade in Bexhill, East Sussex.

How many inmates could Northye Prison accommodate at its peak?

The prison population expanded over the years from 150 to over 400 inmates as additional blocks were added. Chronic overcrowding eventually contributed to its closure.

What architectural style was used to construct Northye?

It was designed in the Victorian era “separate system” model with four self-contained cell blocks surrounding exercise yards and limited inmate interaction.

Are former prisoners providing insights about life at Northye before its closure?

Yes, some ex-inmates like reformed gangster Dave Courtney have shared memoirs describing poor conditions and overcrowding at Northye in its later decades before closure.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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