The Old Prison, Northleach. Some of the Key issues – Heritage for the long term

Re-think proposed sale of the Old Prison at Northleach –give the community time.

The Old Prison at Northleach, is one of the most important assets in CDC’s care. The site came to CDC with grant support to ensure the site, and the nationally important collection of rural artefacts would be well cared for.

People then and now, would expect CDC to be taking a lead in stewardship of our district heritage and culture and be a safe pair of hands. A Grade 2 star building like this has huge heritage value for residents both young and old. It is also an internationally recognised heritage: inspiring Pentonville women’s prison and prison design in the Commonwealth and America.

Honouring the gifts Cotswold people gave wonderful rural artefacts to boost the Lloyd Baker collection of agricultural heritage; to be a resource for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

Democracy gap
The decisions about the Old Prison, made behind closed doors, have not been subject to proper public scrutiny. This goes against the new priority of encouraging localism and community involvement. Why should the Old Prison be sold without proper exploration of options? Letting go of such a flagship heritage asset is hard to justify. In fact everyone outside CDC is in the dark as the economic information and rationale for selling has not been put in the public domain. In contrast, in Bourton on the Water, a proper and lively movement to keep the Cottage Hospital site for
community benefit is happening.

What are the sums?
It seems that the annual costs and annual income for the Old Prison are fairly close – this building is not a
massive liability as some might lead us to believe. Many special funds exist for buildings of national significance.

Short term versus long term
The hole in CDC finances due in part to lost funds in Iceland (near 2 million) may have led to this decision to sell off this site.
However, the short-termist approach does not factor in the huge long-term benefits this site can bring to our area- and the ways it can and does generate income for the district. Sale proceeds could not be used prop up a gap in CDC’s running costs.

Breaking news is that most of the lost Iceland funds will be returned to CDC so why continue with the Old Prison sale?

Damage to Northleach and the district
Are tax payers’ interests being well served long term??

CDC is selling without having commissioned a detailed local economy impact assessment. At present the Old Prison activities bring trade and tourists to the town and enhance the overall experience of tourists to enjoy the whole AONB. Tourism is a millions of pounds industry and the lifeblood of our economy- why add to the recession dips by losing what is at the Old Prison?

Look to the future- employment and skills
The collection has been a focal point for rural skills in the past and with such high youth unemployment now it could again be part of a vibrant apprenticeship scheme. Footfall to local businesses is helped by the Escape to the Cotswolds exhibition and regular activities that use local shops, halls, catering and accommodation. If the AONB headquarters is forced to move away it will have a long term harming impact on the town.

The sale seems to be without any conditions or consideration of how to get best value for the community.
Future needs Being on our main transport route it is an ideal location for district residents and tourists to reach. Keeping the site in community control will make sure that economic benefits and opportunities come direct to the local economy and the building can be adapted to changing needs in the future. Over the years it has gone from prison, to skills centre, exhibition, offices and café, to name but a few uses; this demonstrates it has already adapted over the years to meet needs for our area as required.

Once it’s gone it’s gone. Big supermarket, hotel and bar, retirement homes, private house is this the future you want to see? It is the jewel within in the portfolio of CDC owned assets and there
is nothing else like it. We should not let it be sold off and lost to the community – we will only regret this in the future.

Imagination and inspired thinking The Old Prison, built as a model prison in the 1790s, is of historic importance, and this is why it is listed as grade 2 star. The rural collection is also an ideal link to modern day interest in learning skills. Skills for historic buildings such as lime plastering, dry stone walling and stonemasonry are all alive and well in our area and master craftsmen could share these to help the next generation of Cotswold men and women.

Proper stewardship for the long term could add to tourism by putting it on the visit list of people tracing their ancestry or taking man interest in the history of human rights as a usp in addition to the
rural history of the collection. Cultural and social hub- So many things could happen on this
site with some TLC and an active group of friends and supporters volunteering. Behind the walls is a lovely safe space, ideal for open air theatre, specialist events, and celebrations.

Time is needed to give other options a chance to be prepared. There are several great ideas coming from the community already. What would you like to see
happen, now, in 20 years time…..?

One possibility is for the Cotswold Conservation Board to become the custodian and owner. The Conservation Board has it’s HQ at the Old Prison and is keen to see the site remain of benefit to the community. They submitted a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in late October. Their bid to HLF focuses on conserving the building and the famous Lloyd Baker collection, and ensuring public access for the future, as well as turning it into a vibrant visitor centre – therefore keeping it as an asset for the local community.

The full details of their bid are at:

Diana Ray

Editors Note:
Diana Ray, lives in Cold Aston, comes from a farming background and owns Living Green in Bourton.  She is not a member of any political party and has no links with the Cotswold Conservation Board. Along with other local people she has put together a summary of some of the key issues about the Old Prison and steps people could take right now to save it.  This is not just an issue for Northleach- people across the district are starting to voice out their concerns at the proposed sell off. This flagship building has a great future for the community. Diana’s family gave some of the artefacts in the rural collection, and it is in her mother’s memory that  she is taking a stand about what happens to the Old Prison at Northleach. She feels strongly that more time is needed for options to be developed. In Northleach a petition is circulating and is already gaining many signatures – it simply asks CDC to postpone the sale process to allow the community more time for better options to happen. Please sign and take part in supporting a better outcome.

The petition will also be online using the e-petition facility on Cotswold District Council’s own website. This will be the first ever e-petition CDC has allowed and is taking them a little time to set up. You should soon be able to find it on  in the democracy section

Writing letters to let CDC know what issues matter could encourage a change of heart and is highly recommended.

Sale of the Old Prison – Northleach

Dear Mr Lane


Members of Northleach with Eastington Town Council wish to add their full support to Cotswold Conservation Board’s “Escape to the Cotswolds” bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £1.3m.

Members and residents recognise the valuable asset that The Old Prison represents not only to the Town but also to the whole of the Cotswold District as an important part of our heritage.

We have lobbied Cotswold District Council in an attempt to persuade District Councillors to continue their support of the building but as this is no longer possible, the importance of the bid cannot be underestimated. 

The Old Prison has been of major significance to the Town since it was built in the 1790’s as one of the 5 Houses of Correction in Gloucestershire, leading the way to major reform in prison management.  Over the years it has brought many visitors to Northleach, promoting its hostelries, shops and its magnificent Church.   The Board’s “Escape to the Cotswolds” initiative will develop this further to help sustain the economic future of the Town and enable others to continue to enjoy its heritage.

At the same time, the building itself will be in a safe pair of hands to ensure that it is maintained in the manner it deserves.


Neil Fletcher

Volunteers needed for the Cotswold Conservation Board


Housed in the North Gallery adjacent to the 18th century Old Prison in Northleach and aptly named ‘Escape to the Cotswolds’, the new centre tells the fascinating story of the Cotswolds – a story based on stone and wool and how people have made a natural landscape even more beautiful over the centuries.  The centre re-opens at the beginning of April and we are looking for volunteers to help staff the centre, particularly at weekends.

Anyone interested in volunteering at any time should call the Cotswolds Conservation Board on 01451 862000 Travel expenses to and from the centre will be paid as appropriate.

Margaret Fletcher
Office Manager
Cotswolds Conservation Board
Tel:  01451 862000