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UK HM Prison Bullwood Hall, Hockley - January 2017

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History

HM Prison Bullwood Hall in Hockley, Essex, was a Category C (for individuals who are unlikely to attempt escape but cannot be trusted in open conditions) women’s prison and Young Offenders Institution run by the Her Majesty’s Prison Service. It was built in the 1960s to service as a female borstal – a type of youth detention centre sometimes known as a ‘borstal school’ – on the grounds of Bullwood Hall and its 48.2 acre estate which was purchased by the Prison Commissioners in 1955. In later years, the facility was extended to hold adult female prisoners. This amalgamation, however, was the cause of much controversy as many critics argued that it is unlawful and unethical to hold young girls in the same institution as adult female offenders, especially since they cannot be treated in the same way. 

All in all, the prison had a maximum capacity of two hundred and thirty-four. These cells were split between seven different wings designated A-G. A Wing had thirty cells over two landings; B Wing had thirty-two cells over two landings; C Wing had thirty-three cells over two landings; D Wing had eighteen single cells and eight doubles; E Wing had six single and six double cells; F Wing had six single cells; and G Wing was an induction area with forty double cells over two landings. As with most prisons across the UK, Bullwood also featured a sports hall, outdoor Astroturf field and gymnasium, communal and general recreation areas and other services that were housed in adjoining buildings to the prison. 

In 2002 Bullwood Hall prison was featured in a television series of six thirty minute documentaries titled ‘The Real Bad Girls’. Although the facility was portrayed in a positive light, a report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons emerged in 2005 criticising the establishment for still using the practice of ‘slopping out’ (the manual emptying of human waste when prison cells do not feature a flushing toilet). In 2006 the prison was also singled out for its high levels of attempted suicide and self-harm amongst its inmates. 

By the end of 2006 a decision was made to move all female prisoners to alternative sites and change the facility into a prison targeted specifically at housing foreign national prisoners. On the whole, the institution was rated as being successful, safe and purposeful; although, a number of concerns were still highlighted. While the general environment was rated as being good, there were still concerns about sanitation arrangements, which were viewed as degrading, and the rehabilitation programme that was meant to reduce the risk of reoffending and support resettlement back into the community. The reoffending criticism was highlighted as the principal concern because there was no offending behaviour programme in place. Instead, prisoner’s immigration statuses were reported as taking precedence over behaviour management. Despite efforts to improve the standards of the facility, the government announced that the institution would be one of seven British prisons to close in 2013. The announcement was made on 10th January 2013 and the site closed on 28th March 2013. Bullwood Hall has remained abandoned since this time. 

Our Version of Events

Although we’d heard that Bullwood Hall prison was sealed up tight we decided to try our luck and pay the place a quick visit.After all, there’s something particularly enticing about breaking into a prison. So, after a spot of breakfast on our journey over to Hockley, we arrived at the site in good time to have a proper search around for a possible way in. The first twenty minutes of wandering and examining every potential way of getting inside proved fruitless though, and we were rapidly losing all hope that we’d get inside. However, after squeezing our way though some very prickly brambles and other spikey shit around the back of the site, we stumbled across a gaping hole in the fence. The only problem was that someone had cut it fairly high up, to avoid a solid metal plate fixed behind the lower levels of the wire mesh.  

Somehow, we managed to scale the fence and squeeze our way through the makeshift gap. But, in the process we pretty much destroyed the clothes we were wearing by puncturing them with holes as the cutters of the opening had done a very crude job. It was certainly a very painful experience; although, getting in and out this way was still way more preferable than clambering over the razor wire at the top of the fence. Once on the other side we hobbled on and headed straight for the cell blocks ahead of us. 

Unfortunately, we quickly discovered that the main cell block was sealed up tight, so we had to make do with touring around some of the smaller wings. However, this quickly turned out to be a lot more interesting than we’d first anticipated because we ended up convincing ourselves that we’d tripped some sort of alarm. After spending a little over five minutes in one of the cell blocks, we suddenly heard the all-too-familiar sound of bleeping. But we were unsure where the alarm was actually coming from, or where the live sensors were, and after a fairly thorough search we still failed to uncover the cause of the sound. From that point on we were almost certain that security would be on their way – because we’d heard they’re pretty ‘on it’ at this site – so we made haste to cover as much of the facility as possible before we ended up as temporary residents of Bullwood Hall. Half an hour later, though, and with much of the site covered, it was pretty obvious that no one was coming for us. So, feeling less like fleeing convicts, we slowed down the pace and took a bit more time taking our photographs.

All in all, then, the prison was fairly photogenic, but the fuck load of graffiti scrawled over the place spoiled it a wee bit. It kind of reminded us of an Aussie explore – which tend to be absolutely caked in shit graff. Nevertheless, it’s always cool to have free roam of a prison for a couple of hours. After that, having satisfied our desire to be governors of the institution for a while, we called it a day and made our exit through the same painful entranceway we’d used previously to get in. From there we made our way back to the car and quickly discovered that we’d left the driver’s side door wide open the entire time we’d been in the prison. Fortunately, everything was still in place inside the car, including our phones, and the vehicle itself was still there. Our luck must be down to the fact that we were parked outside a former prison. Had we done the same thing outside George Barnsleys or the Falcon Works, I can’t say there would still have been a car there upon our return. 

Explored with Ford Mayhem.
 

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