Haunting past of prison where ITV’s Des was filmed – from torture to hangings

A new drama starring David Tennant will arrive on the small screen this month telling the story of one of the UK's most prolific serial killers, Dennis Nilsen.

The ITV series was filmed at Shepton Mallet prison in Somerset and judging by it's dodgy past, it's no surprise it was chosen as the backdrop for the grisly story.

HMP Shepton Mallet, sometimes known as Cornhill, officially closed in 2013 but it's haunting past will never be forgotten.

Built in 1610, the prison has been home to thousands of criminals for the past 400 years and is now open to the public by Jailhouse tours, who run daily guided tours of the site.

However, for those who enjoy feeling spooked from time to time, they also offer evening ghost tours and escape events.

Tripadvisor describes it as "truly one of the UKs best visitor attractions, Shepton Mallet prison tours are one not to be missed".

The prison's official website warns visitors: "Once inside you’ll experience the strange silence that fills the grounds, the damp walls carrying only the faintest echo of what you’ve left behind.

"With the scene set, you’ll descend into the depths of the Prison and hear in horror to its dark and sinister side – torture, murder, hangings. You’ll be gripped by the true tales that lie hidden behind the walls."

Last Halloween, staff revealed what it's really like working at the haunted location with manager Charlie Lawson revealing he had actually come face-to-face with ghosts.

"When I first started here in May 2017, I was scared to go anywhere in case something jumped out on me," he told SomersetLive.

"The prison has such a fascinating history spanning over 400 years. I’m sure that if walls could talk, we would hear some amazing stories."

Referring to his own personal experience, he continued: "I was locking up after a late group left and I knew I was the only one on site, and yet as I ventured to the Treadmill, I saw a tall gentleman walk towards me.

"I could make out his face and hat. I made a wide birth round him and he simply vanished.

"I’ve heard doors slamming and whistling in the wings, and sometimes that’s all you expect. A lady I was with at the September event felt her hair being stroked and no one was nearby," Charlie added.

"When we did our first overnight stay, a group of four were in the exercise yard and three of them all said they saw an old lady sat on one of the walls surrounding the gardens.

"One of the three ladies walked up and asked if she was ok and the figure got up and walked away in silence.

"The three ladies that did see her were shocked at what they saw, as they thought she was so realistic but dressed as if from the 1600s/1700s with a shawl and dress. She was also bent over as she walked."

Other ghost hunters choose to do sound recordings during visits and some staff even speak to the ghostly figures.

The spooky history of HMP Shepton Mallet is an unnerving story of executions, as many civilian prisoners faced the gallows over the years dating back to 1889.

However, the prison later became a military prison and incarcerated convicted members of the British Armed Forces and became to be known as the Glasshouse.

A four to five-foot thick, 75-foot high wall – complete with razor wire –surrounds an area of prison grounds around a small courtyard, and forms the exterior wall of A-wing.

This is said to be the location where prisoners were taken to be shot after they were handed a death sentence for a variety of crimes that included rape and murder.

Dennis Nilsen murdered at least 12 men and boys in London during the 70s and 80s, and was convicted at the Old Bailey of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment on November 4, 1983, and spent time at various prisons around the country including Wormwood Scrubs in London, Whitemoor in Cambridge and HMP Full Sutton – where he remained until his death in May 2018.

ITV drama Des starts on Monday, September 14 at 9pm on ITV.

There will be three one-hour long episodes, over three consecutive nights, meaning it will conclude on Wednesday, September 16.

You can watch Des as it airs on ITV, or you will be able to stream live via the ITV Hub.

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