Interior Design, Cell Style (posted 21st October 2013)
Last week I visited the Malmaison Hotel in Oxford for a networking event hosted by Utopia Kitchen & Bathroom Magazine. This is a hotel with an interesting past. Originally part of Oxford Castle, the prison was re-built in the 1800’s after the English Civil War, and it was a functioning prison until the late twentieth century. In 1996 it reverted back to the Oxfordshire County Council and in 2003 it was converted into a hotel, with the added intrigue of as many original features as possible. The cells were converted into ensuite rooms, all except those associated with corporal or capital punishment, which are used as offices instead.
So far as comfort was concerned, the prison was not designed with that in mind. The 10ft x 6ft cells were originally designed for one person, but by the 1970’s, with overcrowding, the cells each housed up to nine men. In the 1850’s the prisoners did not even get a mattress on their beds, just the slatted metal that can be seen in the image.
In the 1780’s if a prisoner tried to commit suicide, or was particularly badly behaved, they would be sent to the punishment cells. Here they were stripped naked and placed in a small, dark cell. My guide wasn’t certain if they were shackled while in these cells, but when I looked inside, the only ‘seating’ was an option of three beams, one of which had bolts that looked very much like they would have.
Today the atrium in converted A Wing is a far more comfortable place.
The cell doors have been renovated, but the dents are the originals, marked with the scars of prisoners past.
Some of the doors and locks may never be opened – the old front door being a case in point. When the prison was taken over by the hotel, the original door and lock keys were not provided – never to be opened again.
Beautiful vaulted ceilings come part and parcel with this historic building.
It’s not every night that I get to, or want to, sleep in a cell! But it was a great experience and super example of how a building can be adapted to change rolls over time, while still maintaining the architectural integrity and allowing for functional and comfortable design.