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Campus@Northallerton - From grim punishment and rehabilitation to a place of learning and local enterprise

AS the doors closed and keys turned for the last time at Northallerton Prison in 2013, it ended a chapter of the town’s history stretching back 225 years.

Designed by the leading architect of his day, John Carr, who was also responsible for Harewood House, and went on to become Lord Mayor of York, Northallerton Prison opened in 1788, as a facility for both men and women.

Built on marshland donated by the Diocese of Durham, the prison once featured its own Court House, including a tunnel from the dock to the cells. The courthouse was demolished in 1989 following the construction of a purpose-built facility in the town.

By 1820, the prison had the dubious honour of housing the largest treadmill in the UK. Originally used for spirit-breaking exercise for the prisoners, the treadmill could see more than 90 men at once, trudging pointlessly and noisily but going nowhere.

According to Peter Cole, who spent over 12 months at the prison, rehabilitating young offenders and helping them find work, the Prison Reform Act which came into effect on the 1st February 1866 saw the treadmill put to use grinding corn for flour, while a female-use treadmill was used to help drain the marshy land surrounding the prison.

Peter, who now works for Hambleton District Council, promoting Northallerton as a vibrant North Yorkshire market town, said the prison continued to be a ‘miserable place’ up-to and throughout the Victorian era and didn’t benefit from modern plumbing until the 1950s.

Towards the end of its days as a custodial facility, Peter said the prison had become a more optimistic place, where the young male offenders were given the opportunity to learn, before rehabilitation into to society.

He said: “At the end of their sentences, most of the lads were looking forward to getting back into society. Education was fundamental – we had a library, and you could study for a Maths and English GCSE. While it wasn’t a typical teaching environment, it wasn’t an oppressive regime either.

“Now, since the prison was redeveloped, you have this fantastic learning facility in the centre of Northallerton.”

Following its closure, the prison site was bought by Hambleton District Council in 2015 and work began on the redevelopment of the site into the Treadmills leisure and retail facility. While the retail section of the site was opened in December 2021 and the tech hub opened in May, the new learning facilities (known as Campus@Northallerton) will welcome its first students in 2023.

The campus is a joint venture between the University of Sunderland, Hambleton District Council and York College & University Centre. York College’s offering comprises of evening classes for adults in digital technology, as well as short courses for businesses, and online learning.

Looking back on his time working in the prison, to the bright, modern facility of today, Peter said: “The campus is a lot quieter now, but there’s lots that reminds me of its former use, such as the doors and little windows, but you have a sense of optimism and change.

“It’s now a really positive place to be, with common theme of education running right through it.

“People come here now, and they can really do something with the education they are receiving. Although the fabric of the building has changed – it’s still about giving people opportunities and changing lives.”

To read more about the development of Campus@Northallerton click the blogs below:

John Park's blog

Peter Cole's blog

For more information on the courses available at Campus@Northallerton click here.