But now, nearly a decade after the notorious jail, based in Milton, Portsmouth, closed down and the final prisoners were removed, people have been clamouring at the opportunity to live there.
Except they are no longer behind bars – the prison has been converted into luxury one, two and three bedroom flats, rebranded as Old Portsmouth Gaol, and people are happily paying to live in the former jail cells which once housed some of Britain’s worst criminals.
Keeping many of the original features of the Grade II listed building, there is no mistaking what this structure was intended for.
The original prison was designed by local architect George Rake with construction work beginning in 1874. Its ‘radial’ design featured an octagonal central hall with five wings leading from this central hub. It took its first prisoners in 1877.
When capital punishment for murder was abolished in 1965, Kingston began exclusively to hold inmates serving life sentences. As a result, Kingston became the only prison in England and Wales to have a unit exclusively for elderly male prisoners.
Towards the end of its lifespan, the prison was redesignated to a general category B and C prison.
In January 2013, the Ministry of Justice announced Kingston would be one of seven prisons to close. By March 28, the last of its 800 inmates had been relocated and the prison was mothballed.
That summer hundreds of law-abiding citizens turned up during an open weekend, keen to see inside the daunting edifice for the first time.
Developers City & Country bought the site in 2015, following which there was a well-attended public consultation, but for the next few years things went quiet and the plans appeared to be in limbo as things moved slowly behind the scenes.
During this period, the prison did serve as the set for a straight-to-streaming 2017 prison-based zombie film called Fanged Up starring controversial comic Daniel ‘Dapper Laughs’ O’Reilly and Steven Berkoff.
And it also served for several months as an airsoft – war games similar to paintball – arena.
St Cross Homes took on the development and have seen it through to completion.
Work finally began on converting the site into housing in early 2020.
Now that people have begin moving in, photos of the work in progress have been hung in the former prison’s corridors.
Portsmouth photographer Grant Capstick – whose pictures are used in this feature – was the one on hand to chronicle the changing site.
Grant says: ‘Through a friend of a friend I got in touch with St Cross Homes, and asked them if I could go in there to take some pictures. They said: “By all means”, and that was about a year and a half ago.
‘I was sending them pictures as I went along to show them what I was doing, and then a few months ago they said they wanted to dress up the halls and would I mind if they used my prints in the communal areas? In the end they took 45 prints and I’ve had some really nice feedback about it.’
James Butler, 30, is one of the development’s first residents. He moved into his flat in August, having put in an offer last year. He says: ‘When I was looking around online, there was nothing out there with as much character in my price range.
‘It was the best of both worlds – both old and new at the same time.
‘When I went to view it in August last year, walking through the stone arch into the main courtyard had a real “wow” factor. It was so interesting to see what was behind those big stone walls I was familiar with as a child growing up in Portsmouth.
‘I knew I wouldn’t find anything better at that time so I put in an offer at the end of the viewing.
‘It was a long wait but totally worth it.’
James recalls his first night in the flat: ‘I’m not overly superstitious, but knowing the kind of people who had lived there before me did put me a bit on edge.
‘My flat is off one long corridor, so when I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom, I kept imagining I could see things in the darkness of my living room at the other end – to the point I had to shut the door.
‘Of course the weather that night was thunder and lightning.
‘From then on I’ve not had any unexpected visitors – apart from the odd Deliveroo driver mistaking my flat for my neighbours. I haven’t accepted, I should add!’