This former prison must be one of the most imaginative British hotel conversions – and certainly the first to be developed from Her Majesty’s Pleasure! Oxford Castle, now a Malmaison, was originally built as a Norman fortress in 1071 during the reign of William the Conqueror. It was later extended during the Victorian Gothic period and served as HM Prison Oxford from 1888 until 1996.
During and after that time, Oxford Castle featured in the Italian Job, starring Michael Caine and Noel Coward, and later Spy Game with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. That it stood-in for a sinister Chinese penitentiary in Spy Game shows what a miserable, dark and hopeless place it was. With its castellated features and towers adorned with arrow slits, this building was designed as the antithesis of luxury. But in a visionary move, it has been transformed into the Oxford Malmaison, a luxury hotel which skillfully embraces the atmosphere of its past life.
Suffering has given way to recreation in the old cell block (A Wing), which has been fully converted into hotel rooms, complete with a deep red carpet along the old walkways. Beyond the original cell doors are stylish bedrooms and bathrooms. With three cells knocked into one (two forming the bedroom and one the bathroom) and decorated in deep hues of crimson and purple, it’s safe to say these rooms are a lot more comfortable than their former guests could ever have imagined.
The 94 bedrooms are distributed across A Wing, C Wing (former hospital, and probably the last place prisoners wanted to end up), the Governor’s House, New Road Wing and the Houses of Corrections. The latter two are by far the most polarised of all, with New Road Wing offering newly built, traditional accomodation, while the Houses of Corrections offers visitors the chance to sleep in the silent solitary confinement cells – with a splash of luxury added of course.
The once dank chambers and passages deep in the bowels of the prison are now home to a state of the art gymnasium. The Visitors Room upstairs is a atmospheric exhibition of dark velvet sofas, Black Watch carpet, a black billiard table, iron-barred windows and a whisky/cognac bar. With hundreds of candles on every surface, the gothic-styling makes it easily the most fun room in the building, and more akin to a vampire flick than a luxury hotel.
The photos below illustrate a more sinister side of the Oxford Malmaison, which had changed little since the days of Oxford Castle, torture and terror. Despite its new found luxury, these shadowy areas of the building still exist today…
Spooky activity at the Malmaison!
Oxford Castle is supposedly one of the most haunted buildings in Britain. Folklore says it was cursed following the Black Assize of 1577, when hundreds perished within weeks. For the more “spirited” among you, there will be a ghost hunt night at the Malmaison on Saturday, 10 October – check it out!