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Borstal: "A custodian institution for young offenders"
Recently sold for a mere £1.2 million, the site of the former HM Borstal is huge—covering 43 acres and with numerous buildings, including 27 homes and various outbuildings. The site, which was most recently owned by the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS), was used as a prison officer training facility until 2015, and also housed the NIPS private museum and a dog training section, amongst other facilities. In 2016, due to budget pressures, the site was closed, listed for sale, and remained on the market until July 2018.
The central building, the impressive grade B2 listed 'Woburn House,' is a two story Italianate property constructed in 1863 which proudly overlooks the Irish Sea. Built by wealthy mill owner John Gilmore Dunbar (remembered through Dunbar Link and Dunbar Dock in Belfast) as a summer residence, the property once housed the Archbishop of Armagh and also acted as a convalescent home for injured soldiers of the second world war. The house remained in the family until 1953, when they were forced to sell the house to the Ministry of Finance due to hefty death duty bills.
In 1956, the facility was opened—a state-run young offenders school housing up to 130 males, between the ages of 10 and 17, who were sentenced to a period of borstal training. Until closure in 1980 (a detention centre was operated on site until 2003, however), the centre was locally referred to as 'the bad boys home,' with many local youngsters being threatened by their parents with admittance if they did not attend school or behave well. The reality, however, was that the school housed the more 'difficult' young offenders from the province.
As with many institutions in Northern Ireland, the Borstal was affected by the troubles. In May 1972, following disturbances at Crumlin Road jail, a riot broke out in the Borstal, which resulted in extensive damage to the interior, and 35 of the residents taking to the roof to throw slates and debris at staff. In 1975 a more secure unit was added to the site to deter such behaviour. More recently, the non-denominational facility came under scrutiny amid claims of sectarian abuse from former inmates and in 2016, unfortunately, came under the spotlight of the Historical Child Abuse Inquiry.
In 1993, an Independent Inspection from Queens University presented a damning report on the Borstal, claiming the facility was developing criminals due to the number of inmates which re-offend. With a reconviction rate of 89%, it could be deemed that this is correct, however, the staff at the facility at the time were adamant that many inmates were, in fact, ill or disturbed and this was the reason for them reentering institutions.
The future of the Borstal remains uncertain at the time of writing—however, it is hoped that the site will be redeveloped, and soon, in a fashion to benefit the coastal town nearby. Speculation is that Woburn house may be developed into luxury apartments, which would boast a spectacular seafront location.
The Borstal Now
The 'Old Borstal' of Woburn house is inaccessible, so the exploration was through the 'newer' facility which has lain abandoned since 2003. Despite evidently being used for training exercises since then, the building is in a dire state, as the pictures show. It is a sprawling complex—a maze of corridors, hallways and rooms. Approached via a sweeping drive, an administration building is reached, and the main facility is beyond—the entrance to which is flanked by huge steel gates. Once entered, the myriad of corridors begins and one could easily become lost in the facility!