Welcome to the first of what I hope will become a semi-regular feature – Locations!
Whilst in the area, I recently visited the St Albans Register Office. Known to millions as the front gate of HM Prison Slade in ‘Porridge.’
A location I’ve wanted to visit in person for many years, I was very pleased when I found myself not too far away with a spare ten minutes.
Actually a Victorian prison, the building was the perfect choice for the fictitious HM Prison Slade as it remained largely unchanged – boasting big heavy wooden doors, and plenty of space for signage.
(as seen in the opening credits of Porridge)
Used during the opening titles of every episode, and in some scenes of series one (usually when a vehicle is seen driving in/out) and in the first episode of spin-off series ‘Going Straight’ when Fletch finally leaves prison.
Interestingly, in ‘Going Straight’ St Albans Prison is used in the actual episode, but a lot of publicity photographs show Fletch stood outside Wormwood Scrubs. I presume this would be because at the time of announcement, no filming had been undertaken.
Ronnie Barker pictured in publicity photographs for Going Straight outside Wormwood Scrubs prison
A rare publicity photograph taken during filming of the pilot episode of Going Straight. St Albans Gatehouse was actually used in the series, not Wormwood Scrubs.
The location itself; St Albans Prison Gatehouse (now a registry office – yes – you can now get married at HMP Slade!) is situated in the busy city of St Albans, just a stones throw from the M1. It’s situated in Victoria Square, AL1 3TF.
It’s situated rather oddly on the edge of a housing estate and right next to the St Albans railway line. I had no idea what to expect, but found it slightly odd positioning for a prison, even in Victorian times. The road directly outside the gatehouse is rather busy – something I presume wasn’t an issue during filming of the series. Far from the expected wilds of HMP Slade (as Mr Mackay would say; ‘You’re in Cumberland man, Cumberland!”) Unfortunately during my visit a function was being held in the office so I was unable to venture inside. The driveway is now walled off, so it’s been a long time since a vehicle was able to enter through the doors. At first I thought the original doors had been removed, but they were infact just open. It appears to be the original doors used in the series which have since seen a new coat of paint. The wooden lattice atop the doors is now a geometric brick pattern. Gone are the signs to the top and side. I’ve often wondered what must have happened to the HM Prison SLADE sign as used in the series. One hopes its in some BBC Storage unit somewhere.
The Gatehouse as it stands today. Largely unchanged, but surrounded by well kept gardens and a ceremonial cannon now blocks the driveway.
The doors from HMP Slade still present (but open) and a not-so-prison-friendly brochure stand now graces the entrance.
All in all, it was great to see one of TV’s most recognisable locations ‘in the flesh.’ Despite a few changes to the exterior garden and surrounding features, the gatehouse remains largely as it did in the series.