Old jail cells used to hold convicted prisoners could soon be transformed into beauty treatment rooms if plans for a luxury spa are given the go ahead.
Contractors Bensons Commercial Ltd have been called in by Bucks County Council to transform the basement of Aylesbury’s historic county hall in Market Square into a spa.
The upper levels of the old county hall are used by the crown court and there would be no change to this arrangement under the plans.
As part of the ongoing renovation of the building – which dates back to the 1700s – a planning application has been submitted to turn the old disused cells beneath the court house into a tranquil haven fit for massages and facials.
Project lead officer David Pearce said: “These cells are just the right size for treatment rooms and although you might think that it’s going to take a leap of imagination, there’s not a huge amount of work that we need to do to this to tidy it up.
“We want to keep all the old brickwork and paint it a flat matt white, when we decorate the pipes it’ll be in black.
“All the wires will be hidden in steel tubes and it’ll just add to the atmosphere.
“We want to make a statement and not an apology.”
Mr Pearce estimates that the 10ft by 6ft spaces would have only held two prisoners when they were in use, as the arched ceilings would not have allowed for bunk beds.
As part of the project old doors – complete with spy hole and food hatch – from the former police station opposite Aylesbury Waterside Theatre have been brought across and will get a new lease of life.
Several other period features are still in evidence in the building’s basement, including the old coal hole which would have been the only source of heat for the cells and where the wardens would have cooked the prisoners’ meals.
Two more exhibition spaces on the building’s ground floor, formerly used for storage, have been refurbished, as well as the Porters Lodge at the rear of the building have been refurbished and their architectural features revealed.
The Grade II County Hall building has been hidden beneath scaffolding for months, but this was recently taken down and the fruits of the workmens’ labour has been revealed.
David said: “Before, the iron work was a battleship grey, but now it’s been painted black. The swans at the top have been painted white whereas before, you didn’t even know they were there.”
Some who study the front of the old building may spot an owl peeking out from one of the windowsills – and David says there is a tale behind that.
He said: “The story is, so the courts tell me, is that the owl used to overlook the condemned prisoners that were hung on the balcony. Their last view was St Mary’s Church across the courtyard.”
If the spa plans go ahead, a new entrance will be created where the old archway to the County Gaol stood in the 1700s.
Bucks County Council leader Martin Tett said: “The old county hall is probably one of the most historic buildings in the whole of Aylesbury.
“Certainly in the 10 years I’ve been on the council it’s been shut up and derelict and yet we’re trying to generate the whole of Aylesbury trying to make it more of a tourist destination.
“Restoring this building not just restores the heritage of Aylesbury, but it actually helps attract people in and makes it a much more vibrant place to come to.
“We’ve got some great facilities here – we’ve got the two function rooms and we’ve got the potential spa downstairs and the ability to have start-up studios in the Porter’s Lodge, plus workshops for new businesses.
“I think we can do a lot here to bring life back to Aylesbury.”