THE HOTEL: One of the quirky hotel conversions in the Malmaison collection of hotels, this former prison is now a stylish 95-room hotel in the centre of Oxford.
THE CHECK-IN: We had a short wait sitting in vast wing-backed chairs in a bare-brick, moodily-lit reception area before quick formalities were undertaken. The reception was just two desks with chairs and we were making our way to the room in no time.
THE ROOM: Open corridors of rooms overlook the original atrium criss-crossed with metal staircases going to each floor. Three former prison cells have been used to create each stylish ‘cell’ bedroom in the main building, so they are of a decent size and thankfully have few traces of their former use. Contemporary décor dominates, which is a little sombre but lightened with red soft furnishings. The few original elements that remain are the heavy doors and high windows. There are nice touches such as the generously-sized toiletries, DVD player, inventive minibar snacks, roll top bath, plasma TV and fast broadband. Larger rooms are either the suites or those rooms in the former House of Correction that overlooks a courtyard. More cell bedrooms occupy the former prison wardens’ quarters.
THE BUSINESS: Five meeting dining rooms, including a roof terrace, the largest room being the Visitor’s Room (otherwise known as the hotel bar) seating up to 30 boardroom style. The Terrace will take 80 for a reception.
THE FACILITIES: The former waiting room is now a stylish and cavernous bar specialising in Champagne and cocktails. A 100-seater brasserie occupies the lower ground floor area (the former execution area), while the holding cells have been turned into private dining rooms. There is also a terrace. The former exercise yard has been grassed over and is now a refreshing outside space.
THE VERDICT: Perfect location right in the middle of Oxford, and a building that’s been converted extraordinarily well to make a comfortable stay considering its history.
THE DETAILS: 3 New Road, Oxford, OX1 1AY. Weekday standard room rates start from £125 and suites £375. Tel: 01865 268400; see: www.malmaison.com.
Reviewed by Gillian Upton (2012)