Europe,  Hotel Reviews,  Reviews,  UK

Who wants to sleep in a converted prison cell? – Malmaison Oxford Review

I love finding quirky places to stay, and what could be quirkier than sleeping in a converted castle prison cell for the night?

Malmaison is a small chain of boutique UK hotels that has turned old buildings with ‘character’ into high-end hotels. These include a converted hospital, a Royal Mail sorting office and even a house of ill-repute, Â but the one I’d had my eye on was in Oxford.

Oxford Castle

Oxford Castle began life back in 1071, and over the centuries has been demolished, rebuilt, extended. In the more recent times it has been a working prison, which only actually closed in full in 1996. I discovered it myself last year during a day trip to Oxford, when I visited Oxford Castle Unlocked and got a tour of the ancient castle and heard all about its history.

It was then I found out the Malmaison had actually turned a section of the prison into a hotel and knew I just had to stay there!

Malmaison – high-end boutique hotels

Unfortunately Malmaison hotels aren’t the cheapest- you can expect to pay at least £150 for a cell room, so I patiently waited for the right deal to appear. The chain does offer these regularly, so keep your eyes open on its site for the one that suits you.

In the end we got a real bargain – a cell room for £49! Staying on a Sunday night, we arrived (be pre-warned, parking close to the hotel is tough, and it charges £25 a night to use its underground car park) and weren’t disappointed with what we found.

Staying in a converted prison cell

The whole place has a feel of decadence, quite different from what the prisoners must have had! Our cell room was in A wing, in the depths of the prison. The hallway is ominous with minimal lighting and the old cell doors look amazeballs, opening with a creak that just added to the atmosphere!

The inside of our cell room door.
The inside of our cell room door.

The room itself was pretty grand, with all the usual comforts, but everything’s there to remind you you’re staying in a what used to be a cell. Well, three cells in truth, as you can see where each one ended and the next began. Also, being in the ‘basement’ as such, our windows were high up at ground level and allowed you to imagine how little sunlight the prisoners would have had in their cramped little cell.


But prisoners we were not! Guests are spoilt with luxurious bedding, a chaise lounge, Â and a lovely flat screen tv etc. I really feel the cold and I found the room chilly, as its small floor-to-ceiling heater just didn’t do the job.

A cell room at Malmaison Oxford.
A cell room at Malmaison Oxford.

Although my partner had a great night’s sleep, I myself did not, but I only have myself to blame. During my visit to ‘Unlocked’ I’d heard that the prison was haunted so, of course, I went to bed thinking about ghosts and ghouls – doh! What didn’t help was the goddamn creepy picture up on our wall – seriously, was that necessary to put up?!

Is this not seriously the creepiest painting ever?
Is this not seriously the creepiest painting ever?

We skipped breakfast at the hotel (around £12-15 per person) to go to a cheaper cafe just up the road, however Malmaison is renouned for its restaurants too, so although I can’t personally recommend it, I’ve heard good things.

The actual review bit

All in all I really enjoyed our stay at Malmaison Oxford. It was really good fun to stay somewhere so unique. I found the room spacious and loved how it highlighted all the features that reminded you of its history.

I particularly loved that at the end of A wing, the hotel had kept a cell as it would have originally looked – that was really interesting to see!

If I’m honest, I don’t think I’d pay £150+ to stay there again, but its definitely worth checking out if you can get a deal and, like me, love to experience something different on your holidays and weekends away…

How a cell at Oxford Prison would originally have looked.
How a cell at Oxford Prison would originally have looked.




By day Co-Editor Keri is a freelance journalist and copywriter, but spends most of her free time either travelling or planning her next trip!  A complete travel fanatic, she has a love of tropical climates, wildlife and afternoon tea (hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!)


    • Keri

      We stayed in winter so kinda expected it to be chilly, but in summer?! Wow. Well, our British summer has been a bit pants this year I have to say…

  • Rowena Chowdrey


    I have just spent a couple of nights at this beautiful hotel. It is beautiful, the food is great…and so is the service…what you would expect from an expensive boutique hotel.

    The only downside….and I don’t say this lightly as until this weekend I didn’t believe in them…but I stayed in Room 212, and there is a really nasty ghost that visited the room both on Sunday and Monday between 3am and 3.30am.

    I saw him the first morning as I was woken up by the strong smell of urine. I had drawn both sets of window curtains and just got out of bed to investigate without turning the room lights on.
    He was stood next to the wardrobe, in front of the door, facing me. I did not see his face, nor most of his body in fact. Just his woollen trousered legs from the knee down…and his thick shoes. He was a dark shadow.

    I didn’t want to freak out, even though the vibes that he was giving out were very evil…not good.
    As he didn’t approach me, although the vibes were very bad, I felt that I was not in any personal danger…so I switched the bathroom light on and left him to it by trying to get back to sleep.

    The powerful smell of urine vanished after 10 minutes.

    No-one could have entered the room without over-riding my key card which was sitting in the card slot in the wall, so effectively, locked from everyone but hotel security.

    I did check the next day if I had actually seen someone on the other side of the door instead of in the room. But the door is flushed to the carpet….and anyway, how would I have seen so much of his legs if he was on the other side of the door?

    I decided to stay check into this room for the second night of my booked stay. I didn’t want to see him. But I was curious as to whether this had been a one-off scary experience or not.

    The second night I was up later packing after finishing very late.
    I couldn’t sleep so stayed up in bed watching TV for an hour. I was still trying to get to sleep come 3am. I had left the bathroom light on from entering the room.

    Suddenly the room was extremely cold. Like ice. My body felt frozen under the duvet. My arms and legs felt painful from the cold. Which was odd as it was a very hot day and a balmy sunny evening and I had no air conditioning on in the room.
    Again this lasted for ten minutes.

    I did notify the hotel of this situation when I got back to London.
    I did not make the hotel booking and had no idea of the history of the hotel before I got back to London.

    I have never followed the supernatural etc

    I am going to try and check out where Room 212 is located in relation to the prison etc
    Malmaison told me that they had no experience of ghosts in this room.
    I can assure you there is a ghost there…and it is not a happy one!
    You probably won’t notice it if you are a heavy sleeper.
    It is also clear from the Malmaison response that this experience is not unique to the hotel, just apparently unique to this room.

    But if you stay up late and are a light sleeper like me…don’t stay in this room.

    • Keri

      Wow, Rowena, just wow! Had you heard about the ghost stories before you stayed? You’re a braver soul than me for staying a second night. Definitely a story to tell though, eh?

      • Rowena Chowdrey

        Hi Keri,

        I didn’t even know the hotel before I stayed there as the booking was made for me as I was participating in a SKY Arts programme at the Ashmolean.

        I only found out about the history of the hotel when I got back to London, and decided to check it out.

        I am sure that some ghost hunters will be checking in there after my posting. Personally, I don’t want to go back to that room now…I think I have done my stint to prove that I was not imagining it on the first night. Most normal people would have insisted on changing rooms…I am stubborn and very curious.

        It is a very beautiful hotel. But I guess like all things in life, putting a veneer on things doesn’t change what they are!

        If you stay there, don’t stay near the Correctional Wing. I am unsure whether my room is near the Correctional Wing, as it is off the A Wing. A Wing might be ghost free…unsure. It might be that the person who complained about the room being very cold might not have realised that it was cold for a reason!
        Might be worth checking which room they were staying in, or where it was situated in the hotel.

        Have a great Bank Holiday

          • Rowena Chowdrey

            Hi Keri,

            I am sure that there was also someone else who complained about the cold too.
            Which room were you staying in?

            Have a great Bank Holiday 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: