Inveraray Jail

Inveraray Jail

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On the shore of Loch Fyne in Argyll sits Inveraray Jail, one of Scotland’s top tourist attractions and one of Europe’s most complete and best preserved 19th century courtroom and jail complexes.

Inveraray Jail history

The plans supplied for Inveraray Jail by Scottish architect James Gillespie Graham called for a courthouse and three prisons – for men, women and debtors. However, due to lack of funds only a single prison was built to replace the old one, where conditions had been so horrendous and escapes so common that the local townsfolk took turns to guard it at night.

The new Inveraray Jail was completed in 1820 and held men, women, and children, both convicted and unconvicted, sane and insane. They were kept in one block of eight dark, damp cells, and conditions remained grim until prison reforms in the late 1830s required the construction of a new, modern prison.

The new prison was designed to ‘improve the character and maintain the health of its inmates’. All physically fit inmates worked for up to 10 hours a day in their cells making fishing nets and picking oakum from rope, and were only allowed out once a day to exercise or use the toilet.

Hard labour (at Inveraray and elsewhere) often included the pointless activity of turning a crank machine. Male prisoners had to turn it 14,400 times a day and warders could make it harder by tightening a screw, hence why prison guards are known as ‘screws’.

Around 4,400 prisoners passed through Inveraray Jail in 69 years and escapes were rare (12 escapees, most were found relatively quickly) since the prison was in such a remote location.

As the town of Inveraray declined, largely due to the disappearance of the fish from the waters from the late 1870s, and with the emergence of much larger inner-city prisons like Barlinnie in Glasgow, Inveraray Jail closed its doors for the last time on 30th August 1889.

Inveraray Jail today

Today, the living museum features costumed prisoners and jailers who will regale you with gruesome stories of life at Inveraray Jail in the 19th century.

Start at the horrifically-named Torture, Death & Damnation exhibition; walk the corridors of the old prison, meet the prisoners and hear their stories; experience the unbearable tension as sentences were passed in the grand courthouse and experience the new prison. Lie in the hammocks and on the wooden beds, get strapped to the whipping table and find out about the people who were imprisoned, some for stealing a turnip!

The living, breathing museum at Inveraray Jail is a fascinating, interactive, and fun journey back in time to experience real prison life in 19th century Scotland.

Getting to Inveraray Jail

Inveraray Jail is located at the top of Main Street in Church Square in Inveraray, just off the A83. Disabled parking and limited free parking may be found directly in front of the Jail, while a large town car park is also located just across the Main Street in the Avenue.

Inveraray is well serviced by road links to the north and south of Scotland, and is located 38 miles from Oban and around 60 miles from Glasgow. The closest train station is Dalmally, from which the 976 bus service may be taken for 30 minutes to Front Street, a short walk to the site.


Inveraray ( / ˌ ɪ n v ə ˈ r ɛər i / or / ˌ ɪ n v ə ˈ r ɛər ə / Scottish Gaelic: Inbhir Aora pronounced [iɲɪɾʲˈɯːɾə] meaning "mouth of the Aray") is a town in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. It is on the western shore of Loch Fyne, near its head, and on the A83 road. It is a former royal burgh, the traditional county town of Argyll, and ancestral home to the Duke of Argyll.

During the Second World War the Combined Operations Training Centre, located close to the town, was an important military facility. [6]

Inveraray Jail

Step back almost two centuries and discover the stories of the real men, women and children who were tried and served their sentences in this prison.Listen to dramatic true tales from the Jail's characters brought to life with our FREE AUDIO GUIDES.

Come and experience one of the finest and best preserved Jail and Courtroom complexes in the world. You are free to explore this unique collection of historic buildings brought to life by real characters from the Jail’s past and FREE AUDIO GUIDES AVAILABLE IN SIX LANGUAGES. Step back in time and experience the true stories of what life was like for the men, women and children – some as young as seven – who were tried and locked up here all those years ago. Do view our videos and our reviews on TripAdvisor.

Torture, Death and Damnation

Your journey starts in the Torture, Death and Damnation exhibition highlighting the many forms of punishment and deterrents used before the days of civilised courts and imprisonment was adopted. Discover how criminals were branded with hot irons or even their ears nailed to a post! Try out the thumbscrews used to twist down and inflict pain.

County Courtroom

Move through time and enter the spectacular courtroom. Take your seat alongside the witnesses and listen to extracts from actual trials held in this room over 150 years ago. Imagine that you were in the dock, facing time in Jail. Feel the tension as the sentence is passed. Now it is time to make your way down to the prisons…….

Walk the narrow corridors, see the cramped, overcrowded cells and be shocked at the young children in a cell next to the lunatic. Meet and talk to the warder, matron and prisoners and hear their stories.

Compare the old prison with the new, built in 1848, a model prison in its day. Try out the hammocks and the wooden beds, get strapped onto the Whipping Table or take a turn on the Crank Wheel. Discover the gripping stories of many of the prisoners held here – from being transported to Australia for trivial crimes to being sentenced to serve time for stealing a turnip! Visit our modern day cell is present day prison life too easy? Uncover amazing facts in every cell.

Airing Yards and Prison Grounds

Explore the prison grounds, meet the highland cow used to provide the milk, get locked up in the Airing Yards used for the prisoners exercise, visit the Jail kitchen and search over 4,000 prisoner records.

Inveraray Jail - History

We did a recent collaboration with We wanted to know why their customers loved visiting Inveraray Jail and this is what they had to say:Some of the best parts about a hotel break are having exceptional attractions near to where you&rsquore staying. For our guests looking for hotels in Inveraray then we.

4 ways to get warm in Inveraray

With the first sights of snow-capped mountains this winter 2017, we thought it would be a good idea to remind you of some cosy things to do in Inveraray. Here are our top four - 1 - Treat yourself to a dram. Nothing warms the cockles like a nip of single malt on a cold winter&rsquos day. And you can&rsquot beat the Loch.

Kids in fancy dress go free Halloween weekend!

It is almost Halloween weekend at Inveraray Jail, one of Scotlands most haunted buildings. Yikes. KIDS IN FANCY DRESS GO FREE THIS HALLOWEEN 2017! Offer valid 27th to 31st October. Up to two children per one paying adult.Looking for Halloween events and things to do this Halloween in Argyll? Whether coming from Oban.

Inveraray in a day – Scotland`s perfect family day trip this October Holiday

Inveraray is just 1hr 30 mins from Glasgow. Read on for our suggested itinerary for a day in Inveraray with the family. The October school holidays 2017 are upon us already! So, what have you got planned for the family? Whatever your plans, be sure to consider visiting the stunning, historic town of Inveraray on the.

Four things to do in Inveraray this autumn

Autumn is a wonderful time of year to visit Inveraray and the surrounding area. The weather can be glorious, our forests are ablaze with colour and with fewer leaves on the trees and less vegetation on the ground, wildlife can be easier to spot. What&rsquos more, many of the town&rsquos visitor attractions are open and.

Nine ways that prison reform improved life in Inveraray Jail

Life in Inveraray Jail&rsquos Old Prison was full of hardship. Men, women, children and the insane all had to share filthy, overcrowded cells. It was cold, damp and dark, with disease, violence and hunger rife. How time must have dragged! There was no place to exercise and no work or education was provided. This all.

The jail&rsquos juvenile prisoner

It&rsquos the holidays and school children across the country are enjoying their freedom. It&rsquos been great to see so many kids here at Inveraray Jail this summer finding out what life was like in a Victorian prison. They&rsquoll have met Kaitlyn Kirkhope, our youngest member of staff, who plays Jessie Lamont one.

Ten things you might not know about Inveraray Jail

Inveraray Jail has a fascinating past and there are so many great stories to tell about its inhabitants. As you explore the buildings, including the old prison, the new prison, the courthouse and the airing yards, the exhibitions, actors and audio guides will bring the jail&rsquos history and people to life.

Torture, death and damnation at Inveraray Jail!

Life in Inveraray Jail was pretty unpleasant for the prisoners but it was nothing compared to the punishment meted out to villains before the Victorians. Three hundred years ago, in the days before county courts and prisons, very few people went to prison. Those convicted of murder or serious theft were hanged. For.

Three characters you might meet on a visit to Inveraray Jail

As you explore Inveraray Jail, you&rsquoll meet some of its past inhabitants along the way. Costumed characters, based on actual prisoner records, roam the historic building and animate the past with their stories. They&rsquore always happy to talk! Here are three of the jail&rsquos characters that you&rsquore most.


Barlinnie was designed by Major General Thomas Bernard Collinson, architect and engineer to the Scottish Prison Department, and it was built in the then rural area of Riddrie adjacent to the Monkland Canal (now the route of the M8 Motorway), first opening with the commissioning of A hall in July 1882.

Barlinnie prison's five accommodation halls: A, B, C, D and E, were built in stages between 1882 and 1897, with each holding approximately 69 inmates.

There was a major extension to the perimeter in 1967 to create an industrial compound. From 1973 till 1994, the world-famous "Special Unit" placed emphasis on rehabilitation, the best known success story being that of reformed Glasgow gangster Jimmy Boyle. Cultural output associated with the Special Unit included Boyle's autobiography, A Sense of Freedom (1977) The Hardman (1977), the play Boyle wrote with Tom McGrath a body of sculpture and The Silent Scream (1979), a book of prose and poems by Larry Winters, who committed suicide in 1977. [3]

Capital punishment Edit

A total of 10 judicial executions by hanging took place at HMP Barlinnie between 1947 and 1960, replacing the gallows at Duke Street Prison before the final abolition of capital punishment in the United Kingdom for murder in 1969: [4]

Date Name Age (years) Executioner
8 February 1946 John Lyon 21 Thomas Pierrepoint
6 April 1946 Patrick Carraher 39 Thomas Pierrepoint
10 August 1946 John Caldwell 20 Albert Pierrepoint
30 October 1950 Christopher Harris 28 Albert Pierrepoint
16 December 1950 James Robertson 33 Albert Pierrepoint
12 April 1952 James Smith 22 Albert Pierrepoint
29 May 1952 Patrick Gallagher Deveney 42 Albert Pierrepoint
26 January 1953 George Francis Shaw 25 Albert Pierrepoint
11 July 1958 Peter Manuel 31 Harry Allen
22 December 1960 Anthony Miller 19 Harry Allen

Each of the condemned men had been convicted of murder. All the executions took place at 8.00 am. As was the custom, the remains of all executed prisoners were the property of the state, and were therefore buried in unmarked graves within the walls of the prison. During the D hall renovations of 1997, the prison gallows cell (built into D-hall) was finally demolished and the remains of all the executed prisoners were exhumed for reburial elsewhere. The first man to escape from Barlinnie was John Dobbie, three days after being sentenced to 15 years for a violent robbery in 1985. Dobbie escaped inside a laundry van, he was captured by armed police 5 days later and was sentenced to a further 5 years. [5]

Today Barlinnie is the largest prison in Scotland, holding well over 1,000 prisoners although it has a design capacity of 987. [6] The prison currently receives prisoners from the courts in the West of Scotland as well as retaining male remand prisoners and prisoners serving less than 4-year sentences. It also allocates suitable prisoners from its convicted population to lower security prisons, including HMP Low Moss and HMP Greenock, as well as holding long-term prisoners in the initial phase of their sentence prior to transfer to long-term prisons such as HMP Glenochil, HMP Shotts, HMP Kilmarnock or HMP Grampian.

Barlinnie prison still consists of five accommodation halls with each holding approximately 200 inmates and an additional National Top End Facility (Letham Hall) housing long term prisoners nearing the end of their incarceration. All five accommodation halls were refurbished between 1997 and 2004. There is also a hospital unit with accommodation for 18 prisoners, which includes eight cells specially designed for suicide supervision. A new administration and visiting block was completed in 1999.

The in-cell bucket-as-toilet routine known as slopping out was still in practice there as late as 2003. Since 2001, refurbishment has taken place after critical reports by the Scottish Chief Inspector of Prisons. [7]

In October 2018, it was announced that HMP Barlinnie is to be sold and replaced with a new superjail within Glasgow or its outskirts. [8]

In 2019, local MP Paul Sweeney proposed that the historic prison buildings be saved from demolition and converted into a prison museum after it is decommissioned. [9]

In January 2020, the Prison Service announced that the proposed site for the replacement prison was a 22-hectare (54-acre) site adjacent to the nearby Provan Gas Works. [6]

Nice look at Scottish History

Kid love it thou it was a bit cold not too expensive and kids under 5 are free.

We made a visit to the Jail on our way to Tarbert. The two woman in the shop/reception were very helpful and when they found out I was a serving Prison Officer and My Father was a retired Prison Officer we were allowed in for Noting. The museum / Jail was very interesting and well set out and easy to find your way round. If you are passing Inverary its well worth a Visit

On the day we visited the Jail it was bitterly cold which certainly added to the atmosphere of the jail which in its early years wasn't heated.
The conditions for the prisoners were very grim . The staff are very knowledgeable and together with the audible commentary and the written descriptions throughout the jail provides a chilling insight into the life of offenders.
The jail is spread over several floors so be prepared for lots of stairs .

We visited Inveraray Jail today. The weather was awful but we thought it would fill some hours, it also was recommended by the locals. There was some really interesting facts about the history of the jail. Great photo opportunities and staff were very friendly. It was a good value. The gift shop is very good too. Deffo a place for all ages to enjoy :)

Whilst in I Inveraray, my wife and I visited Inveraray Jail. This is a historical tourist location which shows how criminals were treated in Scotland in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The audio system shows what would happen to prisoners, from their conviction in the local, Sheriff, court to how they spent their time.

On arrival to the Inveraray Jail we paid for the tour and we were given an audio system with would talk to us when we reached specific parts of the tour:

The first sections was about the historical punishments - before the time of the jail. This detailed the punishments which were dealt out to 'criminals' their crimes ranged from stealing a sheep to cavorting with the devil, where the unfortunate woman was burned at the stake.

The following sections detailed how the punishment of criminals progressed and was reformed. The first section, here, was the Sheriff court room, with the criminal and the jury. The sheriff - judge - and the prosecution and defence consul. You can hear the proceedings, and in the audio system you can hear about three cases and what punishment was given.

Walking out of the court, and into the jail proper, Inveraray Jail shows the prison cells and what the prisoners did during their days whilst in prison. The original jail is first, which was initially a mixed prison, each cell holding up to 24 prisoners. This became the woman's prison when the mens prison was built.

This tour is a fantastic piece of history, it is fun and interesting and you will learn a lot about the historical Scottish legal system, and the unique punishments prisoners had to suffer whilst incarcerated.

Inveraray Jail is a fantastic tour, and a fantastic location. You must visit this fantastic location.


The jail was proposed by Mayor Martin Brimmer in his 1843 inaugural address as a replacement for the Leverett Street Jail which had been built in 1822. Normally jails of this sort were county institutions, but, since Boston, then and now, dominates Suffolk County, Mayor Brimmer was a key player in the jail's planning and development.

The jail was constructed between 1848 and 1851 to plans by architect Gridley James Fox Bryant and the advice of prison reformer, Rev. Louis Dwight, who designed it according to the 1790s humanitarian scheme pioneered in England known as the Auburn Plan. The original jail was built in the form of a cross with four wings of Quincy granite extending from a central, octagonal rotunda with a 90-foot-tall (27 m) atrium. The wings allowed segregation of prisoners by sex and category of offense, and thirty arched windows, each 33 feet high, provided ventilation and natural light. The original jail contained 220 granite cells, each 8 by 10 feet (2.4 m × 3.0 m).

Over the years, the jail housed a number of famous inmates including John White Webster, James Michael Curley, Malcolm X, and Sacco and Vanzetti. Suffragists imprisoned for protests when President Woodrow Wilson visited Boston in February 1919 included Josephine Collins (Framingham), Betty Connolly (West Newton), Martha Foley (Dorchester), Francis Fowler (Brookline), Mrs. J. Irving Gross (Boston), and Mrs. Rosa M Heinzen Roewer (Belmont). They were imprisoned for eight (8) days. [2] Also imprisoned were World War II prisoners of war from the German submarines U-234 and U-873. The commanding officer of the latter U-boat, who died in the jail, was the brother of Operation Paperclip rocket scientist Ernst Steinhoff. [3]

In 1973, the US District Court ruled that, because of overcrowding, the jail violated the constitutional rights of the prisoners housed there. Nonetheless, the prison did not close until 1990. On Memorial Day of that year, prisoners were moved to the new Nashua Street Jail on Nashua Street.

The former Charles Street Jail building is now owned by Massachusetts General Hospital. It was redesigned by Cambridge Seven Associates [4] and Ann Beha Architects, and reopened in the summer of 2007 as a 300-room luxury hotel with a number of high-end bars and restaurants. The Liberty Hotel, as it is now known, has retained much of the building's historic structure, including the famed rotunda. A 16-story guest room addition during construction was designed to approximate the existing structure around it. [5]

Gardens of Argyll

The garden covers sixteen acres, of which, around two acres are formal lawns and flowerbeds, the remainder being park and woodland. Extending to 180 hectares they form one of the most important designed landscapes in Scotland.
The climate in Argyll, with its yearly average rainfall of 230cms (90 inches), is ideally suited to Rhododendrons and Azaleas, which flower in the gardens from April until June. Conifers also grow well in the poor acidic soil of a high rainfall area, as can be seen by the fine specimens such as Cedrus Deodars, Sequoiadendron Wellingtonia, Cryptomeria Japonica and Taxus Baccata.

The building was designed and constructed by the P.J. Pauley Jail Building and Manufacturing Company of St. Louis, Missouri in 1891. Its construction was financed by Henry Flagler, who struck a deal with the county for $10,000 because the former jail building stood on land that Flagler needed for the construction of his Ponce de León Hotel. The Old Jail served as the St Johns County Jail until 1953. After the jail facilities were moved to a new, more modern building, the vacant Old Jail building was sold to entrepreneur Henry "Slim" McDaniel who began operating the remarkably well preserved building as a roadside tourist attraction. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Originally built to house up to 72 prisoners, the two-story northern wing of the Jail consists of a general population and maximum security area, a women's section and a lower level kitchen. Maximum Security housed the most dangerous prisoners held at the Jail and includes a Death Row cell, for those condemned to die. A total of eight men were hung from the Gallows on the Jail compound during its history. Overall conditions at the Jail for those serving varying sentences were quite poor by modern standards and prisoners were typically used as free farm laborers during the day. Baths were infrequent, toilet facilities consisted of one bucket per cell and diet was poor and was typically supplemented by any animals that the prisoners might catch while working on the fields. Segregation by race was steadfastly adhered to at the Jail and disease, violence and death were commonplace. The two-story southern wing of the Jail consists of an Office for the Sheriff and living quarters for his family.

The Old Jail Museum consists of a restored jail with sheriff's living quarters. It also contains a display of weaponry and a pictorial history of the hangings carried out at the Old Jail, with emphasis on the time the Sheriff CJ Perry was in residence with his family. The Jail is only accessible by guided tour, with costumed guides "processing" in the new prisoners. The Jail also serves as the grand finale to Old Town Trolley's Ghost and Gravestones tour, allowing visitors to access the building by night as well.

More places to visit in The Highlands

Welcome to Out About Scotland. I’m Craig, I’m a travel writer from Edinburgh, and I’m here to show you Scotland’s best tourist attractions. Read more.

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Watch the video: Inveraray Jail - Whipping Table (May 2022).


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