Inveraray Jail - History and Facts | History Hit

Inveraray Jail

Inveraray, Scotland, United Kingdom

One of Scotland’s top tourist attractions, Inveraray Jail on the shore of Loch Fyne is a 19th century prison and courthouse. It has been transformed in to a living museum depicting an often brutal and miserable life behind bars for men, women and children – some as young as seven.

Lily Johnson

02 Jun 2021

About Inveraray Jail

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.

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