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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’s history and people to life. You’ll be amazed at some of the things you’ll find out! Here are ten of them.

  1. Security was a top priority at Inveraray Jail, but a few prisoners did escape. Of the several thousand people locked up during the jail’s 69 years as an official prison, twelve managed to make the break for freedom. One of the most impressive escapes involved John Campbell, William Dickson and John Duncan on August 12 1874. They had made replica keys from little bits of lead they had collected during their time in prison.
  2. Inveraray Jail is home to a two-wheeled horse-drawn Black Maria carriage built in 1891. Probably the last of its kind in the UK, it has been beautifully restored and takes pride of place in the courtyard next to the old jail. The Black Maria – a type of carriage specifically made for carrying prisoners – was introduced to Britain in the 1820s. Our Black Maria was originally bought for Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen. After a long service, it was replaced by a motorised vehicle and discarded. Years later it was discovered in a farm being used as a chicken coop! When you visit Inveraray Jail, make sure you take the opportunity to see this rare piece of history.
  3. Inveraray Jail cellOn arrival, prisoners at Inveraray Jail had to make a set of prison clothes for themselves. The materials required for each uniform were described in a book issued to prison staff in 1841. We still use this guide to ensure that the outfits worn by the jail’s actors are as close as possible to those worn by real prisoners.
  4. In 1852, whipping was introduced as an alternative to sending boys to prison. The whippings, not exceeding 12 lashes for each boy under 14 years of age and 36 lashes for those over 14, were supervised by the Surgeon. The idea was that prison, where the boys would be fed and kept warm, was no longer enough of a deterrent. When you visit the jail you can try out the whipping table for yourself!
  5. In the Old Prison, female prisoners had to share overcrowded cells with men. It wasn’t until the Prison Reform Act of 1839 that female prisoners at Inveraray Jail were given their own space. They also had a member of staff assigned to them who was responsible for their welfare. The role was that of Matron – the jail’s first position for a female member of staff. When you visit Inveraray Jail, say hello to Matron and see if you can make her smile!
  6. Some prisoners left their mark on Inveraray Jail – quite literally. In recent restoration work we uncovered a picture of a small boat carved by a prisoner, probably done using a shirt button. And in restoration work done in 1984, we found the following writing on one of the cell ceilings: ‘A room to leat [let] to the 26 day of June application to be made to Duncan Campbell Jailor, Hugh Currie is off forever’. Currie had been imprisoned as a debtor in 1820.
  7. The New Prison, completed in 1848, was a model of its day, with twelve individual cells, a water closet on every floor and a washroom. The building was well heated and ventilated and was lit by gas. Some say it was a bit too comfortable for prisoners! When you visit, take a look and see what you think.
  8. We’re lucky enough to have prison records holding details of over 4,000 prisoners who served sentences at Inveraray Jail between 1820 and 1890. Everything is noted, from age, sex, weight, height, occupation, religion and place of birth. The records also track prisoners’ progress. You can search the records online or using our interactive touchscreen in the jail.
  9. groupsInveraray Jail has a reputation as one of Scotland’s most haunted locations. Staff and visitors alike have reported feeling icy drafts, hearing eerie footsteps and experiencing strange sensations. Keep an eye out for the jail’s spooks and spirits as you wander around the jail or why not take part in a ghost-hunting night?
  10. Dogs are more than welcome at the jail. Pooches were locked up in Inveraray Jail back in Victorian times, so we can hardly say no to them today!

There’s one other thing you might not know about Inveraray Jail – we’re open all year round. The only days we close are Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.


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Inveraray Jail, Argyll, Scotland, PA32 8TX