Inveraray Jail's History
Inveraray, the seat of the Duke of Argyll, was for many centuries the principal county town of Argyll. From the mid 18th century the courts met in the Town House on Front Street, and the ground floor below the courtroom served as the county prison. There the prisoners:
"walked in a grated piazza in front of their Cells, just in line of the principal street, and exposing the miserable appearance of their apartments and furniture to shock the feelings of every passer bye"
There were so many escapes from this building that at times the townspeople had to take turns in guarding it. Judges threatened to move the courts from Inveraray unless new premises were found and the old prison abandoned.
New Courthouse and Prison
A site for the new Courthouse and Prison was found and plans were drawn up in 1807 by the well known Edinburgh architect Robert Reid. These plans, which included separate prison blocks for men, women and debtors, had to be shelved owing to lack of funds.
Reid’s proposals were, however, later adapted by the architect James Gillespie Graham. He simplified the design of the courthouse and reduced the prison accommodation to one eight cell block. Work started on the new buildings in 1816 and was completed in 1820.
The Jail and Courthouse opened in 1820 and remained unchanged until 1843 when the Airing Yards were built. These were to provide a secure place where prisoners could be exercised in the open air.
In 1848 the New Prison, or Men's Prison, was completed. This was a model prison for its day with 12 individual cells, a water closet on every floor, accommodation for warders, a store room and indoor exercise gallery. It was also well heated and lit by gas, a far cry from the dark and damp original prison building.
Closure and Decline
The Jail finally closed on the 30th of August 1889. By this time, in comparison to the larger city prisons, the smaller county jails tended to be expensive and inefficient to run.
As a town Inveraray gradually declined in importance. It was difficult to reach and with the disappearance of the herring, it was no longer a significant fishing port. The Circuit Court met only twice in Inveraray after 1900, and moved to Oban in 1953. Despite local protests, the Sheriff Court was removed to Dunoon in 1954. The rarely used courthouse and empty prisons gradually fell into disrepair. Fortunately, their significance as the finest 19th century county courthouse and prison in Scotland was recognised.
Reopening to the Public
An extensive restoration was undertaken by the Scottish Office and in May 1989, almost a hundred years exactly after the last prisoners departed, Inveraray Jail opened to the public. It now attracts visitors from all over the world and continues to be one of Scotland’s top tourist attractions with many hands on activities, costumed staff, and authentic recreations of actual court cases.